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Chapter 2 - Overview of the South Carolina Court System
 
 
The third branch—the court system—has been called the least understood branch of government, but it is also the branch with which the public comes into contact most closely and frequently. At one time or another, the courts touch almost every aspect of life. The courts provide a forum for the peaceful resolution of disputes and they act as referees between people and the government by determining the permissible limits of governmental power and the extent of an individual’s rights and responsibilities.
 
Every day, in every county in the state of South Carolina, people of many different backgrounds come together at the local courthouse. The business that brings them to the courts is as diverse as the individuals themselves. They are paying traffic tickets, going through divorces, adopting children, airing disputes with their neighbors, settling the estate of a deceased relative, serving on jury duty, volunteering in court-connected programs, and much more.
 
The court system does not command armies or levy taxes, like the executive and legislative branches, respectively. The sole source of its power to enforce the decisions that judges make is the trust and confidence of the people. To maintain and enhance this trust and confidence, the courts must strive to do justice by applying the law in a fair and equitable manner. This means that judges cannot make up their minds in advance on how they will decide a case based upon a personal bias. They cannot decide cases based upon whim, prejudice, fear, the wishes of the other branches of government, or editorials in the local newspaper. Indeed, judges cannot decide cases based upon anything but the facts in the individual case and the law. This concept—the bedrock of the court system—is called judicial independence.
 
The laws that judges apply in individual cases are derived from a variety of sources, including the state and federal constitutions, legislative acts (statutes), administrative rules, and the common law, which reflects society’s customs and experience as expressed in previous court decisions. This body of law is constantly changing to meet the needs of an increasingly complex world. The courts have the task of finding the delicate balance between flexibility to accommodate each person’s unique circumstances and stability to protect the fundamental principles of the constitutional system of the United States.
 
Both state and federal courts have jurisdiction over South Carolina residents. State courts generally handle cases pertaining to state laws, but the federal government may give state courts jurisdiction over specified federal questions. The federal courts in South Carolina handle cases involving violations of federal law and cases involving state law if one party is a South Carolina resident and the other party resides in a different state. 
 
The South Carolina court system consists of:
 
The Supreme Court, the highest court in the state, with five justices who are elected by the General Assembly to 10-year terms. The Supreme Court has exclusive appellate jurisdiction over seven classes of cases. It may, it its discretion, entertain other appeals by way of certiorari, or entertain matters in its original jurisdiction.
  • Chief Justice Jean Hoefer Toal
  • Justice Costa M. Pleicones
  • Justice Donald W. Beatty
  • Justice John W. Kittredge
  • Justice Kaye Hearn
The Court of Appeals, the intermediate appellate court, with nine judges serving six year terms, hears all appeals that are brought to it, and is considered an “error-correcting” court. Cases are heard by panels of three judges or the entire court. Some appeals bypass the court, like death penalty appeals, but most appeals come to the court before proceeding to the Supreme Court.
  • The Hon. John C. Few
  • The Hon. Thomas E. Huff
  • The Hon. Paul E. Short, Jr.
  • The Hon. H. Bruce Williams 
  • The Hon. Paula H. Thomas
  • The Hon. Daniel F. Pieper
  • The Hon. Aphrodite K. Konduros
  • The Hon. John D. Geathers 
  • The Hon. James Edward Lockemy 
The Circuit Courts, South Carolina’s trial courts, are located in every county in the state. The State is divided into sixteen judicial circuits serving six year terms. Each circuit has at least one resident circuit judge who maintains an office in the judge's home county within the circuit. There are forty-nine circuit judges who serve the sixteen circuits on a rotating basis, with court terms and assignments determined by the Chief Justice based upon recommendations of Court Administration. A final judgment by the Circuit Court can be appealed to the South Carolina Court of Appeals, but in some cases appeals go directly to the South Carolina Supreme Court.
 
First Circuit (Counties: Calhoun, Dorchester, Orangeburg)
  • The Hon. Edgar W. Dickson
  • The Hon. Diane Schafer Goodstein
Second Circuit (Counties: Aiken, Bamberg, Barnwell)
  • The Hon. Doyet A. Early, III
Third Circuit (Counties: Clarendon, Lee, Sumter, Williamsburg)
  • The Hon. R. Ferrell Cothran, Jr.
  • The Hon. George C. James, Jr.
Fourth Circuit (Counties: Chesterfield, Darlington, Dillon, Marlboro)
  • The Hon. Paul M. Burch
  • The Hon. J. Michael Baxley
Fifth Circuit (Counties: Richland, Kershaw)
  • The Hon. DeAndrea G. Benjamin
  • The Hon. Robert E. Hood
  • The Hon. L. Casey Manning
Sixth Circuit (Counties: Chester, Fairfield, Lancaster)
  • The Hon. Brian M. Gibbons
  • The Hon. Brooks P. Goldsmith
Seventh Circuit (Counties: Cherokee, Spartanburg)
  • The Hon. J. Derham Cole
  • The Hon. Roger L. Couch
Eighth Circuit (Counties: Abbeville, Greenwood, Laurens, Newberry)
  • The Hon. Frank R. Addy, Jr.
  • The Hon. Eugene C. Griffith, Jr.
Ninth Circuit (Counties: Charleston, Berkeley)
  • The Hon. Kristi Lea Harrington
  • The Hon. Deadra L. Jefferson
  • The Hon. Roger M. Young Sr.
Tenth Circuit (Counties: Anderson, Oconee)
  • The Hon. R. Lawton McIntosh 
  • The Hon. Alexander S. Macaulay
Eleventh Circuit (Counties: Edgefield, Lexington, McCormick, Saluda)
  • The Hon. William P. Keesley
  • The Hon. R. Knox McMahon
Twelfth Circuit (Counties: Florence, Marion)
  • The Hon. Michael G. Nettles
Thirteenth Circuit (Counties: Greenville, Pickens)
  • The Hon. Robin B. Stilwell
  • The Hon. Letitia H. Verdin
  • The Hon. G. Edward Welmaker
  • The Hon. D. Garrison Hill
Fourteenth Circuit (Counties: Allendale, Beaufort, Colleton, Hampton, Jasper)
  • The Hon. Perry McPherson Buckner
  • The Hon. Carmen T. Mullen
Fifteenth Circuit (Counties: Georgetown, Horry)
  • The Hon. Steven H. John
  • The Hon. Benjamin H. Culbertson
Sixteenth Circuit (Counties: Union, York)
  • The Hon. John C. Hayes, III
  • The Hon. Lee S. Alford
At Large Seat No. 1 The Hon. W. Jeffery Young
At Large Seat No. 2 The Hon. R. Markley Dennis, Jr.
At Large Seat No. 3 The Hon. Clifton Newman
At Large Seat No. 4 The Hon. Edward W. Miller
At Large Seat No. 5 The Hon. J. Mark Hayes, II.
At Large Seat No. 6 The Hon. William H. Seals, Jr.
At Large Seat No. 7 The Hon. J. Cordell Maddox, Jr.
At Large Seat No. 8 The Hon. D. Craig Brown
At Large Seat No. 9 The Hon. Stephanie P. McDonald
At Large Seat No. 10 The Hon. James R. Barber, III
At Large Seat No. 11 The Hon. Alison Renee Lee
At Large Seat No. 12 The Hon. Thomas A. Russo
At Large Seat No. 13 The Hon. Larry B. Hyman, Jr. 
At Large Seat No. 14  The Hon. R. Keith Kelly
At Large Seat No. 15  The Hon. Maite' Murphy
At Large Seat No. 16  The Hon. Donald Bruce Hocker
 
The Family Court has exclusive jurisdiction over all matters involving domestic or family relationships. Pursuant to this provision, the Family Court is the sole forum for the hearing of all cases concerning marriage, divorce, legal separation, custody, visitation rights, termination of parental rights, adoption, support, alimony, division of marital property, and change of name. The Court also generally has exclusive jurisdiction over minors under the age of seventeen alleged to have violated any state law or municipal ordinance. However, most traffic, fish, and game law violations are still triable in the magistrate or municipal courts. Serious criminal charges may be transferred to the Circuit Court.  Family Court judges serve six year terms.
 
First Circuit (Counties: Calhoun, Dorchester, Orangeburg)
  • The Hon. Anne Gué Jones
  • The Hon. William J. Wylie, Jr.
  • The Hon. Nancy C. McLin
Second Circuit (Counties: Aiken, Bamberg, Barnwell)
  • The Hon. Vicki J. Snelgrove 
  • The Hon. Dale Moore Gable
Third Circuit (Counties: Clarendon, Lee, Sumter, Williamsburg)
  • The Hon. George M. McFaddin, Jr.
  • The Hon. Angela R. Taylor
  • The Hon. Gordon B. Jenkinson
Fourth Circuit (Counties: Chesterfield, Darlington, Dillon, Marlboro)
  • The Hon. Roger E. Henderson
  • The Hon. Sally Huggins McIntyre
  • The Hon. Michael S. Holt
Fifth Circuit (Counties: Richland, Kershaw)
  • The Hon. Dorothy Mobley Jones
  • The Hon. Michelle Manigault Hurley
  • The Hon. Dana A. Morris
  • The Hon. Gwendolyn Y. Smalls
Sixth Circuit (Counties: Chester, Fairfield, Lancaster)
  • The Hon. Brian M. Gibbons
  • The Hon. W. Thomas Sprott, Jr.
Seventh Circuit (Counties: Cherokee, Spartanburg)
  • The Hon. Phillip K. Sinclair
  • The Hon. James F. Fraley, Jr.
  • The Hon. Usha J. Bridges
Eighth Circuit (Counties: Abbeville, Greenwood, Laurens, Newberry)
  • The Hon. John M. Rucker
  • The Hon. Joseph W. McGowan, III
  • The Hon. Joseph Collins Smith Deal
Ninth Circuit (Counties: Charleston, Berkeley)
  • The Hon. Daniel E. Martin, Jr. 
  • The Hon. Paul W. Garfinkel 
  • The Hon. Judy L. McMahon
  • The Hon.Wayne M. Creech
  • The Hon. Jocelyn B. Cate
  • The Hon. Jack A. Landis
Tenth Circuit (Counties: Anderson, Oconee)
  • The Hon. Edger H. Long, Jr.
  • The Hon. Tommy B. Edwards
  • The Hon. Karen F. Ballenge
Eleventh Circuit (Counties: Edgefield, Lexington, McCormick, Saluda)
  • The Hon. Deborah Neese 
  • The Hon. Kellum W. Allen
  • Vacant
Twelfth Circuit (Counties: Florence, Marion)
  • The Hon. Timothy H. Pogue
  • The Hon. A. E. Morehead, III 
  • The Hon. Jerry D. Vinson, Jr.
Thirteenth Circuit (Counties: Greenville, Pickens)
  • The Hon. Rochelle Y. Conits 
  • The Hon. W. Marsh Robertson
  • The Hon. Harry L. Phillips, Jr.
  • The Hon. Alvin D. Johnson
  • The Hon. Robert N. Jenkins, Sr.
  • The Hon. Alex Kinlaw, Jr. 
Fourteenth Circuit (Counties: Allendale, Beaufort, Colleton, Hampton, Jasper)
  • The Hon. Gerald C. Smoak, Jr.
  • The Hon. Peter L. Fuge
  • The Hon. Deborah A. Malphrus
Fifteenth Circuit (Counties: Georgetown, Horry)
  • The Hon. Jan B. Holmes
  • The Hon. Lisa A. Kinon
  • The Hon. Ronald R. Norton
Sixteenth Circuit (Counties: Union, York)
  • The Hon. Robert E. Guess
  • The Hon. David G. Guyton
At Large Seat No. 1 The Hon. Kelly Pope
At Large Seat No. 2 The Hon. Tony Miller Jones
At Large Seat No. 3 The Hon. James G. McGee, III
At Large Seat No. 4 The Hon. M'onet S. PIncus
At Large Seat No. 5 The Hon. Randall Edward McGee
At Large Seat No. 6 The Hon. David Earl Phillips
 
In addition to the courts themselves, there are other entities that are part of the court system. Other parts of the court system include the register of deeds in each county, probate judges, the clerks of court, circuit court judges, magistrates court and masters-in-equity. The shared concern of these parts of the judiciary of South Carolina is to provide the state's citizens with an adequate, thorough, and fair judicial system. To learn more about each of these entities, consult the state judicial website at www.sccourts.org
 
 
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1Some information for this overview was taken from the web site http://www.sccourts.org.  Paul Horne, Jr. and Cynthia H. Cothran are the contributing editors to this chapter.