Gov. McMaster looks to toughen requirements for magistrate judges
COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster is setting the requirements for lower-level judges in the state to submit to a more rigorous application process that puts them closer in line to other state-appointed positions.
Magistrate judges handle the most business of South Carolina judges despite being the lowest level judges in the state.
In recent years, magistrate judges have been nominated by members of the state Senate and blindly approved by the governor.
“Although I do not presently intend to eliminate the practice of receiving and considering recommendations from members of the Senate, recent experiences have illustrated that enhanced screening is necessary for those who are nominated for this position of public trust,” McMaster said on Monday in a letter to the Senate.
The new requirements will require nominees to disclose more financial information, political contributions, sentencing philosophy and conflicts of interest.
Nominees will now need to disclose if they’ve been sued or been disciplined or fined by the State Ethics Commission.
Beyond financials, new nominees will have to disclose their relationship with the person nominating them to the position. The nominee is also required to submit five letters of recommendation with at least three coming for residents of their county.
Magistrates are appointed to four-year terms in South Carolina. Of the 302 current magistrates, 70 of those are acting in a holdover beyond their term.
“With the Senate’s help, and with a more transparent and accountable process, I am confident that we can enhance the caliber of our State’s magistrates, while also simultaneously advancing public safety and restoring the public’s faith in this critical component of our judiciary,” McMaster wrote.
County magistrates hear both criminal and civil cases, authorize search warrants and can require mental health examinations and expunge certain criminal records.
McMaster said just over a quarter of all magistrates in the state have law degrees and that most are not provided enough training for the position.
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