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The Supreme Court of South Carolina

MEMORANDUM

TO:

County Administrators, County Attorneys, County Councils

FROM: 

Jean H. Toal, Chief Justice

RE: Court Officials' Salaries

DATE: April 13, 2009

I have received reports that county officials are attempting to reduce salaries of magistrates, probate judges, clerks of court, and masters-in-equity in an effort to reduce county expenditures. Any attempt to reduce the salaries of these court officials, either unilaterally or by consent, or asking them to write a check back to the county as reimbursement for compensation received, is contrary to State law. By statute, the salaries of magistrates, [1] probate judges, clerks of court, [2] and masters-in-equity [3] may not be reduced during their term or tenure in office. [4] Further, a court official's consent to a salary reduction or the act of their writing a check back to the county would be considered a violation of their oath of office, as well as a violation of the Canons of Judicial Conduct, for those judicial officers. Finally, our State Supreme Court has held that any contract whereby a public officer agrees to accept some other compensation for his service than that as provided by law is against public policy and, therefore, void. [5]

I am well aware of the problems you are currently facing. We are all struggling with budgetary constraints brought on by our economic crisis. However, these court officials’ salaries are mandated by State law and cannot be compromised.

JHT/mhb

Cc: Clerks of Court
  Magistrates
  Masters-In-Equity
  Probate Court Judges



[1] SC Code Ann. 22-8-40 (2007)

[2] SC Code Ann. 4-9-30 (Supp. 2008)

[3] SC Code Ann. 14-11-30 (Supp. 2008)

[4] Term or tenure in office continues at the expiration of a term if the incumbent is reappointed.

[5] Salley v. McCoy, 182 SC 249, 189 SE 2nd 196 (1936)