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Master-in-Equity

Contact Information, Office Hours
Functions, Office Responsibilities
FAQ's, Common Terms, History, Interesting Facts
Items of Legal Interest, Forms
Court Records, Legal Links, Master's Auction List
Bidding on Foreclosures -- General Information

Functions

Hears Specialized Non-jury Cases
Serves as Generalized Trial Court for Backlogged Civil Cases

The Master-in-Equity facilitates relatively quick and inexpensive means of litigation resolution for non-jury matters. The Master hears most foreclosure cases and a substantial number of civil, non-jury matters as well. This is the only South Carolina court in which no action may be initiated; each case heard by a Master is assigned by the S.C. Circuit Court, using the procedural device known as an Order of Reference.

The Governor, with approval of the S.C. General Assembly, appoints Masters-in-Equity to six-year terms. As a division of the state's Circuit Courts, the Master-in Equity's Office is state mandated, but County funded.

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This Office Does

dot Offer the public a quick and inexpensive way of having their "day in court"
dot Hear cases for mortgage foreclosures, land partitions, judicial sales, actions to collect a judgment and complex cases as assigned by the Circuit Court

This Office Does Not

dot Conduct Sheriff's Office sales (See Sheriff )
dot Conduct delinquent tax property sales (See Delinquent Tax )

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Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What are the requirements for one to become a Master-in-Equity in South Carolina?
A: Each Master must be an attorney with at least eight years of experience, be at least 32 years old, a resident of the state for the previous five years and found qualified by the Judicial Merit Selection Commission.
Q: How is a case referred to the Master-in-Equity?
A: Any case which could be heard in Circuit Court without a jury can be referred to a Master-in-Equity. Anyone who files a civil case and waives their right to a jury trial can also ask to have their case referred to a Master-in-Equity. Each case heard by a Master is assigned by the S.C. Circuit Court using the procedural device known as an Order of Reference.

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Common Terms

Chancery-- A court developed under English common law when courts of law were considered incompetent or unable to render justice for the public.

Equity Law --A legal system which supplements the common law or justice that is applied in circumstances not covered by law.

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History

Historically, equity cases were heard by "chancery" courts. These courts were developed under English common law to deal with cases when courts of law were considered incompetent or unable to render justice to the parties.

During Colonial times, the Charleston Chancery Court was made up of the Governor and his council. The Revolutionary War disrupted operations of the colonies' chancery courts. In South Carolina, the Constitution of 1778 revived them and named the Lieutenant Governor and the majority of the Privy Council as its officers. Six years later, the legislature passed an act establishing a three-judge Court of Chancery, which met in Charleston.

The S.C. Constitution of 1790 gave the legislature the authority to establish courts of law and equity. Until 1868, South Carolina had two parallel court systems - one for common law cases and the other for equity law cases. Over time, many of the distinctions between "law" and "equity" faded and the powers of the courts merged. The S.C. Constitution of 1868 officially merged the Common Law and Chancery Courts into the Court of Common Pleas.

In 1979, the S.C. General Assembly established new procedures for a statewide Master-in-Equity system. The Master may serve in several capacities within the trial court system and may be asked to rule on particular issues or on an entire case. The Master then makes a recommendation to the Circuit Court or renders a final decision which may be appealed to the Circuit Court or State Supreme Court.

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Interesting Facts

dot Any South Carolina county with a population greater than 130,000 must have a full-time Master-in-Equity.
dot Records for the S.C. Court of Chancery date back to 1709. The oldest Court of Equity records are from 1851, while the records of the Court of Common Pleas date from 1869. These records are stored at the S.C. Department of Archives and History in Columbia.
dot Judge Jasper Cureton, a member of the S.C. Court of Appeals and a former Master-in-Equity for Richland County, has written an essay describing the history of the master's court.

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Contact Information

Charleston County Judicial Center
100 Broad Street, Suite 266
Charleston, SC 29401
(843) 958-5070
(843) 958-5077 (Fax)

Office Hours

Monday-Friday
8:30 a.m.-5 p.m.

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