Self-representation in Magistrate’s Court
By Nate Pierce, Attorney At Law
Have you been served with a lawsuit that’s in a South Carolina Magistrate’s Court? Don’t worry, it’s not just you. We field calls every day from people who have just had someone knock on their door and hand them papers. It’s a scary situation. Very few people are prepared for it when it happens. But don’t worry; representing yourself is possible in certain circumstances.
Magistrate’s Court in South Carolina is reserved for certain claims, one of which is civil suits in which the claims are for $7,500 or less. Each court will have at least one resident Magistrate judge, a clerk of court, and other staff who help manage the court’s calendar and guide people through the legal process.
Keys to representing yourself in Magistrate’s Court
A unique aspect of Magistrate’s Court is that people can represent themselves. In an action for less than $7,500, it might not make sense to hire an attorney to represent you. In many cases, the legal fees incurred exceed the amount of the original claim. While it is certainly beneficial to be represented by someone trained in the law, you can represent yourself effectively if you keep a few things in mind:
- Keep track of your deadlines. If you have been served papers for a civil suit in the Magistrate’s Court (formally known as a Summons and Complaint), you have 30 days from the first day after you’re served to file your answer and any counterclaims arising out of the same transaction or occurrence as the original claim brought against you.
- Before filing your answer, you’ll need to draft it. In an answer, you admit or deny the claims, or state that you don’t have enough information to admit or deny. If that doesn’t make sense, don’t worry! The complaint served on you will have instructions on how to go about drafting an answer.
- To file your answer, go to the Magistrate’s Court from which the complaint was issued. Find your way to the clerk of court’s Office, and let the clerk know you’d like to file your answer. The clerk will time-stamp what you’ve provided.
- Shortly after filing your answer, you will be mailed a letter providing you the time and date for your hearing.
- Don’t feel like you need to reinvent the wheel. Most of the forms you’ll need to bring or defend such an action can be found online at https://www.sccourts.org/forms/searchType.cfm. In the “Search #1: Forms by Court Type” select “Magistrate,” and you will find a list of the most commonly needed Magistrate Court forms.
- Don’t be intimidated. Magistrate’s Courts are designed so that individuals can represent themselves in a civil suit should they decided to do so. To that end, these courts employ “relaxed” rules of court. You don’t have to be an expert in the Rules of Evidence or Civil Procedure. Just remember to be clear, concise, and organized.
- Be nice to the court staff. The clerks and staff work with people who are representing themselves every day. They know the ins and outs of the court system as well as anyone and are willing to help!
If you remember these simple rules, you can represent yourself in South Carolina Magistrate’s Court. However, if you find yourself in a situation where you’ve been sued and you feel like you need assistance, don’t hesitate to reach out to Morton & Gettys.
Nate Pierce is an attorney with Morton & Gettys Law Firm in Rock Hill, SC. He can be reached at (803) 366-3414 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Information or interaction on this page should not be construed as establishing a client-attorney relationship or as legal advice. For advice about your specific situation, please consult one of our attorneys.