How Does Georgia Civil Court Work?
The state of Georgia does not operate a central Civil Court system; this accounts for Superior Courts and Magistrate courts handling civil litigations in most counties. However, Augusta-Richmond and Macon-Bibb counties both have Civil Courts that sit over civil cases arising in such counties. These courts are allowed to offer jury trials to eligible cases if they so deem fit.
In other counties existing in Georgia, Magistrate courts are usually the first option for many civil cases. These courts preside over civil claims involving amounts that are up to $15,000 or less. Civil cases are most times argued by the parties involved rather than by attorneys. Civil cases upon which Georgia Magistrate Courts adjudicate on include:
- County ordinance violations
- landlord/tenant cases
- Bad checks
The Civil Court in Macon-Bibb is a court of record that runs alongside the Magistrate Court and together is known as the Civil and Magistrate Court of Macon-Bibb. While both courts run simultaneously, they both do not perform the same functions.
According to Article III, sec. 5–254 of the Code of Ordinances, the Civil Court arm of the Civil and Magistrate Court of Macon-Bibb in concurrent jurisdiction with the Superior Court has the power to:
- Try and dispose of all civil cases or proceedings.
- Handle civil cases involving amounts of less than $25,000 in disputes. (In comparison, the Magistrate Court arm sits over civil disputes involving amounts which are not more than $15,000.)
- Try and determine all warrants, suits, and proceedings to evict intruders and to dispossess and remove tenants holding over.
Persons who decide to file for claims in Bibb Civil Court may have a jury trial if they wish to. However, as opposed to a twelve (12) person jury, the Macon-Bibb Civil Court operates only a six-person jury when deciding disputes. This is a sharp contrast with the Magistrate Court arm, which provides no option for Jury trials.
In Bibb county Civil Court, a person may decide to have a judge decide the case on the bench, or allow a mediator to listen to the case brought by both parties and offer a resolution. Generally, the Civil court judges have the power to:
- Hear, determine and handle all cases or actions, whether civil or criminal
- Preserve and enforce obedience to orders
- Inflict summary punishment for contempt
- Enforce the Court rulings, as given by law to the Superior Courts judges
A person may only be elected to serve as Civil Court Judge if such a person is a resident of the relevant county at the time of the election. The person must also have been a practicing attorney at law at least five years before the time stipulated for the election. Additionally, the person must not be below 25 years of age and must be a qualified voter of the county at the election time.
The judges serve a four-year term in office. In Macon-Bibb County, qualified voters elect the Judge of the Civil Court of Bibb County. This election occurs quadrennially during the regular state election when the General Assembly and statehouse officers are being elected.
The governor afterward commissions the elected judge upon entering office. Before commencing duties, the judge is required by law to take the same oath required by the Superior Court judges.
Suppose the elected judge of the Civil Court of Bibb County becomes unable to discharge the duties expected or is disqualified. In that case, the judge can appoint a competent attorney at law as a replacement.
The appointed attorney is charged with exercising all the powers and functions of the relieved judge. The Judge of the Civil Court of Bibb County is to appoint a Clerk and a Sheriff. However, they may be removed from office at any time the judge deems it fit. The requirement for the appointment is that the candidate must be qualified to vote.
The total number of appointed deputy clerks and sheriffs depends on what the judge considers as sufficient enough when it comes to efficiently handling and transacting the business of the Court.
The Judges and Clerks in Macon-Bibb Civil court function as the judges and clerks of the Magistrate court. The same goes for the Augusta-Richmond County Civil Court. The Macon-Bibb Civil and Magistrate court is located at:
Bibb County Civil & Magistrate Court
601 Mulberry Street, 4th Floor
Bibb County Courthouse
Macon, GA 31201
(478) 621–5801—Main Phone
The Augusta-Richmond Civil & Magistrate Court’s Civil court arm is a court of record that serves as the forum for civil dispute settlements in Augusta-Richmond County. It is tasked with:
- Handling civil litigations as may arise in the county
- Handling civil cases such as contract issues in which the amount in question does not exceed $45,000.
- Holding preliminary hearings and hearings for misdemeanors
- Hearing cases relating to torts
- Hearing and determining issues of arrest warrants for felonies
- Holding preliminary hearings and determining evidence for binding of felony defendants
A Chief Judge presides over the Civil Court of Augusta-Richmond county and is appointed to a four-year office term. As stipulated by the Augusta Code, the judge is vested with the general power to:
- Address and handle the cases and make decisions that are free and fair to everyone involved in the dispute based on evidence
- To hold Court daily and continuously, as necessary to discharge the business of the Court.
- Preserve order and to enforce obedience to their orders
- To inflict summary punishment in the event of contempt.
The Chief judge is elected during the regular state election. This election takes place quadrennially, and only qualified voters are allowed to vote. The governor’s appointment may be used to cover up any vacancy in the office of the Chief Judge of the Civil Court of Augusta-Richmond in the event of resignation, retirement, death, or other cause (Code of Augusta-Richmond)..
An Associate Judge of Civil Court is also appointed and must possess the same qualifications as the Chief Judge of the Civil Court of Augusta-Richmond. The Associate Judge possesses the powers and may carry out the Chief Judge’s e functions and duties except if otherwise provided in the code.
The office of the associate judge runs concurrently with the terms of the office of the Chief Judge. And in the event of a vacancy in the said person’s office, the governor takes over and fills in for the unexpired term.
Other than the judges, the Richmond County Civil Court staff also comprises a clerk of courts and a deputy clerk of courts. The Clerk and Deputy Clerks of the Augusta-Richmond Civil and Magistrate Court are tasked with ensuring that all docketed matters, whether civil or criminal, are processed and fixed for hearing swiftly and efficiently. The Civil and Magistrate Court Of Augusta-Richmond is located at:
735 James Brown Boulevard
Augusta, GA 30901
Phone: (706) 821–2370
The Open Records Act of 1959 prescribes that all Georgia court records, Georgia Civil Court records inclusive, be made open and available to the general public. Upon formal request, any records generated, compiled, and maintained is provided.