Georgia Court Records
How Does The Georgia Magistrate Court Work?
In the state of Georgia, the Magistrate Court is also called the small claims court, is a trial court with jurisdiction over a limited number of criminal and civil cases. The court being a summary court, does not conduct elaborate proceedings. Therefore, the trials are relatively short. However, the law does not set a time limit for the trials. The Georgia Magistrate court has power to:
- Determine applications and issue of search and arrest warrants
- Hold courts of inquiry.
- Issue warrants and proceedings related to bonds for good behavior and keeping the peace
- Hear charges for the violation of county ordinances and the penal regulations of state authorities
- Try civil cases and garnishment and attachment for cases that the superior court does not have exclusive jurisdiction over, as long as the Magistrate court is not to grant prejudgment attachment.
- Conduct trials of civil claims for properties whose value does not exceed $15,000
- Punish contempt of court by imprisonment, not more than ten days or by a fine not exceeding $200, or both
- Administer any oath which the law does not require to be administered by another officer
- Grant bail in all cases where the law does not exclusively commit the granting of bail to another court or officer
- Issue subpoenas to compel witnesses to attend the Magistrate court
- Conduct trials and sentence misdemeanor violations related to the issuance of bad checks
- Issue subpoenas to compel the production of documentary evidence in the Magistrate court
- Foreclose liens on animals, abandoned mobile homes, and abandoned motor vehicles
The Georgia Magistrate courts are prohibited by law from conducting jury trials. If a defendant charged with an ordinance violation wants a jury trial, the accused must demand that the case be removed to the state court or the superior court. The defendant must make such a demand in writing. An aggrieved party may appeal to the Magistrate Court’s decision to the Georgia state court or the Georgia Superior court.
Every Magistrate court in Georgia must have a Chief Magistrate and may also have one or more Magistrates. These Magistrates are the judges of the Georgia Magistrate courts. The county Superior court judges fix the number of Magistrates the county must have by a majority vote; unless the municipal law provides otherwise. Until the judges fix the number, the stipulated number of Magistrates per county is one.
Note that a retired Magistrate who served for not less than ten years may perform marriage ceremonies as an active judge.
The Georgia Magistrate court does not have fixed terms. The chief Magistrate sets a convenient or necessary time and place within or outside the county seat where the court sessions are held. The Chief Magistrate also assigns cases among the other Magistrates within the county and resolves any disputes between the Magistrate court judges of the county.
Where the chief magistrate’s office is vacant, the Superior court judges, by a majority vote, appoints a qualified person to fill in for the remainder of the term. On the other hand, if the Magistrate’s office is vacant, the Chief Magistrate makes the appointment with the Superior court judges’ consent. This is usually done when the vacancy reduces the authorized number of Magistrates in the county.
Note, an elected chief Magistrate or Magistrate who is carrying out ordered military duty is eligible for reelection in primary and general elections held to elect a successor for the subsequent term of office. Such persons may qualify as a candidate even when absent. To be eligible for the position of Georgia Magistrate court judge, a person must:
- Be a United States citizen.
- Have been resident in the relevant county for the two years preceding the appointment as a judge
- Be at least 25 years old.
- Continue to be a resident of the county during the term of office.
- Be a registered voter.
- Have gotten a general education development diploma or a state-accredited high school diploma
A Georgia Magistrate judge who is also an attorney may practice in other courts that are not the Magistrate’s court but cannot appear in a matter that the Magistrate court has exercised jurisdiction over. Under certain circumstances, a Magistrate may also act as the judge of a Georgia municipal court.
The law requires all Magistrates to complete a training course periodically and for the Georgia Magistrate Courts Training Council to record such training. Any Magistrate that does not complete the training is removed from office by the Judicial Qualifications Commission; unless the Commission finds that the Magistrate has good reason for failing to complete the program.
The training council consists of the director of the Administrative Office of the Courts, and five Magistrate judges or senior Magistrates appointed by the president of the Council of Magistrate Court Judges, with the consent of the council’s executive committee. These Training Council members serve for a term of two years. The council has the following powers and responsibilities:
- Prescribing the minimum training hours each Magistrate or senior Magistrate must complete annually.
- Approving schools that may conduct the training and setting specific qualifications the instructors must meet
- Issuing certification to any Magistrate that completes the training program
- Prescribing the minimum requirements for the curriculum and standards comprising the initial, advanced, continuing, and specialized training courses, and
- Doing every other thing necessary for it to conveniently carry out its duties and exercise power given to it.
The Code of Georgia creates the office of a senior Magistrate. The Chief Magistrate is authorized to appoint, with the governing authority’s approval, any retired judge, chief Magistrate, or Magistrate as a senior Magistrate. To qualify for that office, the retired judge must have served consecutively for eight years as a judge before retirement. A senior Magistrate does not have to be a member of the State Bar of Georgia.
A Georgia senior Magistrate may, upon the request of the Chief Magistrate, carry out all the duties of a Magistrate and assume and exercise power, jurisdiction, and authority of a Magistrate.
To access Georgia Magistrate court case records, visit the relevant county’s court website. Most counties have computerized docket systems. Therefore, the websites have an online portal where interested persons may search for Magistrate court records. Examples of such counties include Fulton, Clayton, and Gwinnett. Typically, the information contained in Georgia Magistrate court records include:
- Case number
- Type and status of the case
- Names of the parties
- Name of the judicial offer that presided over the case
- Names of the attorneys
- The disposition
- Motions and applications filed, as well as other court documents.
- Appeal details, if applicable.
- Financial information
Alternatively, walk into the Clerk of Court office in the relevant Georgia Magistrate court for case records, Monday to Friday, from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm. To find the location of any Georgia Magistrate court, visit the website of the relevant county court.