How Does the Georgia Superior Court Work?
The Georgia Superior Court is a trial court that has general jurisdiction over both civil and criminal cases. It handles cases involving serious crimes, contract disputes, premises liability, real estate cases, and family and domestic relations matters. The Court has exclusive equity jurisdiction to hear divorce cases, felonies involving jury trials, cases concerning title to land, and death penalty cases.
Although the Georgia Superior Court has jurisdiction over all civil and criminal cases, it usually handles only cases beyond other trial courts’ jurisdiction. Each of the Superior Courts has a Family Court division. The division has jurisdiction over divorce and related issues that involve children, including child support, custody, domestic violence, child abuse, legitimacy, and paternity.
The Family Court division can also hear other types of cases transferred to it from different courts. Generally, the Georgia Superior Court has the authority to
- Exercise the powers of a court of equity
- Hear appeals from the probate or magistrate courts
- Supervise all inferior tribunals as well as review and correct certain judgments of the lower courts
- Punish contempt of Court by imprisonment not exceeding 20 days, or by fines, not more than $1,000, or both.
The Georgia Superior Court is divided into ten Judicial Districts and forty-nine Judicial Circuits, and each county has its own Superior Court. The number of judges for each of the superior courts varies according to the judicial circuits. To qualify for the position of Georgia Superior Court Judge, a person must:
- Be at least 30 years old.
- Have been a citizen of Georgia for no less than three years
- Have practiced law for at least seven years
- Be a member in good standing with the State Bar of Georgia.
Each Superior Court judge is elected by the judicial circuit’s electors where the judge is to serve. If a Superior Court judge is disbarred or suspended from practicing law by the Georgia Supreme Court, that judge is to vacate the office of a Superior Court judge. Note, a Superior Court judge who performs ordered military duty is qualified to be reelected in any general or primary election.
Generally, the judges of the Superior Courts have the authority to:
- Grant writs of injunction, ne exeat, and prohibition, and all other writs, remedial or original, either legal or equitable within the jurisdiction of the Georgia Superior Court
- Grant on behalf of the circuits writs of certiorari, mandamus, habeas corpus, etc.
- Hear and decide on motions to dismiss petitions for equitable relief, and motions to the change or revoke orders appointing receivers
- Administer oaths
After being elected into office, Superior Court judges are prohibited from practicing law in Georgia. The judges are not allowed to practice as proctors, attorneys, or solicitors in any circuit or district courts of the United States while in office.
The Superior Court judges are authorized to act in circuits other than the one assigned initially to when permitted by law. The judges are, however, not mandated to alternate between circuits unless required by law. As such, when the Superior Court judge of any circuit is unavoidably absent, another judge may take the place of the absent judge with the same authority.
If a Superior Court judge is disqualified from trying a particular case, the judge must get another Superior Court judge to preside over the matter. Failure of the judge to do that within a reasonable time may be grounds for impeachment.
In such circumstances, if it is a civil case, the parties, with the consent of the Court, may choose an attorney licensed in Georgia to preside over the case. The selected attorney has all the powers that a judge has when trying a matter. The parties may also choose to select a senior judge of the Superior Court.
When a judge cannot complete a term of Court due to mental or physical illness, or any other disability, the Governor names and appoint another Superior Court judge in replacement, the assigned judge may hold the regular or special term of the Court.
A Georgia Superior Court judge may be removed for any of the following reasons:
- Willful misconduct in office
- Persistent and deliberate failure to perform the duties of judicial office
- Habitual intemperance
- Conviction of a crime that involves moral turpitude
- An act that is detrimental to the administration of justice and brings the office of the judge into disrepute
A Georgia Superior Court judge may be removed in any of these ways:
- By the judicial qualifications commission. In such cases, the Georgia Supreme Court must review the decision.
- Impeachment by Georgia’s house of representatives and conviction by a two-thirds vote of the senate
The Superior Court has a Clerk whose duty is to administer oaths and take affidavits in the Court’s cases. Other responsibilities of the clerks of the Superior Court include:
- Demanding and collecting in advance fees for recording deeds, mortgages, and other instruments which are to be recorded on the deed and mortgage records of the counties
- Receiving the amounts of all costs due in the Court
To find a Georgia Superior Court record, visit the Judicial Council of Georgia’s website and select the relevant Court. To access the information on the site, users must create an account. Registering an account requires the user’s first and last name, email address, and a password. After registering, enter either the case number or the name of a party. The information generally provided on a Georgia Superior Court record include:
- The Superior Court case number
- The motions and court actions filed as well as the filing dates.
- The lower Court and county the case came from, if applicable.
- The name of the judge that presided over the case
- The style of the case, i.e., the names of both parties to the case
- The case statute docket date
- The remittitur date
- The date the Superior Court gave the ruling
- The names and contact information of the attorneys
- The opinion or order was given by the Superior Court
Alternatively, visit the Office of the Clerk of the Superior Court in the relevant county for Georgia Superior Court records. To find the location of the superior Court, visit the Georgia Superior Court website. Click on the appropriate county on the map. The address and contact information on the Superior Court is found there.
After a person is arrested for a crime to be tried in Georgia Superior Court, the individual is prosecuted and may either plead guilty, not guilty or no contest. The type of plea determines the process following the plea. If it’s a guilty plea, the Superior Court judge must determine if the defendant’s plea was freely and reasonably given. The Court must also conclude that the defendant is, in all probability, guilty, and pass the sentence.
On the other hand, if a person pleads not guilty, a court begins a trial to determine if the defendant is guilty or innocent. For civil cases, the matter starts when a person files a petition. The service process comes after the petition and then the trial; however, in all cases, the law does not stipulate a specific time frame within which the Court must complete the trial.