Magistrate Court jurisdiction includes civil claims of $15,000 or less; certain minor criminal offenses; distress warrants and dispossessory writs; county ordinance violations; deposit account fraud (bad checks); preliminary hearings; and summonses, arrest and search warrants. A Chief Magistrate, who may be assisted by one or more Magistrates, presides over each of Georgia’s 159 Magistrate Courts.
Magistrates may grant bail in cases where the setting of bail is not exclusively reserved to a Judge of another court. No jury trials are held in Magistrate Court. If a defendant submits a written request for a jury trial, cases may be removed to Superior or State Court.
The Chief Magistrate of each county assigns cases, sets court sessions, appoints other Magistrates (with the consent of the Superior Court Judges) and sets policy for the Magistrate Court. The number of Magistrates in addition to the chief is usually set by majority vote of the county’s Superior Court Judges.
Most Chief Magistrates are elected in partisan, county-wide elections to four-year terms. The Chief Magistrate may be appointed if so provided by local legislation. Terms for other Magistrate Judges run concurrently with that of the Chief Magistrate who appointed them.
To qualify as a Magistrate, an individual must reside in the county for at least one year preceding his or her term of office, be 25 years of age, and have a high school diploma or its equivalent. A Magistrate Court Judge may also serve as a Judge of another limited jurisdiction court in the same county.
The Magistrate Court is well known for being the place to file small civil claims (up to $15,000), but many people may not realize that other types of civil and certain kinds of criminal and misdemeanor cases also fall under its jurisdiction. Exactly what does this court handle?
Civil cases are divided into four categories: Claims, Dispossessories, Garnishments, and Foreclosures and Attachments.
Claims cases (up to $15,000) involve one party's claim to monies owed them by another party. Usually they involve contract and account actions but not always. In a legal sense, both the plaintiff and the defendant are referred to as a "party" to the action involved, such as a lawsuit.
Dispossessories are legal measures that landlords use to remove a tenant for non-payment of rent or for lease violations.
Garnishments are another method that many businesses use to collect monies owed to them. In these types of cases, money or property belonging to the defendant but under the control of someone else is applied to the debt. One common example is the garnishing of a person's wages from the employer. (NOTE: Garnishments may be filed only after a judgment has been obtained against the debtor.)
Foreclosures are used to enforce the payment of a debt by taking and selling the property upon which the debt is owed. Attachment is the request to the court to have the property seized to satisfy the debt or the court judgment.
Criminal cases are divided into two classifications: Bad checks and Pre-warrants/Warrants.
Bad check proceedings may begin with the issuance of a citation (if the check is under $500 and drawn on an in-state bank) or a felony warrant (if the check is over $500 or drawn on an out-of-state-bank). "Bad checks" are checks written without sufficient funds in the bank to cover them.
Pre-warrant hearings are used to determine if there is sufficient probable cause to issue a warrant for the arrest of the defendant.
County Ordinance Violations
County ordinance violations, which are considered misdemeanors, include infringements of such local laws as littering, failure to display a mobile home decal, excessive noise, etc.