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The voters elect the Chief Magistrate of the Magistrate Court for four year terms. The Magistrate Court has criminal and civil jurisdictions. The criminal jurisdiction's responsibilities include issuing arrest and search warrants as well as good behavior bonds, conducting first appearance, setting bonds, extradition, committal, and warrant application hearings, presiding over and conducting trials for county ordinance violations, misdemeanor bad check, criminal trespass, alcohol beverage violations involving persons under 21 years of age, shoplifting, and possession of marijuana less than one ounce. The civil jurisdiction's responsibilities include the trial and adjudication of civil claims for $15,000 or less, dispossessory and distress warrant proceedings, abandoned motor vehicles, foreclosures, and garnishments.
The Magistrate Courts of Georgia were established in 1983 when the current Constitution was ratified. The Constitution mandated the Magistrate Court to replace the Justice Courts and a variety of small claims courts or limited jurisdiction courts that were known by a variety of different names. The Justice Courts and the office of Justice of the Peace dates back to England and the reign of Edward III. The Justice of the Peace and the Sheriffs were appointed by the King to carry out his orders and decrees. When the original colonies, including Georgia, were settled, the position of Justice of the Peace was carried over into the local governments.
The Magistrate Courts are courts of limited jurisdiction as outlined as follows by the official Code of Georgia Annotated, Section 15-10-2:
Each Magistrate Court and each Magistrate thereof shall have jurisdiction and power over the following matters:
- The hearing of applications for and the issuance of arrest and search warrants;
- Issuance of warrants and related proceedings as provided in Article 4 of Chapter 6 of Title 17, relating to bonds for good behavior and bonds to keep the peace;
- The holding of courts of inquiry;
- The trial of charges of violations of county ordinances and penal ordinances of state authorities;
- The trial of civil claims including garnishment and attachment in which exclusive jurisdiction is not vested in the superior court and the amount demanded or the value of the property claimed does not exceed $15,000, provided that no prejudgment attachment may be granted;
- The issuance of summons, trial of issues, and issuance of writs and judgments in dispossessory proceedings and distress warrant proceedings as provided in Articles 3 and 4 of Chapter 7 of Title 44;
- The punishment of contempt by fine not exceeding $200 or by imprisonment not exceeding ten days or both;
- The administration of any oath which is not required by law to be administered by some other officer;
- The granting of bail in all cases where the granting of bail is not exclusively committed to some other court or officer;
- The issuing of subpoenas to compel attendance of witnesses in the Magistrate Court and subpoenas for the production of documentary evidence before the magistrate court;
- Such other matters as are committed to their jurisdiction by other general laws;
- The trial and sentencing of misdemeanor violations of Code Section 16-9-20, relating to criminal issuance of bad checks, as provided by Article 10 of this chapter; or
- The execution or subscribing and the acceptance of written waivers of extradition in the same manner provided for in Code Section 17-13-46.
If you plan to file a claim in the Magistrate Court or a claim has been filed against you, please be advised that neither the Judge nor the clerks can provide legal advice. Not only is it unethical and improper for the Judge or clerk to give either party legal advice, it is also illegal. If you have legal questions concerning your case, please consult the attorney of your choice. If you have questions concerning scheduling, please contact the Magistrate Court and one of the clerks will be glad to assist you.
Many of the Magistrate Courts litigants represent themselves and are called Pro se. An overwhelming majority of the litigants in the Gordon County Magistrate Court are pro se; however, an increasing number of parties are represented by attorneys.
As a court of inquiry the Magistrate Court is often called upon to determine probable cause or sufficient evidence in criminal cases. In felony cases and cases assigned to the Superior Court, the Magistrate Court cannot make a determination of guilt or innocence; it can only determine if there is sufficient probable cause for the case to go forward. The only cases in which the Magistrate Court adjudicates guilt or innocence is in misdemeanor bad check cases (checks in the amount of $ 1,500 or less), failure to attach and display a county tax decal on mobile homes and county ordinance violations. County ordinances include code and zoning violations, disorderly conduct, public drunkenness, alcohol violations by minors, etc.
The Magistrate Court is holding an increasing number of pre-issuance hearings on warrant applications. The purpose of these hearings is to allow all parties involved in a dispute to present evidence before a Judge so that he can better determine if probable cause exists for a warrant to be issued. In approximately 80% of these hearings, the parties resolve their differences without anyone being arrested.