The Georgia court system has five classes of trial-level courts: the magistrate, probate, juvenile, state, and superior courts. In addition, there are approximately 350 municipal courts operating locally. There are two appellate-level courts: the Supreme Court and Court of Appeals.
Trial Courts of Limited Jurisdiction
Magistrate courts are county courts that issue warrants, hear minor criminal offenses and civil claims involving amounts of $15,000 or less. A chief magistrate is either elected or appointed in each county as determined by local legislation; other magistrates may be appointed by the chief magistrate.
Magistrate court is the court of first resort for many civil disputes including: county ordinance violations, dispossessories, landlord/tenant cases, and bad checks. In criminal matters magistrates hold preliminary hearings; issue search warrants to law enforcement and also warrants for the arrest of a particular person. In some criminal matters magistrates are authorized to set bail for defendants.
No jury trials are held in magistrate court; civil cases are often argued by the parties themselves, rather than by attorneys.
Original jurisdiction in the probate of wills and administration of decedents’ estates is designated to the probate court of each county. Probate judges are also authorized to order involuntary hospitalization of an incapacitated adult or other individual and to appoint a legal guardian to handle the affairs of certain specified individuals. Probate courts issue marriage licenses and licenses to carry firearms.
In counties where no state court exists, probate judges may hear traffic violations, certain misdemeanors, and citations involving the state game and fish laws. Many probate judges are authorized to serve as the county elections supervisor; they also administer oaths of office and make appointments to certain local public offices. In counties where the total population exceeds 96,000, the probate judge must be a licensed attorney who has practiced law for seven years.