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How Does the Georgia Municipal Court Work?

The Georgia Municipal Court is a trial-level court having limited jurisdiction. The court presides over traffic infractions, certain criminal misdemeanor cases, and minor civil cases. It has the power to:

  • Try Municipal ordinance violations.
  • Handle preliminary hearings for specific criminal cases
  • Issue criminal warrants
  • Conduct hearings for misdemeanors
  • Adjudicate traffic infractions

In Columbus county, the Municipal Court has jurisdiction to hear small claims cases of up to $15,000. In Bibb County, the Municipal Court hears cases relating to tort and handles contract disputes of up to $25,000, and $45,000 in Richmond county.

In contrast with some other courts, Georgia Municipal courts cannot have jury trials. Usually, any request by a defendant for jury trials is moved to the State or Superior court. At the same time, appeals from Municipal courts are handled by the Superior Court.

The official in charge of the Municipal Court is the Municipal Court judge. The governing authority of the city involved, usually the city council or mayor, appoints most Municipal Court judges.

Based on the size of the caseload involved, the staff of a Municipal Court is usually made up of either a part-time judge, several full-time judges, or a mixture of both. The State law demands that Municipal Court judges be active members in good standing with the State Bar of Georgia and be attorneys licensed to practice law in Georgia.

Whether the judge is an attorney or not, all Municipal Court judges are expected to go through the training requirements mandated for all Municipal Court judges. This is even more important for non-lawyer judges who began service before June 30, 2011. The mandatory annual training serves as a lease permitting such judges to keep practicing (O. C. G. A. § 36–32–1.1).

The removal process for appointed Municipal judges and elected Municipal judges differs on several counts. An appointed Municipal judge may only be removed from if a written petition is put forth and signed by any one or more members of the governing authority of the city. Note that no Municipal Court judge may be relieved from office without due cause.

However, a Municipal Court judge may be removed for cause by a two-thirds vote coming from every member of the city’s overning authority (O. C. G. A. § 36–32–2.1). The Supreme Court of Georgia and the Judicial Qualification Commission (J. Q. C.) also has the power to remove a judge from the bench if such a judge is seen to have violated the Code of Judicial Conduct (G. C. J. C.).

As provided for in the law, a judge removed from office may file to appeal at the county Superior court in which such a Municipal corporation is located. In such cases, the city is permitted to fill the vacancy left in the office temporarily. Although this arrangement must not exceed 90 days and the person chosen must also meet the same qualifications required to serve as a permanent Municipal Court judge. Elected Municipal Court judges can be removed from office either by the voters at the time of election or by the Judicial Qualifications Commission (J. Q. C.).

The Georgia Code of Judicial Conduct serves as a guide that orders the conduct of judges in the state and Municipal court judges alike. Judges are charged with the responsibility to sit impartially and give defendants advice regarding issues relating to such a person’s rights. Asides from the judges, every Georgia Municipal Court is expected to have a Municipal clerk answerable to the judges and the city governing authority.

O. C. G. A. § 36–32–13 defines a Municipal Court clerk as “the primary person most directly responsible for the administration of a Municipal Court other than a judge of the Municipal Court.” The duties of the Municipal Court clerk include:

  • Processing warrants and sentences as given by the judge
  • Collecting the fines and fees paid to the Municipal court
  • Remitting the fine amounts to the proper funds
  • Making available all required form at each court date
  • Processing required documents
  • Reporting convictions

Municipal court clerks are often required to handle large amounts of money due to the amounts of fines that are usually remitted to and collected by Municipal courts. This is why before appointing a Municipal court clerk, due diligence must be observed and exercised.

Negligence on the part of the Municipal court clerk to perform his/her duties could lead to serious consequences. For example, failure to correctly administer court fees is a crime punishable by the court. Furthermore, a simple oversight in accurately processing paperwork may result in a false arrest. To prevent such oversight from taking place, the State law requires court clerks to be trained before functioning in such capacity.

In 1959, the State Legislature in Georgia passed the Open Records Act, otherwise referred to as the Georgia Sunshine Law. This law allows all Georgia court records to be made open to the public so that residents may have access to the records whenever required. This includes Georgia Municipal court records.

This Open Records Act gives applicants the right to access docket information, decisions and orders of the court, the pleadings and motions of the parties involved in a lawsuit, trial transcript, official recording of the judge’s comment made in open court, evidence introduced in court by both parties, and records of both the pre and post-trial hearings.

Access to these records falls under the Georgia Open Meeting Act. The act governs how the files and documents are retrieved and disclosed. Both acts work hand-in-hand to ensure that residents of Georgia can access all public records. Applicants can access Georgia’s Municipal Court records by requesting it online. Interested persons may also request for it at the address of the Supreme Court of Georgia:

244 Washington Street

Room 572

Atlanta, GA 30334

Phone: (404) 656–3470

Fax: (404) 656–2253

Although all State’s court records are declared public, Judges can often exercise more discretion to ensure that the records of juvenile proceedings are made confidential and sometimes, even closed and completely inaccessible. Some juvenile court proceedings, however, due to the nature of such, are open to the public.

Examples include proceedings involving a juvenile charged with felony and child support hearing. Courts must prove that there is a valid reason for secrecy, one that overshadows the public interest in access to deny access to court records. For the contact information and address of a Georgia Municipal court, visit the website of the relevant court.

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