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 conduct preliminary hearings and issue search warrants and warrants for the arrest of a particular person. This court was formerly known as the Small Claims Court.
The chief magistrate assigns cases, schedules court sessions and appoints other magistrates (with the consent of the superior court judges of the judicial circuit). The chief magistrate is elected and part-time magistrates are appointed by the Board of Commissioners.
Under the 1983 Constitution, justice of the peace courts and small claims courts became Magistrate Courts. Magistrate Court jurisdiction includes civil claims of $15,000 or less, dispossessory writs, county ordinance violations, misdemeanor deposit account fraud (bad checks), preliminary hearings, issuance of summons, arrest warrants, and search warrants.
To qualify as a magistrate, an individual must have resided 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. Other qualifications may be imposed by local legislation. There are 159 chief magistrates and 346 magistrates in Georgia.
Magistrates may grant bail in some criminal cases in which the setting of bail is not exclusively reserved to a judge of another court. If a defendant submits a written request for a jury trial, cases may be removed to Superior Court.
No jury trials are conducted in Magistrate Court; civil cases are often argued by the parties themselves, rather than by attorneys.