Chief Magistrate

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.

The chief magistrate of each county assigns cases, schedules court sessions, and appoints other magistrates (with the consent of the superior court judges of the judicial circuit).

Most chief magistrates are elected in partisan, countywide elections to four-year terms. In some counties chief magistrates run in nonpartisan elections. In a few counties the chief magistrate is appointed by the local legislative delegation.

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 twenty-five 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 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 or state court.