STATE BAR OF GEORGIA
The State Bar of Georgia was created pursuant to an order of the Supreme Court dated December 6, 1963. The State Bar of Georgia was created
( a ) To foster among the members of the Bar of this State the principles of duty and service to the public;
(b) To improve the administration of justice; and
(c) To advance the science of law.
The State Bar of Georgia was created as an administrative arm of the Court with the powers and duties prescribed in the order creating it. Information concerning the State Bar of Georgia may be obtained from its office at 104 Marietta St. NW, Suite 100, Atlanta, GA 30303.
OFFICE OF BAR ADMISSIONS
The Supreme Court has the duty of setting standards for admission of attorneys to the practice of law. In keeping with this obligation, the Office of Bar Admissions was established by the Supreme Court and given the responsibility of serving as the Administrative Office for the State Board of Bar Examiners and the Board to Determine Fitness of Bar Applicants.
The Board to Determine Fitness of Bar Applicants investigates the backgrounds of those persons who desire to be admitted to the practice of law in Georgia and recommends to the Board of Bar Examiners only those applicants who possess “the character and moral fitness to practice law…,” which recommendation forms a part of the applicant’s application for admission to the Bar examination. This Board is composed of both attorneys and lay persons who serve without compensation, other than the reimbursement of travel expenses. The Board to Determine Fitness of Bar Applicants operates primarily from the fees paid by the applicants.
The Board of Bar Examiners is composed of five attorneys, appointed by the Court, who are responsible for the preparation and grading of the Georgia bar examination. This examination is administered twice each year. Fees paid by applicants for the bar examination are paid into the State treasury and all expenses of this Board are paid from the Supreme Court’s appropriartion.
Copies of the Rules Governing Admission to the Practice of Law may be obtained by writing the Office of Bar Admissions at P.O. Box 3 8466, Atlanta, Georgia 30334.
JUDICIAL QUALIFICATIONS COMMISSION
The Judicial Qualifications Commission is vested with the power to discipline, remove and cause involuntary retirement of judges, except that no removal or involuntary retirement shall occur except upon order of the Supreme Court after review. The 1983 Georgia Constitution provides that any judge may be removed, suspended or otherwise disciplined for willful misconduct in office, willful and persistent failure to perform the duties of office, habitual intemperance, conviction of a crime involving moral turpitude, or for conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice which brings the judicial office into disrepute, and that any judge may be retired for disability which constitutes a serious and likely permanent interference with the performance of the duties of office. It further provides that the Supreme Court shall adopt rules of implementation.
The Commission consists of seven members: two judges of courts of record, selected by the Supreme Court; three attorneys who have practiced law in this State for at least ten years, elected by the Board of Governors of the State Bar; and two citizens who are not members of the State Bar, appointed by the Governor. For information concerning the Judicial Qualifications Commission, contact Ronnie Joe Lane, Director, PO Box 1209, Monroe, Georgia 30014.
JUDICIAL COUNCIL OF GEORGIA
The Judicial Council of Georgia was established pursuant to Georgia Laws 1973 and came under the Supreme Court’s auspices in 1978. The Judicial Council assists the Supreme Court in planning, policy and administrative matters. The Council is composed of a member or members representing the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeals, the superior courts, the state courts, the probate courts, the juvenile courts, magistrate courts and the municipal courts.
The Administrative Office of the Courts provides assistance to the Judicial Council and is responsible for studying the courts, assisting court personnel and making recommendations for improvement of the judicial system. For more information contact the Administrative Office of the Courts, Suite 300, 244 Washington St., S.W., Atlanta, Georgia 30334.
THE CHIEF JUSTICE’S COMMISSION ON PROFESSIONALISM
In response to the challenges presented by the perceived decline in lawyer professionalism, the Supreme Court of Georgia and the State Bar of Georgia embarked upon a long-range project to raise the professionalism aspirations of lawyers and judges in the state. In early 1989, the Georgia Supreme Court, acting through the State Bar of Georgia, established the Chief Justice’s Commission on Professionalism. The Commission, the first such body of its kind in the country, has as its primary charge ensuring that the practice of law remains a high calling, enlisted in the service not only of the client, but the public good as well.
The activities of the Commission are as follows:
(1) working with continuing legal education sponsors to coordinate the production of professionalism courses and materials
(2) developing in-house law firm training programs and judicial professionalism programs
(3) coordinating the production of State Bar Journal columns and articles
(4) developing a data base of professionalism materials for CLE providers and other interested organizations, groups and individuals
(5) developing mentoring programs for both lawyers and law students, working with the American Law Institute, the Atlanta Jewish Federation, the Atlanta Bar Association, the Georgia Indigent Defense Council and other interested organizations
(6) serving as liaison to the Joint Commission on Alternative Dispute Resolution
(7) planning the Annual Professionalism Convocation
(8) producing videotapes for use by state and national CLE providers
(9) participating in American Bar Association activities concerning professionalism
( 10) assisting the State Bar Committee on Professionalism in accomplishing its goals
( 11 ) such other activities as are developed by the Commission.
The Commission is chaired by the Chief Justice and has as members representatives of the judiciary, the practicing bar, the four ABA-approved law schools and the public. The Commission is staffed by a Director, an Assistant Director and an Administrative Assistant, and may be reached at the State Bar Offices, 800 the Hurt Building.
GEORGIA OFFICE OF DISPUTE RESOLUTION
In October of 1992, the Georgia Supreme Court created the Georgia Commission on Dispute Resolution to develop and oversee a comprehensive statewide system of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) to complement the existing system of justice. The Commission is charged with the following duties and responsibilities:
- to administer a statewide comprehensive ADR program;
- to oversee the development and ensure the quality of all court-annexed or court-referred ADR programs;
- to certify court programs;
- to develop guidelines for court-annexed or court-referred programs;
- to develop criteria for training and qualifications of neutrals;
- to establish standards of conduct for neutrals
- The Georgia Supreme Court also created the Georgia Office of Dispute Resolution to implement the policies of the Commission. The responsibilities of the Georgia Office of Dispute Resolution include the following:
- to serve as a resource for ADR education and research;
- to provide technical assistance to new and existing court-annexed or court-referred programs at no charge;
- to develop the capability of providing training to neutrals in courts throughout the state at no charge;
- to implement the Commission’s policies regarding qualification of neutrals and quality of programs;
- to certify and decertify neutrals who will serve in court programs;
- to collect statistics from court-annexed or court-referred programs in order to monitor the effectiveness of various programs throughout the state.
For more information contact: Shinji Morokuma, Director at 404-463-3788 or visit www.godr.org.
STATE JUDICIAL SYSTEM
Under the 1983 Constitution of Georgia the judicial power of the State is vested in these classes of courts: magistrate courts, probate courts, juvenile courts, state courts, superior courts, Court of Appeals, and Supreme Court. Also, the General Assembly may authorize or establish municipal courts, and those municipal courts, county recorder’s courts, civil courts and administrative agencies in existence on June 30, 1983, may continue with the same jurisdiction until otherwise provided by law. Each county is to have at least one superior court, magistrate court, probate court, and where needed a state court and a juvenile court. In the absence of a state court or a juvenile court, the superior court exercises that jurisdiction.
SUPREME COURT OF GEORGIA
See The Court’s Jurisdiction
COURT OF APPEALS OF GEORGIA
The Court of Appeals was established by a constitutional amendment in 1906. Under the 1983 Constitution it is a court of review and exercises appellate and certiorari jurisdiction in all cases not reserved to the Supreme Court.
The twelve judges of the Court sit in three divisions of three judges each for hearing and determining cases, except that when one of the three judges dissents the case is considered by the full Court.
Court of Appeals judges are elected statewide on a nonpartisan basis for six year terms. If a vacancy occurs it is filled by appointment of the Governor until the next general election. As to qualifications for judges of the Court of Appeals, the 1983 Constitution requires that they shall have been admitted to practice law for seven years and provides that the General Assembly may provide by law for additional qualifications, including a minimum residency requirement.
The superior courts are trial courts of general jurisdiction. They have exclusive jurisdiction over trials in felony cases, except in the case of juvenile offenders as provided by law; in cases respecting title to land; in divorce cases; and in equity cases. Also, they have such appellate jurisdiction as may be provided by law.
The counties are divided into 46 judicial circuits, each of which has at least one judge. Some circuits are single county circuits and others are comprised of two or more counties. Sessions of court must be held in each county at least twice a year. The total number of superior court judges is 159. The number of judges per circuit ranges from one to 15.
Superior court judges are elected on a nonpartisan basis in circuit-wide elections for four year terms. They must have been admitted to practice law for seven years and must reside in the geographical area in which they are selected to serve. Also, the General Assembly may provide by law for additional qualifications.
These are courts of county-wide jurisdiction (except for one which encompasses two counties). There are 87 state courts. They have uniform jurisdiction as provided by law.
State court judges must have been admitted to practice law for five years and must reside in the geographical area in which they are selected to serve. Also, the General Assembly may provide by law for additional qualifications.
Each county has a juvenile court. Some have separate juvenile court judges; in the others a judge of the superior court or the state court sits as juvenile court judge.
Juvenile courts have exclusive original jurisdiction over juvenile matters except where the act alleged is a capital offense.
Juvenile court judges must have been admitted to the practice of law for five years and must reside in the geographical area in which they are selected to serve. Also, the General Assembly may provide by law for additional qualifications.
Probate courts, formerly called courts of ordinary, have original and exclusive jurisdiction of probate of wills, administration of estates, appointment of guardians, issuance of lunacy commissions, and issuance of marriage licenses. They also supervise the printing of election ballots and the counting of votes, and in some counties have jurisdiction over traffic and compulsory school attendance laws.
Each county has a probate court with one probate judge who is elected for a term of four years. Qualifications for this office vary. In larger counties it is required that the probate judge be an attorney.
Under the 1983 Constitution, justice of the peace courts, small claims courts and one county court became magistrate courts. These courts have uniform jurisdiction as provided by law. At present this jurisdiction includes contract cases and personal property damage, injury, or conversion cases where the amount involved does not exceed a set amount. Also, in criminal cases they may issue warrants and sit as courts of inquiry, binding the accused over to a higher court or discharging him, and they may administer oaths, take affidavits and perform marriages.
Magistrate court judges are elected for four year terms by the voters of their respective counties.
There are also remaining as part of the state court system various municipal courts, civil courts and county recorder’s courts. Their jurisdiction and the qualifications and selection of their judges vary.