OFFICE OF BAR ADMISSIONS
The Supreme Court has the duty of setting standards for the admission of attorneys to the practice of law in Georgia. 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 Board of Bar Examiners and the Board to Determine Fitness of Bar Applicants.
The Board to Determine Fitness of Bar Applicants is composed of ten members, six attorney and three non-attorney members and the designee of the chair of the Board of Bar Examiners. 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.
The Board of Bar Examiners is composed of six members of the State Bar of Georgia, who are learned and experienced and of generally recognized ability and integrity, appointed by the Court for terms of six years each. The Board of Bar Examiners is responsible for the preparation and grading of the Georgia bar examination. This examination is administered twice each year.
Copies of the Rules Governing Admission to the Practice of Law may be obtained from the website of the Office of Bar Admissions.
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
- to foster among the members of the Bar the principles of duty and service to the public;
- to improve the administration of justice; and
- 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 website or from its office at 104 Marietta St. NW, Suite 100, Atlanta, Georgia 30303.
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 Georgia Constitution of 1983 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 further provides 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 also provides that the Supreme Court shall adopt rules of implementation.
The Commission consists of a seven-member Investigative Panel and a separate three-member Hearing Panel. For information contact Ben Easterlin, Director, P.O. Box 2179, Covington, Georgia 30015-2179.
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, Court of Appeals, superior courts, state courts, probate courts, juvenile courts, magistrate courts, and 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., SW., 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:
- working with continuing legal education sponsors to coordinate the production of professionalism courses and materials;
- developing in-house law firm training programs and judicial professionalism programs;
- coordinating the production of State Bar Journal columns and articles;
- developing a database of professionalism materials for CLE providers and other interested organizations, groups, and individuals;
- 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;
- serving as liaison to the Joint Commission on Alternative Dispute Resolution;
- planning the Annual Professionalism Convocation;
- producing videos for use by state and national CLE providers
- participating in American Bar Association activities concerning professionalism;
- assisting the State Bar Committee on Professionalism in accomplishing its goals; and
- 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’s staff may be reached at the State Bar Offices.
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 the training and qualifications of neutrals; and
- 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; and
- 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 about the Office of Dispute Resolution contact Tracy Johnson, Executive Director at 404-463-3808 or visit www.godr.org.
STATE JUDICIAL SYSTEM
Under the Georgia Constitution of 1983, 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 fifteen judges of the Court sit in five divisions of three judges each for hearing and determining cases.
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, handling both civil and criminal law actions. 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 49 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 213.
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. The total number of state courts judges is 129, and they are located in 71 counties. They have uniform jurisdiction as provided by law.
State court judges must have been admitted to practice law for seven years if elected or appointed after the year 2000 and five years if elected or appointed before the year 2000, and they 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. Most have separate juvenile court judges.
Juvenile courts have exclusive original jurisdiction over juvenile matters except where the act alleged is a capital offense. The juvenile courts have jurisdiction over many issues related to the best interests of the children of this state, including but not limited to dependency, termination of parental rights, delinquency, children in need of services, competency in delinquency or child in need of services cases, the Parental Notification Act, and emancipation.
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.
Georgia’s probate courts have varying responsibilities. All of the probate courts administer wills and estates, appoint and oversee guardians and conservators, and issue marriage and weapons-carry licenses. In addition, some of the courts adjudicate traffic offenses and some hear misdemeanor cases. Others handle vital records. Some probate court judges serve as their counties’ Supervisor of Elections.
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.
Cities and towns in Georgia establish municipal courts to handle traffic offenses and local ordinance violations, conduct preliminary hearings, issue warrants, and in some instances hear misdemeanor shoplifting and possession of marijuana cases. Municipal court judges are often appointed by the mayor, and some are elected. There are more than 350 municipal courts operating in Georgia.