Throughout Georgia’s history, the superior court has been the court in which serious criminal cases and more important civil cases have been tried. Until 1845, their decisions were final. Since that date, they have been subject to review by appellate (appeals) courts in Georgia and the United States Supreme Court.
The superior court is Georgia’s general jurisdiction trial court. It has exclusive constitutional authority to preside over felony cases (except those involving juvenile offenders, in which jurisdiction is shared with the juvenile court) and cases regarding title to land, divorce and equity. The superior court also has exclusive jurisdiction in such matters as declaratory judgments, habeas corpus, mandamus, quo warranto, and prohibition.
The superior court may exercise concurrent jurisdiction over other cases with the limited jurisdiction courts located in the same county (state court, magistrate court, and probate court). The superior courts are authorized to correct errors made by lower courts by issuing writs of certiorari, and for some lower courts (municipal court and recorder’s court), the right to direct review by the superior court applies.
Georgia is divided into 45 superior court judicial circuits (see attachment ), with at least one judge in each. The circuits in metropolitan areas have several judges. In the Atlanta Judicial Circuit in 1994, there were 15 superior court judges. Currently there are 146 superior court judges in Georgia’s 159 counties. Wayne County shares four superior court judges with the other five counties of the Brunswick Judicial Circuit (Appling, Camden, Glynn, Jeff Davis and Wayne counties). They are: Anthony Harrison (Camden), Stephen D. Kelley (Glynn), Stephen G. Scarlett (Glynn), Bert Guy (Glynn) serve as senior superior court judges.
Superior court judges are elected to four-year terms in non-partisan, circuit-wide races. To qualify as a superior court judge, a candidate must be at least 30 years old, a citizen of Georgia for at least three years and have been authorized to practice law for at least seven years. Senior superior court judges, who have retired from the bench and who have attained senior status, may hear cases in any circuit at the request of the local judges or an administrative judge.
The Clerk of Superior Court, Frances B. Yeargan, is elected and serves a four-year term.
The superior court is a court of record, meaning that all documents must be filed in court. The clerk of the superior court is statutorily designated as the receiver and custodian of the records of the superior court. A constitutional, county officer, the clerk is statutorily responsible for all moneys paid into the court; the safekeeping, preservation, and management of all documents, orders and decrees of the court; jury management; and provides management and clerical support for the court. The clerk of superior court also is the register of real and personal property records, the clerk of the jury commission and, serves as clerk of two other courts (juvenile court, state court). The Clerk of Wayne Superior Court serves as the clerk of juvenile court and state court. The Office of the Clerk of Superior Court is located at 174 North Brunswick Street in the Annex Building behind the Wayne County Courthouse.
A district attorney is elected for each judicial circuit of the state. The district attorney is the prosecutor in felony criminal matters. Jackie Johnson is the district attorney for the Brunswick Judicial Circuit. The district attorney serves as the legal advisor to the grand jury, which is required to hear evidence in criminal matters to determine if a “true bill” or “no bill” should be returned on criminal indictments. If the grand jury returns a true bill of indictment, the accused is bound over for trial in the matter. A no bill of indictment is a dismissal of charges against the accused. The district attorney also provides legal counsel to the Brunswick Judicial Circuit Child Support Recovery Unit and to the juvenile courts of the circuit. The local district attorney’s office is located at 145 North Brunswick Street, Jesup, Georgia.
The court’s caseload is divided into two divisions, civil and criminal, with a case assignment system used in the civil division for equally distributing the civil caseload to the four judges. Each division requires and provides for jury trials in which jurors are selected and impaneled to decide issues between parties. Twelve-person juries are required for all cases, unless the parties agree to proceed with as few as eleven jurors.
Jury lists are compiled by the jury commission of the county. The jury commission is composed of six persons who are appointed for six-year terms by the chief judge of the circuit. Jury commissioners serve staggered terms, with two commissioners rotating off the commission each year.
The clerk of superior court is required by statute to maintain the jury lists of the county.
All jurors, once summoned for jury duty, are required to serve. The only reasons for excusal from jury service provided for by law are:
(2) a permanent physical or mental disability (in which case an affidavit must be provided by a medical doctor, psychiatrist, or psychologist);
(3) a felony conviction; and
(4) residency (that is, the juror no longer resides in the county).
A juror may deferred for one term of court if the juror is:
(1) temporarily physically or mentally unable to serve (an affidavit from a medical doctor, psychiatrist, or psychologist must be provided);
(2) the sole provider of care for a child or children under the age of five and for whom no one else is available to provide such care;
(3) the provider of care for an ill or disabled family member; or
(4) employed in a job necessary to the public well-being (such as a police officer, medical doctor, or nurse) and no one is available on the date the juror has been summoned for court to take the juror’s place.
An adjunct of the superior court is the State Probation Office, a division of the Georgia Department of Offender Rehabilitation. The probation office is part of circuit-wide probation office. Probation officers employed by the department are required by law to supervise any person convicted of a felony offense in which a sentence of probation is adjudged. The chief probation officer is appointed by the chief judge of the circuit.