From the Council of State Court Judges

State Courts: The Little Steam Engines of the Georgia Judicial System

The 70 State Courts of Georgia are courts of limited jurisdiction and are the only class of courts not found in all 159 counties. altThese courts assist the superior courts by handling misdemeanor criminal cases and all civil cases, with the exceptions of domestic relations and equitable relief matters. State courts adjudicate cases that can burden a superior court or interfere with its ability to concentrate on domestic relations cases, other complicated cases, and more serious felonies. In 2010, the state courts received 884,540 criminal and civil cases and disposed of 689,262 of these cases, or on average, 5,650 cases per judge. 

            In many counties, superior courts can handle all types of cases without stress to the local justice system. However, there are counties where the volume of cases is so great that the superior court is forced to make serious decisions about which ones it can handle and which cases must be deferred to a later date. Since state courts can conduct jury trials, they are able to ease this stress on the superior courts and provide citizens with timely court access to their legal matters.

            Like judges of a superior court, state court judges are elected to serve four-year terms.  The qualifications for a state court judge are similar to those of the superior court: the judge must have been a resident of the county for at least three years; be at least 25 years of age; be a licensed attorney to practice law in Georgia; have practiced law for at least seven years; and must be either elected or appointed by the Governor. Also akin to superior courts, state courts receive appeals from the magistrate court, and the decisions of state courts may be appealed to the Court of Appeals of Georgia or the Supreme Court of Georgia. 

alt            Currently there are 122 state court judges. Unlike other classes of court, there are both full-time and part-time state courts. Part-time state court judges face unique challenges in that they are allowed to practice law, just not in their own court. These courts, which are located in more rural counties, rarely are appropriated sufficient county funds to provide for staff, facilities, or equipment. As a result, part-time state court judges frequently use their own secretary, office, and office supplies to maintain the state court.

            Another unique challenge to part-time state courts arises from their stature in the community where “everyone knows everybody else.” Because of the greater occurrences of familiarity with their neighbors, state court judges find that they must recuse themselves from cases more frequently than full-time judges in larger metropolitan counties. But even in these rural counties, state courts must assist the superior courts by taking on the cases that tend to be of a lesser grade of crime and provide jury trials in civil matters.

            Since state courts handle crimes below the grade of felony, the use of fines is more frequently used as a form of punishment, with the maximum fine being $1,000.00 in most cases. As a collateral effect, this sentencing structure translates into large revenues. In addition to fines, state courts collect fees and charges that support many state and local organizations and agencies such as: the Police Officers Annuity Benefit Fund, Prosecuting Attorneys’ Training Fund, Superior Court Clerks Retirement Fund, Sheriffs’ Retirement Fund, Local Victim Witness Programs, Brain and Spinal Injury Trust Fund, State Crime Lab, Indigent Defense Fund, State Court Improvement Fund, Driver’s Education Fund, Drug and Alcohol Treatment Education Fund, and the county. During FY2011, the state courts generated approximately $137,953,518.00, according to the Superior Court Clerks Cooperative Authority website.  This amounts to 24% of all revenue generated by all classes of court.
            The state courts try to innovate as much as possible. DUI Courts are one such example. DUI Courts are a growing type of Accountability Court program being operated in 18 state courts throughout Georgia. These courts are demonstrating amazing statistics on reducing recidivism of repeat offenders from 30% to 7-10%. This impact not only reduces jail expenses at the county level but, more importantly, restores repeat offenders to being productive and responsible citizens. The success of these programs enables the state courts to look forward to creating other types of accountability courts such as mental health courts, domestic violence courts, veterans’ courts, and more. These types of problem solving courts have received tremendous support from Gov. Nathan Deal and the Joint Committee on Criminal Justice Reform. Finally, the state courts look forward to the studies that will be conducted later this year to revise Title 40 of the Motor Vehicle Code and examine non-serious traffic offenses. Both of these studies will have lasting impacts on the work of the state courts. 

            Every year, the state courts re-evaluate their strategic business plan, first created in 2006, to help the Council of State Court Judges identify current trends and take advantage of new programs that improve justice. The mission of the Council of State Court Judges is to further the improvement of the State Court and the quality and expertise of its judges, to maintain the impartiality of the judiciary, and to ensure the fair, efficient administration of justice. The collective vision that guides the state courts is “Impartial Courts – Judicial Excellence – Accessible and Efficient Justice.”
For more information on the state courts of Georgia, contact Judge Larry B. Mims, President,Council of State Court Judges, and be sure to visit our website at


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