Stephens County State Court - A Background

State Courts have an interesting role in Georgia jurisprudence. 

On the criminal side of the law, State Courts have jurisdiction of criminal accusations involving misdemeanor and traffic offenses.  

On the civil side, its jurisdiction covers the same territory as a Superior Court except that a State Court judge is not authorized to grant injunctive relief.   This means that the court can issue a judgment for any amount of money but cannot issue an order requiring a person or entity to do or to refrain from doing any act.  Cases involving injunctive relief, including divorce, custody and adoption proceedings, stay with the Superior Courts.

There are a number of state laws that set the parameters of how State Courts function, but the formation and operation of such courts are guided predominantly by local legislation.  Local legislation can be a little more difficult to locate than state statutes or even case law.   The University System of Georgia provides an excellent resource for finding these local acts through a tool called GALILEO which is available online.

1937 Vol. 1 - Page 1230 / Law No. 274

The antecedent of the current State Court was the City Court of Stephens County which was formed in 1937.  It had concurrent jurisdiction with the Superior Court except for those cases which were assigned by the Georgia Constitution to the Superior Court alone.  It also had jurisdiction "to try and dispose of all offenses below the grade of felonies committed in the County of Stephens."  So, its jurisdiction is not substantially different than it is now.  That act contained no provisions for qualifications or compensation of personnel.

1968 Vol. 2 - Page 3546 / Law No. 1184

The 1968 act set the salary of the city court judge at $3,600 per year.  The solicitor (prosecutor) was to receive $250 per month or $3,000 per month.  It also provided for the current system of the judge and solicitor being elected for terms of four years.  Any vacancies could be filled by the Governor.

Interestingly at that time, prosecutors were paid by the accusations/indictments that they filed and had other specified fees for services rendered.  The Stephens County City Court solicitor was to collect those fees but to then deposit them in the county treasury and receive instead the monthly payment.

1970 Vol. 2 - Page 2668 / Law No. 1016

The 1970 act increased the judge's salary from $3,600/year to $4,200/year.  The solicitor's monthly payment was increased from $250/month to $300/month, so $3,600/year.

1971 Vol. 2 - Page 2731 / Law No. 273

By this time, a state law change had renamed these "city courts" as "state courts."

The 1971 act dealt solely with compensation as well.  The judge was increased to $4,800/year.  The solicitor was increased to $350/year.

1978 Vol. 2 - Page 3156 / Law No. 813

The 1978 act increased the annual salary of the state court judge to $8,800.  The solicitor was to receive $8,200 per year.

It also allowed that the judge, if needed, could appoint a solicitor pro tempore to act as the solicitor in the event that the solicitor was not available and that person could be compensated for their period of service at the same rate as the solicitor.

1981 Vol. 2 - Page 3635 / Law No. 462

In 1981, the judge's salary was increased to $12,000 per year while the solicitor's salary went to $12,000 as well.

1985 Vol. 2 - Page 4673 / Law No. 444

The 1985 act included a bit more substance than pay issues.  

The Act moved the scope of jurisdiction from that set out in the original 1937 act to the new Chapter 7 of Title 15 of the Official Code of Georgia.  The actual scope actually changed very little.

It did provide some limitations on exercising a jury trial.  It provided that the judge would hear the case without a jury unless (1) the defendant demanded a jury trial before entering his or her plea of not guilty in writing or (2) the solicitor demanded a jury trial.  It is noteworthy that there did not seem to be a time limitation on when the solicitor could ask for a jury trial.

In civil cases, there would not be a jury trial unless a party demanded a jury trial before the time for defensive pleadings to be filed had run.  

This act also contains the first reference to terms of court for the Stephens County State Court.  Quarterly terms would be the rule with terms beginning on the fourth Monday in February, May, August and November of each year.

The judge could appoint bailiffs to assist the court.

The solicitor was required to prepare and file accusations for all cases except for traffic cases.  

Juries, in both civil and criminal cases, would consist of six jurors selected from a panel of 12 with each side having three peremptory strikes.

The judge and the solicitor were permitted to practice law but not to appear in his or her own court or to handle any matter as to which the court had exercised jurisdiction.

The judge's and solicitor's salaries were increased to $15,000 per year each.

The judge was permitted to employ a court reporter or stenographer.  The Sheriff and Clerk of Superior Court would serve as Sheriff and Clerk of the State Court.

The Act also allowed for transfer of appropriate civil and criminal cases from the State Court to the Superior Court.

The Clerk was ordered to receive all fines, fees and forfeitures for the court, to pay out of those funds those amounts required by state law as surcharges, and pay the balance to the county and to keep records of those actions.

Counsel in cases were limited to 30 minutes of argument each per case.

This Act repealed the prior acts relating to the court.

1990 Vol. 2 - Page 3880 / Law No. 781

This act increased the annual salary for the judge and solicitor to $21,000 per year.

1999 Vol. 2 - Page 4115 / Law No. 123

This act changed the court from quarterly terms to two semiannual terms.  The terms begin on the fourth Monday of February and August of each year.

It also increased the annual salary of the judge and the solicitor to $23,000 per year.

Conclusion

It does not appear that there are any additional local acts relating to the court.

The county commission is permitted under state law to supplement the salaries and expenses of the judge and solicitor without submitting local legislation.  If they do so, though, the salary of the judge may not be decreased while in office.  

$23,000 in 1999 adjusted for inflation would be slightly over $35,000 in 2019.  

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