Welcome to the site of the Magistrate Court of Bulloch County, Georgia. Within this site you will find information that I hope you will find to be useful. Our staff is available to assist you from the hours of 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. during normal workdays. The telephone number for the Magistrate Court is (912) 764-6458 or (912) 764-5050. The Court is prohibited by law from giving legal advice, but our staff will make every effort to assist you in your interaction with the Court.
As you can see from the attached pages, our office performs many tasks for the community and presides over many different types of matters. The Court was created in 1983 as part of the Georgia Constitution and Georgia Statutes. Every County in Georgia has a Magistrate Court and all 159 of the Magistrate Courts are part of the Council of Magistrate Court Judges which oversees all training and State-wide organization. For your convenience, we have a payment drop box. Envelopes and instructions are available outside the building.
June B. Braswell, Chief Magistrate Judge •
Karen C. Jones, Deputy Magistrate
The civil jurisdiction of Magistrate Court includes dispossessory actions (evictions), garnishments, and general civil actions where the amount of the controversy does not exceed $15,000. A civil case is one where a party seeks money damages from another party for alleged wrongs. The types of civil cases which the Court generally hears are suits for money owed from one party to another, claims for damage to person or property, landlord/tenant disputes, writs of possession matters and breach of contract cases. The only types of civil cases which cannot be considered by Magistrate Court are divorces, cases where equitable relief is sought and issues involving the title to land. All other civil matters may be heard by Magistrate Court, provided the amount in controversy does not exceed $15,000.
The procedures of the Magistrate Court are intended to promote the efficient resolution of disputes. Parties may represent themselves on matters before the Magistrate Court or may elect to have legal counsel represent them. Magistrate Court is the only Georgia court in which a corporation may represent itself in a civil matter. However, many parties find that hiring an attorney to represent them in Court allows their case to be presented effectively and efficiently, ensuring that all procedural and evidentary rules are followed. A non-attorney may not represent a party other than themself in any Georgia court. The Court will always try to accept into evidence all admissible and relevant evidence. However, if a party does not have admissible evidence or does not know how to have their evidence admitted, the Court cannot teach the parties those rules during trial.
A civil case is initiated by the Plaintiff filing a Complaint against the Defendant. The Complaint must set forth the basis of the claim that the Plaintiff has against the Defendant, provide the address of the Defendant and state a claim for damages. The Clerk of Magistrate Court has forms available for the Plaintiff to file the Complaint. The Plaintiff must also pay the filing and service fee to initiate the case.
Filing fee (1 Defendant to be served) $95.00
Service Fee for each additional Defendant $50.00 each
There are no limits to the number of Plaintiffs or Defendants which may be parties to the case. However, venue must be proper in Bulloch County under Georgia law.
After the Complaint is filed and the Filing Fees are paid, the Marshals will serve the Defendant with a copy of the lawsuit as required by law. The Defendant must then file an Answer to the Complaint within the time limits required by law. There are very specific time limitations on the filing of an Answer and the Defendant is charged with the responsibility of knowing and meeting those time demands. If the Defendant fails to file a timely Answer, the Plaintiff will receive a default judgment upon request without further notice to the Defendant for the amount set forth in the Complaint. If no specific dollar figure is requested in the Complaint, the Court will conduct a hearing on the issue of damages without further notice to the Defendant.
The Clerk of Magistrate Court has forms available for the Defendant to use in filing an Answer. However, no specific form is required. The Defendant may also file a Counterclaim against the Plaintiff, alleging that the Plaintiff owes damages to the Defendant. A Counterclaim is usually included within the Answer. There is no filing fee for the Answer. The Answer may allege that the Defendant does not owe anything to the Plaintiff or that the Defendant admits owing some amount but disagrees with the amount requested by the Plaintiff. Assuming that there is a timely Answer filed with the Clerk of Magistrate Court, the case will then be set for trial.
Civil cases are heard several times every month. Usually, the case will be heard by either the Chief Magistrate Judge or the Associate Magistrate Judge. The Clerk of Magistrate Court will send a trial notice to the parties at the address provided by the respective parties. It is important to keep the Clerk of Magistrate Court advised of any changes of address that may occur. The failure of a party to appear for trial will likely result in an adverse ruling to the party who failed to appear, including the dismissal of the case or a default judgment.
Prior to trial, the Georgia Rules of Magistrate Court require the parties to meet in person and discuss the possibility of settling the matter without a trial. This meeting will generally be conducted on the date of trial, prior to the case being heard. The parties are free to meet or speak by telephone prior to trial in an attempt to resolve the case and, in fact, the Court encourages such meetings. Once the trial begins, the parties lose control over their case and the resolution of an important matter is left to a judge who does not know the parties, their circumstances or other important facts. The Court only knows what is presented in Court and must decide the case based upon his or her factual findings and the law that applies to such facts. Frequently, neither party receives a judgment that is ‘perfect’ from their respective points of view. If the parties settle their case on terms that they agree upon, both parties generally leave the Courthouse satisfied. If the parties are able to settle their case, the Court will be willing to make that settlement a written, binding Order of the Court upon request. If the case proceeds to trial, both parties will receive the judgment of the Court by which they will be required to abide.
At trial, the Plaintiff will present evidence first and the Defendant will have the right to cross examine (ask questions of) the witnesses who testify. After the Plaintiff has concluded their presentation of evidence, the Defendant will have the right to present evidence and the Plaintiff will have the right of cross examination. The Court may ask questions from the bench in an attempt to address the heart of the matter and keep the parties on point. At the conclusion of all of the evidence, the Court will either announce a judgment or take the case under advisement. In either circumstance a written order will be sent to both parties by mail.
There are no jury trials in Magistrate Court. All civil cases are heard by a judge, this type of trial is commonly referred to as a bench trial. After a final judgment is rendered either party may appeal their case to the Superior Court of Bulloch County within time limits established by law and, within the context of that appeal, request a jury trial. An appeal requires the payment of costs by the party seeking the appeal and, upon payment of those costs, the case will be transferred to Superior Court.
This page is intended to provide a brief overview of the process of a civil case in Magistrate Court. This site is not intended to provide legal advice and the Court is specifically prohibited from giving legal advice. The Court encourages all parties who are considering legal action to seek the advice of an attorney before proceeding.
The criminal jurisdiction of Magistrate Court consists of considering and issuing arrest and search warrants, hearing County Ordinance violations and bad check citations, conducting preliminary hearings, First Appearance hearings and setting of bond in most cases. Magistrate Judges are available 24 hours a day, 365 days each year to consider arrest and search warrant requests from law enforcement officials and will consider warrant requests from private individuals during normal hours of operation.
The issuance of arrest and search warrants are among the most important duties of the Magistrate Court. The law requires that a ‘neutral and detached Magistrate’ consider sworn testimony before any arrest or search warrant may be issued. Both the United States Constitution and the Georgia Constitution require that a person may only be arrested or his or her home or business searched by law enforcement officials upon a showing of probable cause. Magistrate Judges are available to law enforcement officials 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to consider the applications for arrest and search warrants.
There are times when a private individual will seek the arrest of another private individual for an alleged crime. Georgia law requires a hearing before an arrest warrant can be issued at the request of a private individual for the arrest of another private individual except in very limited circumstances. These hearings are referred to as ‘Prewarrant Hearings’ and Magistrate Judges conduct these hearings on a weekly basis.
If a private citizen seeks the arrest of another private citizen a written request for a warrant must be made to the Magistrate Court during normal work hours. The warrant request must be the sworn allegation of the person seeking the warrant. The person requesting the arrest warrant must first make a police report and will need the name, address, Social Security Number, date of birth and other identifying information for the alleged offender. Although some of this information may be difficult to obtain, the information is required because, assuming a warrant is issued, law enforcement will need the information to enter the warrant into the Georgia Crime Information Center’s computer. If the warrant fails to have this information, law enforcement officials will have no way to locate and indentify the offender.
If a warrant request is made by a private citizen in absence of exigent circumstances, the person whose arrest is sought is entitled to receive notice of any scheduled hearing. A hearing will be conducted before a Magistrate Judge and a decision will be made as to whether the arrest warrant should be issued, not issued or some other disposition of the case should be made. If an arrest warrant is issued, the warrant will be forwarded to the Sheriff for execution and the case will ultimately be sent to the District Attorney for prosecution.
When an arrest warrant is issued – without regard as to whether it was requested by a private citizen or a law enforcement official – a Magistrate Judge will consider the issue of bond (bail). In most cases a Magistrate Judge will be responsible for the issue of bond. The Magistrate Judge will consider the facts of the case, the history of the offender, and all other circumstances made known to the Magistrate in deciding the issue of bond. Bond is not intended as punishment, rather, is intended to ensure that the Defendant will appear at trial to answer for the charges. Except in misdemeanor cases, the Magistrate Judge may refuse bond but only if he or she finds that certain circumstances exist which suggest that no amount of bond will ensure that the Defendant will appear for trial or poses such a risk to the community that the Defendant should not be released on bond.
An action that is illegal is only illegal because it violates an established law. Such an action may be illegal under one or more different sets of laws. For example, it is illegal under Georgia law to rob a bank. Bank robbery is also illegal under Federal Law because it violates a Federal statute. The same is true of County Ordinance Violations. Bulloch County has established a set of laws, known as County Ordinances, which make certain actions illegal. The actions which are illegal under County Ordinances may also constitute a violation of State law or other laws but the County has elected to prosecute the case as a County Ordinance violation. All violations of County Ordinances are misdemeanors and are referred to Magistrate Court for resolution.
Magistrate Court presides over all county ordinance violations, including but not limited to possession of alcohol by those under the age of 21, animal control violations, illegal sale of alcohol, disorderly conduct and violations of zoning ordinances. Hearings on County Ordinance violations occur several times each month and are presided over by either the Chief Magistrate Judge or the Associate Magistrate Judge.
If a citizen receives a citation the court date will appear on the lower half of the citation. If the Defendant fails to appear on the initial court date a bench warrant will be issued for his or her arrest and that person will be held in jail pending a rescheduled court date. On the initial court date (also referred to as Arraignment) every person charged with a violation will be advised of their rights by the Court. These rights include important Constitutional and legal rights which must be conveyed to every person charged. Specifically, the Defendant is entitled to an attorney, either one he or she retains or an appointed attorney if the Defendant is indigent. At Arraignment, every person charged must make an election to proceed without counsel, to request an appointed attorney or their employed attorney must be present to represent the Defendant. The Court will not grant a continuance in the matter to allow the Defendant additional time to hire an attorney. Those arrangements must be made between the time the citation is issued and Arraignment.
The Defendant will also be advised of further rights. These rights include the right to a jury trial, the right to confront and cross examine witnesses, the right to have witnesses subpoenaed who would testify for the Defendant, the right to require the County to prove the Defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, the right to remain silent or to testify and other important rights that the Court will discuss prior to any action being taken.
After each Defendant is advised of his or her rights verbally, each Defendant will be presented with a written recitation of those same rights and the Defendant will make an election relative to counsel and also enter a plea. The Defendant can plead guilty, request a plea of nolo contendre (also known as a ‘no contest’ plea), or plead not guilty. If the Defendant pleads not guilty, the Defendant will then further elect whether to have a bench trial before the Magistrate Judge or a jury trial in Superior Court. If the Defendant elects a jury trial the case will be transferred to Superior Court for a jury trial and the District Attorney will serve as the prosecutor. The District Attorney may elect to proceed with the citation or may elect to formally accuse the case as a State law violation. All not guilty pleas in which the Defendant elects to have a bench trial will be scheduled for trial on a later date to allow both the Defendant and the County to subpoena witnesses. If the Defendant wishes to subpoena witnesses, he or she will need to personally appear in the Magistrate Court Clerk’s office to have the subpoenas issued and served. The request for subpoenas must be made sufficiently in advance of trial to allow time for service. There are costs associated with the issuance and service of such subpoenas, unless the Defendant is determined to be indigent.
If the Defendant enters a plea of guilty at arraignment the case will proceed to sentencing on the date of Arraignment. The County will present the factual basis for the plea and may make a recommendation as to the sentence to be imposed.
Recommendations are not binding upon the Court. A Defendant may request the Court accept a plea of nolo contendre (no contest). A plea of nolo contendre allows the Defendant to avoid admitting guilt but accept punishment as if he or she had in fact entered a guilty plea. Whether the Court will accept a nolo contendre plea is a matter left solely to the discretion of the Magistrate Judge.
The maximum sentence for most County Ordinance violations is up to six months in confinement and up to $1,000 in fines, per offense. The Court may sentence a Defendant to probation to avoid requiring the Defendant to be incarcerated. As a condition of probation, the Defendant may be ordered to pay fines, perform community service, undergo certain types of counseling, have a curfew, refrain from certain types of conduct, pursue an education, submit to random drug screens and/or other conditions that the Court may deem appropriate under the circumstances. All persons placed on probation will be required to pay a probation supervision fee and all of the surcharges on such fines required under Georgia law. If the Defendant violates the terms of probation, the probation officer may request that the Defendant be brought back to court and, if the Court finds that the Defendant has violated his or her probation, the Defendant may be sentenced to serve the time remaining on the original sentence in confinement or the probation may be modified to address the deficiencies alleged by the probation officer.
If the Defendant elects to enter a plea of not guilty and requests a bench trial, the case will be reset for hearing as discussed above. It is important that the Defendant keep the Magistrate Court Clerk advised of any changes in address because future court date notices will be mailed to the last known address of the Defendant. If the Defendant fails to appear for trial, a bench warrant may be issued for his or her arrest and the Defendant will be incarcerated until the time of trial. At the trial, the County will be required to prove the Defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The County will be required to present evidence sufficient to meet that burden of proof. After each witness called by the County testifies, the Defendant will be allowed to cross examine (ask questions of) each such witness. When the County has concluded presenting its evidence, the Defendant will be allowed, but not required, to present evidence. Each person who the Defendant calls as a witness, if any, will be subject to cross examination by the County Attorney. At the conclusion of the presentation of evidence, the Court will decide if the County has proven the Defendant’s guilt beyond a resonable doubt. If so, the case will then proceed to sentencing as discussed above. If the Defendant is found not guilty, the Defendant will be free to leave with no further obligation to the Court.
Occasionally, first time offenders will be sentenced differently from repeat offenders. If appropriate, a first time offender may be allowed to enter a plea, be sentenced and if the Defendant completes the terms of his or her sentence without violation, the case will show as having been dismissed on the Defendant’s criminal record. However, such a dispostion does not mean that the first offense did not happen, just that it was treated as if it was dismissed. If there is a subsequent violation of the law after the completion of the initial sentence, the Defendant will be treated as a repeat offender.
This site is intended to give a general overview of the process and procedure of a County Ordinance violation in Magistrate Court. The Court is specifically prohibited from giving legal advice and this site is not intended to provide legal advice. The Court encourages all persons charged with a criminal offense to seek the advice of legal counsel before making any court appearance.