Today, most Georgians are very concerned about the direction that this country is taking. National politics and government seem to dominate the nature of many conversations. This is particularly true in an election year when America decides whether we are a free market constitutional republic or whether the character of our nation has collectively deteriorated to a modern socialist welfare state.
However, it is the local government and courts that affect most people on a personal level more than what is happening on Capitol Hill. The Georgia Legislature decided long ago to concentrate a large amount of power into one particular realm of local government. This realm is known as the superior court.
Each judicial circuit in Georgia has one or more superior court judges. Contrary to what some believe, their duties and responsibilities are extremely difficult. They also wield enormous power that actually affects the health of the community they serve. In order to illustrate these powers and responsibilities, consider the following non-exhaustive list of the duties of a superior court judge:
1. Preside over felony (and sometimes misdemeanor) criminal cases – Most of the cases that come before the superior court are criminal prosecutions. I would estimate that in the west Georgia area, 85% of the jury trials are criminal jury trials.
These cases range from low level thefts to capital murder prosecutions. The judge is responsible for taking guilty pleas, hearing motions, and conducting bench and jury trials. The criminal law aspect most clearly shows the awesome power of the judge. He can take away a person’s liberty, sometimes for life. While he or she cannot impose a death sentence in Georgia, the judge’s rulings during the trial have an impact on the likelihood of a death sentence. It is vitally important that a superior court judge has a firm understanding of constitutional law, criminal law, and criminal procedure.
2. Preside over family law cases – In my opinion, this is the most difficult job of a superior court judge. The judge must hear divorce, child custody, protective order, and child support cases. These cases are extremely emotional and can take a toll on all parties involved. The power to take and place a child in another home is considered by some attorneys to be the greatest power a superior court judge possesses.
3. Preside over civil lawsuits – The types of civil lawsuits that come to superior court are property disputes, worker’s compensation cases, some personal injury suits, breach of contract cases, and other types of civil actions. As stated above, the superior court judge must not only have a keen understanding of constitutional law, but he or she must have the fortitude, intellect, and understanding of civil procedure to handle the oftentimes very complex civil cases that come before the court. It is not uncommon for some of these civil cases to have millions of dollars on the line as well.
4. Miscellaneous duties – Each superior court judge has different assignments that the public does not often see. These duties include, but are not limited to, budgeting, personnel management, and calendaring the case load. These “behind the scenes” functions can make a huge difference in the efficiency of the court.
Lastly, the character and competence of the man or woman sitting on the superior court bench significantly reflect on all of the above-mentioned duties. With great power comes great responsibility to the people of Georgia.