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Unofficial Opinion 95-9

Unofficial Opinion 95-9

May 3, 1995
To: 

Chief Judge, Superior Court
Griffin Judicial Circuit

Re: 

The School Safety and Juvenile Justice Reform Act grants exclusive jurisdiction to the superior court over any matter concerning any child 13 to 17 years of age who is alleged to have committed certain serious felony offenses; therefore, a magistrate court judge must be designated to serve as a superior court judge in order to issue arrest warrants, conduct a first appearance hearing, and conduct a preliminary or committal hearing for juveniles covered by the Act.

You have asked my unofficial opinion regarding the implementation of O.C.G.A. § 15-11-5 et seq., the School Safety and Juvenile Justice Reform Act (the Act). Newly enacted O.C.G.A. § 15-11-5(b)(2)(A) provides in pertinent part that:

[t]he superior court shall have exclusive jurisdiction over any matter concerning any child 13 to 17 years of age who is alleged to have committed any of the following offenses: (i) murder; (ii) voluntary manslaughter; (iii) rape; (iv) aggravated sodomy; (v) aggravated child molestation; (vi) aggravated sexual battery; or (vii) armed robbery if committed with a firearm.

(Emphasis added.)

Under prior law, the superior court had concurrent criminal jurisdiction with the juvenile court over capital felonies. You have asked whether the grant of exclusive jurisdiction to the superior court restricts the magistrate court's ability to (1) issue an arrest warrant for a juvenile covered by the Act, (2) conduct a first appearance hearing, and (3) conduct a preliminary or committal hearing for such a juvenile. You have indicated that previously the magistrate judges in your circuit performed these functions with respect to juveniles charged with capital felonies.

It is my unofficial opinion that the magistrate court judges cannot perform these functions under the new Act. The Act specifically provides for exclusive jurisdiction to be vested in the superior court for "any matter" concerning juvenile offenders charged with certain serious felonies. The Act does not specify that any other court can assume jurisdiction over any matter unless the district attorney or superior court transfers the case to juvenile court pursuant to O.C.G.A. §§ 15-11-5(b)(2)(B) and (C). The exclusive jurisdiction language restricts jurisdiction to the superior court in all other cases.

The superior court may, however, designate a magistrate court judge to act as superior court judge to conduct proceedings under the Act. The chief judge of "any court of this State" may make a written request for assistance to the chief judge of "any other court," on a determination of the requesting court that the business of the court requires the temporary assistance of an additional judge or additional judges. O.C.G.A. § 15-1-9.1. The term "judge" includes magistrates. See O.C.G.A. § 15-1-9.1(a)(3). If assistance is needed from a judge within the same county, the chief judge of any court within such county may make a written request for assistance to the chief judge of any other court within that county. Id.

Pursuant to this Code Section, the chief judge of any superior court circuit may designate the magistrate court judges to conduct proceedings as a superior court judge. It is my advice that such a designation can be made for cases covered by O.C.G.A. § 15-11-5. The Act does not specifically prohibit the designation of magistrate judges to sit as superior court judges. In essence, the magistrate judge, once designated, is acting as a superior court judge. Therefore, the practice of utilizing the resources of the magistrate court in this manner complies with the letter and intent of the Act.

Recent decisions of the Georgia Court of Appeals have addressed the propriety of designating magistrate court judges to hear cases within the jurisdiction of the State superior courts. See Dominguez v. Enterprise Leasing Co. , 197 Ga. App. 664 (1990); Hornsby v. Odum, 198 Ga. App. 472 (1991); Cornelius v. Finley, 202 Ga. App. 192 (1991). The Court of Appeals has ruled that designation of a magistrate judge, by the chief judge of the superior court, is appropriate if carried out in accord with the terms of O.C.G.A. § 15-1-9.1. For example, a written request for assistance should be submitted to the magistrate court; the designation should specify the need for assistance; and the request should indicate that the designation is for temporary assistance. Any order designating a magistrate judge to serve as a superior court judge should also refer to the need for assistance and the temporary duration of the designation.

In light of the appellate court cases, the designation of magistrate judges should be made on a case by case basis or for a specified term of court.

I recommend that copies of the designation order be placed in each file wherein a magistrate court judge conducts proceedings with respect to juveniles, to ensure a complete record in the event the case is appealed.

In summary, it is my unofficial opinion that the School Safety and Juvenile Justice Reform Act grants exclusive jurisdiction to the superior court over any matter concerning any child 13 to 17 years of age who is alleged to have committed certain serious felony offenses; therefore, a magistrate court judge must be designated to serve as a superior court judge in order to issue arrest warrants, conduct a first appearance hearing, and conduct a preliminary or committal hearing for juveniles covered by the Act.

Prepared by:

LORI V. WINKLEMAN
Assistant Attorney General