You have asked for my opinion as to whether local legislation is necessary to establish a juvenile court for Liberty County alone. It is my opinion that local legislation is not necessary to establish the court, but the powers of the juvenile court cannot be restricted to only that county.

In answering this question, the first inquiry is to ascertain the intent of the General Assembly when it passed O.C.G.A. § 15-11-3. This statute provides “[t]he judge or a majority of the judges of the superior court in each circuit in the state may appoint one or more qualified persons as judge of the juvenile courts of the circuit, unless otherwise provided by a local Act.” O.C.G.A. § 15-11-3(b). The inquiry should begin with a reading of the language of the statute and where the language is plain and unambiguous, judicial construction is unnecessary. E.g., State v. Mulkey, 252 Ga. 201 (1984). The wording of O.C.G.A. § 15-11-3 is certainly plain and unequivocal. It provides that superior court judges have the power to appoint circuit-wide juvenile court judges, which may act in each county of the circuit.

Subsection (b) of O.C.G.A. § 15-11-3 further provides that if the superior court judges do not appoint a circuit-wide juvenile court judge

Then the superior court judge or judges of the circuit shall assume the duties of the juvenile judge in all counties in the circuit in which a separate juvenile court judgeship had not been established as part of the duties of the superior court judge. All juvenile court judgeships . . . established on or before July 1, 1983, shall continue until such time as a circuit-wide juvenile court judge is appointed . . . .

This provision clearly shows that the General Assembly intended to provide for creation of circuit-wide judgeships on or after July 1, 1983, unless local judgeships existed prior to that time. This office has also previously opined that O.C.G.A. § 15-11-3 contemplates circuit-wide judgeships and that juvenile judges previously appointed to those positions may hold that judgeship even if the circuit is later divided. 1983 Op. Att’y Gen. U83-26.

The Georgia Constitution provides that

[N]o local or special law shall be enacted in any case for which provision has been made by an existing general law, except that the General Assembly may by general law authorize local governments by local ordinance or resolution to exercise police powers which do not conflict with general laws.

Ga. Const., Art. III, Sec. VI, Para. IV. Therefore, local legislation could not constitutionally establish a single county juvenile court in a circuit contrary to the provisions of O.C.G.A. § 15-11-3. In my opinion, to do so would vary the general law provided in O.C.G.A. § 15-11-3(b).

These statutory provisions clearly contemplate “grandfathering” of only those single county juvenile judges established by local legislation on or before July 1, 1983. Even if local legislation were constitutionally permitted after the enactment of Article 3, Section 6, Paragraph 4 of the Georgia Constitution, it would render meaningless that provision in O.C.G.A. § 15-11-3(c) which provides that the jurisdiction of each judge shall be circuit-wide. Of course, all parts of a statute must be read to give meaning to each part and no part should be rendered meaningless. City of Jesup v. Bennett, 226 Ga. 606 (1970); Osborne v. State, 161 Ga. App. 132 (1982). Based on the foregoing, it is my unofficial opinion that a majority of the superior court judges in the Atlantic Circuit may appoint a juvenile court judge in this circuit and that juvenile court judge will have circuit-wide jurisdiction including Liberty County. Moreover, it is also my opinion that local legislation is not constitutionally permissible to appoint a single judge within the circuit contrary to the provisions of O.C.G.A. § 15-11-3.

Prepared by:

Senior Assistant Attorney General