Different Type of Court, Same Type of Name?

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We talked about about the different types of courts you might find in different states here, including the difficulty of figuring out which local court handles your type of case (and the fact that CourtReference helps you figure that out). If you know the name of each court in your area, you can go to CourtReference and see what types of cases that court handles.

But just knowing the name of a court may not always be enough, depending on where you live. For example, you would think that a “Municipal Court” would have jurisdiction over a particular municipality (i.e., a particular city or town). But if you were in Ohio, you’d be wrong! We explored Ohio’s Municipal Courts here, pointing out that some Ohio Municipal Courts have jurisdiction over an entire county, some over most but not all of a county, and some over a single city or town.

Even if you know all about a court’s territorial jurisdiction, two courts in the same county with the same type of name may not always have the same subject matter jurisdiction. For example, Arkansas has two types of District Courts: State District Courts and Local District Courts – even though they are all called simply District Courts. Arkansas’ Local District Courts have jurisdiction over civil claims up to $5,000, while State District Courts have jurisdiction up to $25,000. Whether your lawsuit for $10,000 can be filed in District Court or Circuit Court depends on which type of District Court exists in your location. And if all parties agree, a case may be transferred from Circuit Court to a State District Court – but not to a Local District Court. Helpful hint: Arkansas Local District Courts took the place of former City Courts, and some local residents still refer to their local court as a City Court – so if you hear that, you know they’re talking about a Local District Court.

We previously discussed types of courts that are allowed to have non-lawyer judges. In some states, some Municipal Courts can have non-lawyer judges, while other Municipal Courts must have judges who possess a law degree; we covered those in detail here. We pointed out in that post that whether a Municipal Court judge has a law degree or not, there is usually no difference in the court’s jurisdiction or case procedures.

In some states, some Magistrate Courts can have non-lawyer judges, while other Magistrate Courts must have magistrates who possess a law degree; we covered those – along with Justice of the Peace Courts – in detail here. In contrast to Municipal Courts, Magistrate Courts with non-lawyer judges often have narrower subject-matter jurisdiction than Magistrate Courts in which the magistrate has a law degree.

In that same blog post, we noted that Justice of the Peace Courts are normally presided over by non-lawyer judges. Justice of the Peace Courts may sometimes be called Justice Courts, and they usually have limited territorial jurisdiction, such as a single precinct or district within a county. Utah has a type of court named Justice Courts, which have their own local twist: they can be County Justice Courts with countywide jurisdiction, or Municipal (or City) Justice Courts with local jurisdiction.

Most Utah County Justice Courts include the word “County” in their name, and most Municipal Justice Court do not include the word “Municipal” or “City” in their name. But of course there are exceptions: just look at the names of the Justice Courts in Cache County. Which one is the County Justice Court? None of them! They are all Municipal Justice Courts. Carbon County is a little easier; its County Justice Court says it’s a County Justice Court, even though two of the Municipal Justice Courts don’t let on that they’re local courts. To add a further twist, some County Justice Courts don’t really have jurisdiction over the entire county; they only have jurisdiction over a precinct in the county. See Beaver County for an example.

Confusing? Yes, it is. Always check CourtReference for an explanation of your state’s court system. If that doesn’t do the trick, just call the court – we have court contact information too.

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