Part of our job here at CourtReference – in addition to making sure that court contact information and links to court websites and other resources are up to date – is to provide a brief explanation of each state’s trial court system. When you select a state on CourtReference, the next page you see has a list of that state’s trial courts, an explanation of each, and a chart showing which types of cases are heard by each court.
Most state trial court systems are fairly simple, with one or two levels of general-jurisdiction courts in each county. We’ve already noted some exceptions to that general rule in articles about court systems in California, Michigan, and Texas; consolidation of courts in some states; and relatively rare types of county-level courts such as Chancery Courts.
Many states also have courts of more limited geographical jurisdiction, i.e., covering an area less than a county. Some have jurisdiction in more than one subdivision of the county, such as several towns or townships; examples are Justice of the Peace Courts in Louisiana and Texas, and Magisterial District Courts in Pennsylvania. But most have jurisdiction in a single municipality, and the common dictionary definition of “municipality” is a single city, town, village, borough, or similar political subdivision that has powers of self-government and is included in a larger political subdivision. More details about divisions and subdivisions of government in the United States can be found in Wikipedia.
In many states, some but not all municipalities have their own courts. They may be called City Court, Town Court, or similar names, but most are called Municipal Courts – because they are the court for that municipality. Generally, a Municipal Court will have jurisdiction over violations of municipal ordinances (local laws that apply only to that municipality), some local disputes between local citizens or between a citizen and the municipality, and some violations of state laws that occur within the geographical limits of the municipality (most often, traffic violations). In most states with Municipal Courts, if you commit a violation or have a dispute with someone within a municipality, the only question is whether the Municipal Court has subject matter jurisdiction over that issue. If it does, then your case will be heard in Municipal Court (or City Court, Town Court, etc.). Only if your Municipal Court does not have jurisdiction over that type or case will it be heard in a county-level court.
However, as you may guess by reading some of our other blog articles, there are always exceptions to general rules about state trial courts. Ohio’s Municipal Courts are an exception. Ohio has a Court of Common Pleas in each county, usually with general, domestic, juvenile, and probate divisions. Each Court of Common Pleas (and its divisions) have county-wide jurisdiction. So far, so good. Most Ohio municipalities (cities and villages) have Mayor’s Courts, which handle local ordinance cases and traffic violations, and in which the mayor or an appointed magistrate is the judge. Not exactly typical, but not unique either; we covered Mayor’s Courts in Louisiana and Ohio, and Alderman’s Courts in Delaware here.
Where Ohio becomes an exception is at the county level. Many Ohio counties do have County Courts with county-wide jurisdiction. But many Ohio counties instead have Municipal Courts with county-wide jurisdiction. Some have Municipal Courts with jurisdiction only within one city or village, alongside Municipal Courts with jurisdiction within several cities and villages, alongside a County Court with county-wide jurisdiction.
Sound confusing? It gets worse: a Municipal Court with county-wide jurisdiction can be named “… County Municipal Court” or just plain “… Municipal Court” depending on which county it’s in. If a Municipal Court is named “… County Municipal Court” you can safely assume that it has county-wide jurisdiction. But if it’s named simply “… Municipal Court” it may or may not have county-wide jurisdiction.
Still confused? Even worse, a Municipal Court can have almost county-wide jurisdiction. It can have jurisdiction in all areas of a county except for those areas in which another Municipal Court has jurisdiction. How do you know? Since Municipal Courts’ jurisdiction is established by law, you can read the statute (Ohio Revised Code Section 1901 et seq). You can check the court’s website, which might tell you. You can call the court clerk. Simplest of all, you can just check CourtReference’s Ohio Guide. If a Municipal Court doesn’t include “County” in its name, we let you know if it has jurisdiction in more than just its own city or village. Take a look at our Allen County and Cuyahoga County pages for examples.
We even let you know if a Municipal Court that does have “County” in its name does not have jurisdiction in some parts of the county; see our Columbiana County page for an example.
Tags: California · Court Systems · Courtreference.com · Delaware · Louisiana · Michigan · Ohio · Pennsylvania · Texas
Drug courts are specialized, court-administered programs designed to provide treatment options for addicted offenders in the criminal justice system. There are over 2800 drug courts operating in all 50 states and U.S. territories; more than half serve adults with substance addiction and dependency. Other drug courts treat juvenile, veteran, and tribal offenders (as well as other targeted populations), but for the purpose of this article we will focus on adult offenders.
The first drug court was established in 1989 in Miami-Dade County, Florida. Courts there and elsewhere determined that the era’s popular “war on drugs” policies were failing to impact the number and cost of drug-related crimes. The focus of law enforcement to reduce drug use and distribution by escalating arrest and incarceration rates slowly shifted to reducing the demand for drugs by offering court-based treatment options for addicted offenders. The drug court movement supports diversion of these offenders into treatment programs designed to eliminate their chemical dependency, thereby reducing the demand and incidence of drug-related offenses.
Across the country, drug courts are administered by local courts with jurisdiction over criminal matters. They are not actual “courts” in the traditional sense but diversion programs offered within the court system as an alternative to criminal adjudication. The staff often includes a multidisciplinary team of legal professionals, social service and treatment providers operating under the direction and oversight of a specially-trained judge. To see the type of professionals who staff the Benton County, Oregon Adult Drug Treatment Court, click here.
Drug court programs vary by duration, eligibility criteria, treatment services, supervision and monitoring standards, and program compliance. In terms of duration, drug court programs can range from six months to two years, depending on location and resources available. For example, in Coconino County, Arizona, the program lasts twelve months and offers standard drug court services: substance abuse evaluation and treatment, individual counseling, recovery support groups, and routine and random urinalysis tests in addition to judicial monitoring. Participants in drug courts must successfully complete the entire program and remain drug and arrest-free for a specified period of time, typically established by the supervising court or a governing state authority.
Eligibility criteria is also set by state authority (the legislature or an oversight agency), or by local court administration. In Miami-Dade County, the site of the first drug court, participation is governed by statute. Only certain types of offenders are targeted for inclusion; this is true for all drug court programs. Generally speaking, defendants must be charged with a non-violent, drug-related offense, and test positive for drugs or have an established history of substance abuse at the time of arrest.
There are two tracks for enrollment in drug court: pre-trial diversion and post-plea participation. With pre-trial diversion or deferred prosecution, as it is called in some jurisdictions, an offender who meets the eligibility criteria can be diverted into drug court before entering a plea. Upon successful completion of the program, criminal charges will be dismissed. In a post-plea arrangement, the offender must plead guilty to the criminal charges, but sentencing will be deferred or suspended pending completion of the program. Successful completion will close the case without imposition of a sentence or term of probation, or expunge the record altogether. To see an example of enrollment in a post-plea drug court program, click here to read about the Sacramento County Drug Court.
What if the offender does not successfully complete the treatment program? In most cases, enrollment is terminated and the defendant is returned to court custody to face the criminal charges that were deferred or suspended. However, depending upon the nature of noncompliance with the drug court rules, the offender may be allowed to stay in the program but face other sanctions imposed by the supervising judge or clinical staff. For example, if an offender refuses to submit to a drug screen or misses an appointment, he or she might be subject to more frequent or random test screenings. Alternatively, if an offender relapses and tests positive after testing clean on multiple screenings, he or she may be ordered to attend additional treatment or counseling sessions. The supervising judge may require enhanced status hearings to more closely monitor the individual’s progress, or direct the staff to reevaluate treatment levels. Click here to see examples of sanctions imposed on noncompliant drug court participants in the Douglas County, Nebraska Drug Court. There are progressive sanctions that can be imposed before program participation is revoked.
Drug courts offer addicted offenders an opportunity to receive treatment rather than incarceration. They receive individualized clinical evaluation, care and counseling, and their progress is monitored via status hearings with judges and treatment staff. Upon successful completion of drug court, participants have a higher addiction recovery rate than offenders processed through the criminal justice system, and are less likely to re-offend than their adjudicated counterparts, according to multiple legal and social science studies. To find the drug courts in your area on CourtReference, click on your state, select Self Help and Legal Research from the Resource Category pull-down menu, and scan the listings for drug or treatment courts.
Tags: Arizona · California · Florida · Nebraska · Oregon · Uncategorized
This blog has discussed many ways to find a lawyer, from how to decide whether or not you really need a lawyer to evaluating a prospective lawyer by using online resources and checking disciplinary records. In between, we covered ways to find free legal help here and here; lawyer referral services here, here, and here; using lawyers for limited services; even finding legal help during a natural disaster.
After using all these resources – or after getting a recommendation from a friend - you’ve found a lawyer to take your case. So far, so good. But what happens if your lawyer charges a higher fee than you think is warranted, or didn’t do all the work you expected?
Just as bar associations and state agencies can help you find a lawyer, they can help to resolve disputes with your lawyer too. The process is generally called “filing a grievance” and it can be done online in many places.
For serious complaints about your lawyer’s performance, most states have a disciplinary procedure, and in most states it is handled by the highest court in that state. For example, in Pennsylvania it’s the Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. If you were looking for an attorney and wanted to check his or her disciplinary records, you might have already been to this website. Since this Board handles attorney discipline, you would also go to this website to file a complaint; it even has handy instructions and a complaint form.
Simple disagreement about the amount of a lawyer’s fee are more often handled by the local bar association. Still in Pennsylvania, many county bar associations have a committee to mediate fee disputes, such as those in Dauphin, Lycoming, and Philadelphia Counties. Since more serious ethical and conduct complaints are handled by the state Disciplinary Board, many bar associations’ fee dispute page will direct you to the Disciplinary Board for those issues; see examples from Erie and Montgomery Counties.
Although Pennsylvania’s system is typical, it is by no means universal. In New York, grievances about conduct are handled by regional committees based in Departments of the Appellate Division (New York’s second-highest court), while fee disputes are handled by local offices in each judicial district that are part of the Statewide Fee Dispute Resolution Program.
Texas has a statewide grievance program for conduct issues, handled by the State Bar. Fee disputes are handled by local bar associations or dispute resolution centers; the State Bar has a directory of those agencies, as well as helpful suggestions for resolving your dispute. The Texas State Bar also has a Client-Attorney Assistance Program to help you determine the proper course of action, and even a set of instructions to follow if your lawyer dies, disappears, or becomes disabled.
These are just some of the ways to complain about your lawyer that can be found in CourtReference’s “Legal Aid and Lawyer Referral” category of online resources. They are in that category – along with disciplinary records and all things lawyer-related – so all your questions about lawyers in your state are in one place.
Tags: Courtreference.com · Free Legal Help · New York · Pennsylvania · Texas · Uncategorized