Here at CourtReference, we’ve quite familiar with the court systems in every state. Unless you have business with courts in many different states, you may not be aware of how different court systems can be from state to state.
The basic structure is not so different; each state usually has a trial court in which the parties argue both the facts and the law in front of a judge or jury. The judge decides how to apply the law, and the judge or jury decides which facts are true and which are not – in other words, which party is telling the truth.
If one party is not satisfied with the outcome of the case in the trial court, they can appeal to a higher level court. Many states have another level, usually called the state Supreme Court, to which a decision of the intermediate appellate court can be appealed.
That’s the basic structure in each state: a trial court and one or more levels of courts of appeal. Since the great majority of cases are heard in the trial court, and very few people who encounter the court system end up in a court of appeals, CourtReference only provides contact information for trial courts, links to trial court websites, and links to online resources related to trial courts.
Although the trial court is the first and usually the only court you will encounter in each state, there is usually more than one type of trial court in each state. We explored some examples from California, Michigan, and Texas in our post Which Court Do I Go To? To summarize that post, we noted that California has a single type of trial court (Superior Court) in each county, Michigan has four types (Circuit, District, Probate, Municipal), with each hearing different types of cases. Although California has a single Superior Court in each county, that court is organized into specialized Divisions in most counties. Although each Texas county has several trial court types (see below), we only mentioned District Courts in Texas because many Texas counties have multiple District Courts that hear different types of cases.
Confused yet? Just wait, there’s more! There are two very basic types of trial courts: trial courts “of record” and trial courts that are not of record. “Of record” means that the court proceedings are recorded and a transcript can be obtained. On appeal from a court of record, the facts of the case are not re-tried; they’re in the transcript, and the judge’s decisions about the law are the only parts of the trial that may be challenged. On appeal from a court that is not of record, there is no record of the facts and arguments, so the whole case is tried over again. Courts that are not of record are mostly Municipal Courts, which have jurisdiction over a limited geographical area and very specific types of cases.
As an experiment, we decided to compare the court systems in each state to see which states and the most – and least – number of trial court types. We only counted general trial courts; we did not count specialized courts that only hear one type of case, such as Tax Courts, Water Courts, or Workers’ Compensation Courts. We also skipped courts that only exist in a single county or city, such as Denver Probate Court, Philadelphia Municipal Court, New Orleans Traffic Court, Marion County (Indiana) Small Claims Court, and St. Joseph County (Indiana) Probate Court. Finally, we skipped “Specialty Courts” such as Drug Courts and Mental Health Courts, which are generally not separate courts but are special divisions of an actual court.
Just how different are the number? Many states have only one or two types of trial courts: Alaska, Arkansas, California (one Superior Court, but with separate Divisions), Connecticut, District of Columbia (one Superior Court, but with separate Divisions), Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire (Superior Court, plus Circuit Court with separate Divisions), North Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Vermont, and Wisconsin.
Most of the rest have three or four. A few have five or six. Who’s the winner? New York has nine different types of trial courts! We could ignore those that only exist in New York City proper (Civil Courts of the City of New York, Criminal Courts of the City of New York), but that still leaves seven: Supreme Court (which is actually a trial court in New York; the higher courts are Appellate Division and Court of Appeals), Family Court, Surrogate’s Court, County Court, District Court, City Court and Town and Village Courts.
If we ignore those two New York City courts, then Georgia is the winner with eight types of trial courts: Superior Court, State Court, Juvenile Court, Probate Court, Magistrate Court, Civil Court, Municipal Court, and Recorder’s Court. Not far behind are Tennessee and Texas, each with seven different types of trial courts.
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We’ve made it easier for you to find the court-related information you need on CourtReference.com. When you search for your local court information on CourtReference.com, you will select a county; then CourtReference.com will display a page containing a list of all the courts in that county, along with contact information for each court.
Until our recent re-design, each court’s information was followed by three links: an “Online Resources” link, a “Map This Court” link, and a link containing the name of the court. If you didn’t know what those links meant – or didn’t realize they were links, even though they were bold and underlined – you might not click on them. By not clicking on them, you would miss out on a full page of links to resources related to that court (“Online Resources”), a map and directions to the court (“Map This Court”), and the court’s own website (the name of the court, bold and underlined).
Now those links are gone, and all you see is the name of each court followed by its contact information. But now the only instance of the court name is bold and underlined – the only obvious link for that particular court. When you click that link, CourtReference.com now displays a page containing the court contact information plus an obvious link to the court’s website (“Website”) if it has one, plus a map to the court, plus a link to “Directions” to the court if the map is not sufficient, plus all of the links to related resources on the same page.
An easy example is the first county in the first state, alphabetically: Autauga County, Alabama.
… and you will see all of the trial courts in Autauga County, along with their contact information. Interested in Prattville Municipal Court? Just click the bold/underlined Prattville Municipal Court link, and you’ll be taken to the Prattville Municipal Court page containing everything related to just that court: contact information, map and directions, and all related links.
We think this will make it easier to locate the information you need about each court. You won’t have to figure out what “Online Resources” means, or why the court name is displayed twice. Please note that some of our earlier blog posts, such as:
suggest clicking “Online Resources” to be taken to links to court records and other resources. Now you don’t have to do that; just click the court name and everything you ever wanted to know about that court is in one place.
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Many businesses and government agencies give special treatment to people over a certain age. That age limit is usually around 60, 65, or somewhere in between. If you’re a “senior”, an “elder”, or otherwise in that category, you can usually get discounts from private enterprise on things like meals, hotels, and movie tickets. From the government, you can get a lifetime pass to National Parks for only $10.
When it comes to the justice system, seniors don’t get any breaks. If you’re accused of a crime, or sued for damages, the law only cares about your age if you’re a minor. However, in keeping with the cultural propensity to give seniors a break, many public and private agencies have programs to help seniors navigate the justice system.
Lawyers themselves may specialize in cases affecting seniors; after all, many legal issues are especially relevant to seniors. Examples include wills and estates, elder abuse, age discrimination, health care, health insurance, and end-of-life issues. There is even a National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys that helps seniors find an attorney who specializes in one or more of these areas; it also provides information about various legal topics of interest to seniors.
For seniors who can’t afford a lawyer, public and private resources are available to help. Most legal aid agencies – these are private nonprofit organizations; see our blog posts here and here – provide legal assistance and information for seniors as part of their overall programs. Legal aid agencies may be found in every state and most counties. Just a few examples of those which specifically include senior issues are California’s Orange County Legal Aid Society, Ohio Legal Services, and Berrien County Legal Services, serving Berrien, Cass, and Van Buren Counties in Michigan.
Some areas even have a legal aid agency that specializes in senior issues. Some are regional, such as Maine’s Legal Services for the Elderly, Ohio’s Pro Seniors, Pennsylvania’s Senior Law Center, and West Virginia’s Senior Legal Aid.
Other specialized senior agencies are county-wide or regional, such as the Jewish Association Serving the Aging’s Legal Services for the Elderly in Queens, New York. California has its San Luis Obispo County Bar Association Senior Legal Services, Santa Clara County Senior Adults Legal Assistance, Stanislaus County Senior Adovcacy Network, and Elder Law & Advocacy in San Diego and Imperial Counties. New Jersey has its Camden County Bar Association Legal Advice for Seniors program. In Texas, the Tarrant County Bar Association offers an Elder Law Handbook.
In the public sector, most state Attorney General offices and many local prosecutors’ offices provide information about senior issues, although they do not provide legal representation or advice. Some examples include the Maryland Attorney General’s Office, New Jersey’s Burlington County Senior Citizens Legal Services Program, Pennsylvania’s Delaware County District Attorney’s Office Senior Victim Services, the South Dakota Attorney General’s Office, and the Washington Attorney General’s Office.
You can find the most up-to-date links to these and many other sources of legal help for seniors at CourtReference, in our “Self Help and Legal Research” or “Legal Aid and Lawyer Referral” categories.
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