What courts have jurisdiction in Ohio?
In Ohio, there are two systems of courts: the state courts and the federal (or U.S.) courts. This page contains a general outline of the two systems.
State trial courts
The courts with which the average citizen is most apt to be familiar are the trial courts. In Ohio, there are three primary types of trial courts: municipal, county and common pleas courts. All of Ohios state court judges are elected. The governor appoints a replacement when a judge dies or retires before his or her term has expired.
What do municipal, county and mayors courts do?
Municipal and county courts are limited in jurisdiction. They are restricted by the amount of money involved in a civil lawsuit and have jurisdiction only for crimes with limited penalties (misdemeanors and traffic offenses). Preliminary hearings in more serious (felony) criminal cases are also held in these courts.
Most cities have a municipal court, with one or more judges. The jurisdiction of a municipal court may extend only to the limits of the city where it is situated, or its jurisdiction may extend to certain areas outside the city or even cover a whole county.
Within a given county, wherever the jurisdiction of a municipal court does not extend, the jurisdiction of a county court does, so that all of Ohio is within the jurisdiction of either a municipal or county court. A county may have one county court judge, more than one or none at all if the whole county is within the jurisdiction of a municipal court. In some cities, there is a mayors court in which the mayor has the powers of a police judge with respect to offenses (usually traffic violations) committed within the city limits. The mayor is not required to be trained in the law, but must complete special courses conducted by the Supreme Court of Ohio.
For information about the division of municipal and county courts known as small claims court, contact the Ohio State Bar Foundation at (800) 282-6556 or (614) 487-2050.
What are common pleas courts?
The courts of common pleas were the original courts of general jurisdiction of the Ohio judicial system. Every county has a common pleas court, served by one or more judges. All civil suits of a serious nature involving real estate, property, divorce, dissolution, tort, and contract and business relationships are tried in this court. Criminal cases involving serious crimes where the penalty may be imprisonment for one year or more are also tried in this court. Common pleas courts also have authority to hear some appeals from county, municipal and mayors courts within their jurisdiction, and to hear appeals from orders of administrative agencies and officers.
A judge of the court of common pleas may be designated domestic relations judge. In some counties, he or she has jurisdiction over divorce, alimony, annulment and custody in family disputes.
What is probate court?
There is a probate division of the common pleas court in every Ohio county. In some counties, the common pleas judge also acts as the probate judge, and the probate judge may also serve as the juvenile judge.
Probate courts were originally established as separate, independent courts with jurisdiction over the probate of wills and supervision of the administration of estates and guardianships. In 1968, the probate courts became divisions of the courts of common pleas. Now, probate courts can issue marriage licenses and they have jurisdiction over adoptions, name changes, determinations of sanity or mental competency, and certain proceedings involving the taking of land by a government authority. The probate judge may perform marriages and may charge a fee for this service.
What is a domestic relations court?
The domestic relations court has jurisdiction over all proceedings involving termination of marriages, annulment, legal separation, spousal support, allocation of parental rights and responsibilities, and authority over the care and support of children of divorced parents.
What is juvenile court?
Each county has either a separate court or a division of the common pleas court with exclusive jurisdiction to hear cases involving juveniles alleged to be delinquent, unruly, abused, neglected or dependent; determinations of custody when not a part of a domestic relations case; and paternity determinations and support of the children involved. The name of this court varies from county to county.
What is the court of appeals?
The decisions of the trial courts may be appealed to the court of appeals. Each court of appeals consists of three judges and has jurisdiction in districts consisting of one or more counties.
Parties who are dissatisfied with decisions of the lower courts may appeal to the court of appeals.
The court of appeals may affirm the ruling of a trial court, modify it, reverse it or send it back to the lower court for further action. The hearing of an appeal is not a new trial with witnesses or a jury.
In most cases, the only concern in the court of appeals is whether the lower court applied the law correctly. To decide, the judges on the panel read a transcript of the testimony in the trial court and briefs written by the lawyers, and hear arguments by the lawyers. If the judges are not unanimous, the decision of the majority prevails.
What is the role of the Supreme Court of Ohio?
The Supreme Court of Ohio is the highest state court and consists of seven elected justices, one of whom is the chief justice. The Supreme Court is the court of last resort on state constitutional questions and questions of public or great general interest. It hears appeals from the Board of Tax Appeals and Public Utilities Commission as well as all criminal cases involving the death penalty, and has original jurisdiction in certain selected cases.
The Supreme Court sets rules governing the operation of the courts (the Rules of Superintendence and the Rules of Procedure) and other rules governing the practice of law in Ohio. Procedural rules adopted by the Supreme Court become effective unless both houses of the General Assembly adopt a concurrent resolution of disapproval. The Supreme Court has authority over the admission of attorneys who violate the rules governing the practice of law.
The United States courts
The federal court system generally resembles the Ohio judicial system. It consists of trial courts, appellate courts and a supreme court. All judges in the federal system are appointed to their posts. They are nominated by the president and confirmed by the U.S. Senate. There are other federal courts, such as the U.S. Court of Customs and Patent Appeals and the U.S. Court of Claims. These courts have specialized jurisdiction.
What are district courts?
The federal courts are called U.S. District Courts. Ohio is divided into two districts, northern and southern. These courts, too, are limited to deciding only certain types of cases. These limits are too complex to describe here, but basically the vast majority of the ordinary civil and criminal cases cannot be tried in federal courts.
The federal courts have jurisdiction over cases arising under federal law, some cases involving citizens of more than one state and special types of cases such as bankruptcy and patents. There are many types of federal crimes, such as counterfeiting and transporting stolen merchandise across state lines. Most criminal cases, however, involve violations of state law and are tried in state courts.
What does the circuit court of appeals do?
The federal appeals court is called the U.S. Court of Appeals. It is made up of 12 circuits with regional jurisdiction, including the District of Columbia Circuit and the 1st through the 11th Circuits. (There is also a Federal Circuit, which has national jurisdiction.) Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky and Tennessee make up the 6th Circuit. Appeals from the district courts are heard in the U.S. Court of Appeals in much the same way that appeals from the state trial courts are heard before state appeals courts.
What is the role of the U.S. Supreme Court?
The Supreme Court of the United States is the nations highest court. It has nine justices, one of whom is designated chief justice. It hears appeals from the federal courts. In cases involving rights under the Constitution of the United States and federal laws, it can hear appeals from the highest court of a state. Like the Supreme Court of Ohio, the U.S. Supreme Court must accept certain matters; however, it generally admits for hearing only those cases involving significant legal issues of national importance. Time limitations require the Court to decline to hear the vast majority of cases brought before it.
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