Everything you’d ever want to know about limited jurisdiction courts

Another name for limited jurisdiction courts is:

  1. municipal courts;
  2. district courts;
  3. mayor’s courts;
  4. justice courts;
  5. all the above.

If you selected #5, you’re correct, but “all the above” is an incomplete answer. In all, there are 20 different names for limited jurisdiction courts nationwide.

That fact is just one of many found in a new NCSC resource guide intended to educate city, county and state officials – and the public – about these courts, which hear cases such as traffic violations, misdemeanor criminal charges and small-claims cases. In many ways, the new resource guide is a long time coming, given that about seven out of 10 cases originate in the 15,000 or so limited jurisdiction courts nationwide.

The idea for the guide began in the wake of unrest in Ferguson, Mo., where it was revealed that poor people were jailed in large numbers for failing to pay court-related fines and fees. That led to efforts to improve court practices and to the realization that local and state officials nationwide would benefit from more information about how these courts operate.

“We saw this (guide) as an opportunity to better acquaint funders with the roles and purposes of these courts,” said Patti Tobias, a principal court management consultant.

The resource guide, funded by the State Justice Institute, includes an interactive video tour, the primary purpose of which is for court leaders to watch it with local officials and discuss it with them, Tobias said. The tour also is intended to educate new court employees as well as the public.

The guide also includes data visualizations that allow users to zero in on specific states as well as a section that highlights what states are doing to improve their limited jurisdiction courts. Missouri, for example, embarked on a municipal court reform effort and came up with 35 recommendations intended to reduce confusion about how its limited jurisdiction courts operate. The Supreme Court of Missouri implemented many of the recommendations.

An advisory committee of judges and court administrators from Missouri, Texas, Louisiana, Utah and Washington contributed to the creation of the resource guide. The committee was led by Douglas Beach, former presiding judge in St. Louis County, where Ferguson is located.