Alabama Municipal Courts - Part One - Why Not Use District CourtsRickey Stokes
Posted by: cannon
Date: Jul 02 2019 10:43 PM
ALABAMA MUNICIPAL COURTS Part One
Recently while covering a Ashford City Council Meeting the topic of hiring a Municipal Court Judge was in the discussion.
A total of four names were mentioned to be interviewed and selected as Ashford Municipal Court Judge. In the discussion the City Clerk/Court Magistrate was mentioned, Prosecutor, and Public Defender positions fell into the discussion.
According to some research there are 237 Municipal Courts in Alabama. According to the Alabama League of Municipalities there are 4,912 results. Honestly I did not review or count each municipality. Also I have not counted the number of Municipal Police Departments, yet.
Those figures will be forthcoming.
This is what peeked my interest while listening at the Ashford City Council Meeting. They say court is not about money, it is about justice. When you listen to how many people it takes to manage a Municipal Court when a municipality can operate with District Court and a District Court Judge, the answer is not justice. The answer is making money.
So the law enforcement officers are not law enforcement officers, they are revenue officers. How to make the municipality money.
So that has peeked my interest. Some phone calls have been made asking Municipal Verses District Court. What is the value? So far, no good answer given.
Which reverts back to the original question. Are Municipal Courts about "justice" or just about money?
Anyone with information please send to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
This is going to be a ongoing project and will require a lot of research. So it is going to be interesting to what the answer is.
At one time Retired District Court Judge Bill McFatter traveled around to the municipalities to hold court in each town once a month. Along with the Judge was a member of the 20th Judicial Circuit District Attorney Office for the prosecutor.
When Judge McFatter retired and now Alabama Supreme Court Justice Brad Mendheim was elected District Court Judge that practice continued but declined some. Then under District Court Judge John Steensland and District Court Judge Benjamin Lewis almost all municipalities have changed from District Court to their own Municipal Courts.
In Henry County, recently the City of Abbeville went from District Court to Abbeville Municipal Court.
The Ashford City Council sparked my interest. So here we go...
Alabama Courts Overview
It helps to understand how the Alabama state court system works when you’re trying to find court records. The Alabama trial court system consists of Circuit Courts, District Courts, Probate Courts, and Municipal Courts.
Circuit Courts have general jurisdiction over all civil and criminal cases but usually handle cases that are beyond the jurisdiction of other courts. District Courts, Probate Courts and Municipal Courts have limited jurisdiction over certain types of cases.
ALABAMA CIRCUIT COURTS
Circuit Courts have general jurisdiction over all types of cases, and typically handle cases that are beyond the jurisdiction of other courts. If no other court has jurisdiction over a case, the case will be heard in Circuit Court.
Criminal cases handled by Circuit Courts include most felony cases, some misdemeanors and some lesser-included offenses. Circuit Courts share jurisdiction with District Courts over guilty pleas in felony cases that do not include a death penalty.
Circuit Courts have original jurisdiction to hear all civil cases when the amount in dispute is more than $10,000, excluding interest and costs. Circuit Courts share jurisdiction with District Courts for most civil cases involving amounts between $3000 and $10,000 in dispute, exclusive of interest and costs. Most domestic relations cases are heard in Circuit Courts.
Circuit Courts and District Courts have divisions for Juvenile Court and share jurisdiction over juvenile cases. When Circuit Courts or District Courts handle juvenile cases, these judges sit as a Juvenile Court and a separate docket is maintained. In some counties, Juvenile Court is called Family Court. In some counties, Family Court may hear paternity, child custody, and child support cases as well as Juvenile Court cases.
Circuit Courts may hear claims involving less than $3000 when a District Court lacks jurisdiction over a certain type of claim, including some cases that request certain types of equitable relief and actions for negligence against municipalities. Circuit Courts do not offer a simplified Small Claims court process, and civil cases that are eligible for the simplified Small Claims procedure are within the exclusive jurisdiction of District Court.
Circuit Courts can receive some cases from Probate Courts, including the administration of estates and some involuntary commitment cases, if proper requests for a transfer are made and granted.
ALABAMA DISTRICT COURTS
District Courts have limited jurisdiction over certain types of civil and criminal cases.
Criminal cases handled by District Courts include most misdemeanors, some ordinance violations, preliminary hearings for felony cases, and guilty pleas in felony cases that do not include a death penalty.
Some misdemeanors and ordinance violations may be heard by Circuit Courts as lesser-included offenses in a felony case, or if an indictment for a misdemeanor has been returned by a grand jury. District Courts will generally only handle ordinance violations if no Municipal Court exists in the area, and shares jurisdiction with Municipal Courts over criminal acts that violate state laws but can also be prosecuted as municipal ordinance violations.
Civil cases handled by District Courts include general civil cases when the amount in dispute is less than $10,000, excluding interest and costs. District Courts share jurisdiction with Circuit Courts over most civil cases that involve amounts in dispute between $3000 and $10,000, exclusive of interest and costs. District Courts have exclusive jurisdiction over Small Claims cases, which are most civil cases that involve less than $3000 in dispute, excluding interest and costs.
District Courts share jurisdiction over juvenile cases with Circuit Courts and can receive certain cases, such as adoptions, from the Probate Court if a proper request is made and granted. When Circuit Courts or District Courts hear juvenile cases, these judges sit as a Juvenile Court and a separate docket is maintained. In some counties, Juvenile Court is called Family Court. In some counties, Family Court may hear paternity, child custody, and child support cases as well as Juvenile Court cases.
District Courts offer a simplified Small Claims procedure for eligible cases involving less than $3000 in dispute. Cases that are beyond the limits of District Court jurisdiction are heard in Circuit Courts, even if the amount of money in dispute is less than $3000. For example, District Courts do not have jurisdiction over certain types of equitable relief, including declaratory judgments, and District Courts are prohibited from exercising jurisdiction over certain types of cases, including actions for negligence against municipalities.
ALABAMA PROBATE COURTS
Probate Courts have original and general jurisdiction over cases that include the probate of wills, the administration of estates, guardianships and conservatorships, involuntary mental health commitments, adoptions, and name changes.
Certain types of cases can be transferred out of Probate Courts to Circuit Courts or District Courts, if a proper request is made and granted. Circuit Courts may handle cases related to the administration of estates, some involuntary commitment cases, some guardianships, some adoptions and other types of probate cases. A District Court may handle some guardianships, some adoptions and other cases related to the exercise of jurisdiction as a Juvenile Court.
Although the Probate Court has original and general jurisdiction over name changes, cases involving changes of name may be part of divorce, adoption or other similar cases, so records of such name changes may exist in other courts.
ALABAMA MUNICIPAL COURTS
Municipal Courts have jurisdiction over most municipal ordinance violations. Municipal Courts share jurisdiction with District Courts over criminal acts that are violations of state law and municipal law.
District Courts will generally only handle ordinance violations if no Municipal Court has territorial jurisdiction over the offense. Ordinance violations may be heard by Circuit Courts and District Courts as lesser-included offenses.