North Dakota Court Records
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How Does The North Dakota District Court Work?
North Dakota District Courts are trial courts with general jurisdiction over criminal and civil cases. The court also has the authority to issue original and remedial writs and has exclusive jurisdiction over criminal matters. The District Courts also serve as the state’s Juvenile Courts and have complete authority over juvenile cases. There are District Courts for each of the state’s 53 counties.
The District Court has appellate jurisdiction for appeals from most administrative agency decisions. The court adopts a jury system for certain criminal and civil cases. North Dakota State law requires that all qualified adults be placed on jury duty. However, in some exceptional cases, the court may excuse an individual from jury duty. A ‘master list’ of eligible jurors is compiled and maintained by the court. Jurors are entitled to payment for their days of service. An eligible juror must be:
- At least 18 years old
- A United States citizen
- A North Dakota citizen
- A citizen of the county where the jury duty is to be carried out
- Able to speak, read and understand English to a reasonable degree
- Physically and mentally well
Documents filed in a District Court may initially be physically submitted at the clerk’s office, by mail, or online. Note that all documents in civil and juvenile cases must be filed online.
The North Dakota Judicial system encourages parties to settle disputes through the Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) mechanism. Consequently, the District Court makes it mandatory for parties to a lawsuit to discuss ADR within 60 days of filing the suit. A statement on whether ADR will be adopted should be filed after the discussion between the parties.
There are currently 52 judges in the North Dakota District Courts. District Court judges are appointed through non-partisan elections conducted every six years in the district where the judge is to serve. Judges are expected to be licensed attorneys in North Dakota, be citizens of the United States, and North Dakota residents.
North Dakota is divided into eight judicial districts that operate within four administrative units. The South Central Judicial District is made up of ten judges. These judges sit at four different chamber city locations.
The Northwest Judicial District is made up of six judges who sit at two different chamber city locations. Five of these judges serve the North Central Judicial District from one chamber city location.
The East Central judicial District has nine judges that serve from two-chamber city locations. The Northeast Central Judicial District is served by five judges sitting at one chamber city location. The Northeast Judicial District is served by six judges sitting out of five chamber city locations.
For the Southeast Judicial District, seven judges serve the district sitting out of five chamber city locations. Four judges serve the Southwest Judicial District in one chamber city location.
Each district has an administrative judge appointed by the Supreme Court to oversee judicial services in that district. The Administrative judge’s functions include:
- Assigning cases among judges in the district
- Assigning judges where there is a demand for a replacement
There are currently 52 District judges in the state. The presiding judge of an administrative District may authorize the appointment of a Judicial Referee to assist the court with its workload. These referees will serve at the pleasure of the District Court judges of the judicial district. The presiding judge may authorize the judicial referee to chair certain matters. The judicial referee will enjoy the same authority as a District Court judge and exercise the given duties. The minimum requirements for a judicial referee include being:
- A United States Citizen
- A physical resident in the Judicial District of appointment unless the presiding judge waives this requirement
- Licensed to practice law in the state of North Dakota
Decisions of the referee may be reviewed at any time by a District Court judge. A review must also be conducted if a party applies within seven days of a decision. Note that the request for a review must state the reason for a review.
A review by the District Court judge must be a fresh review of the facts. After review, the judge may adopt, reject or revert the case to the referee for additional findings.
Where a vacancy arises for a District judge, the Supreme Court must decide if the vacancy is to be filled or the judgeship abolished or transferred. When filing a vacancy the Judicial Nominating Committee sends a list of nominees to the governor. Consequently, the governor appoints a new judge from the list of nominees. Alternatively, the governor may call for a special election to fill the vacancy. If the appointment is filled through an appointment, the appointed judge can serve for a minimum of 2 years or until the next general election. At the next general election, the appointed judge would have to contest to retain the position. District Court judges may be removed via one of the following ways:
- Through a recall election
- Through Retirement
- Removal by the Supreme Court on the recommendation of the Judicial Conduct Commission
- Removal by the Legislature following a majority impeachment decision by the House of Representatives, and a two-thirds majority conviction by the Senate.
Locations of North Dakota District Courts are available online. Searches are conducted by selecting a county from the map.
District Court records are available to the public as governed by N. D. Const. art. XI § 6. District Court Cases are accessed at the various District Courts where the trials occurred. North Dakota District Courts have public terminals available for interested persons to access and print court records.
Cases may also be accessed online using the free North Dakota Courts Records Enquiry page. A searcher may conduct searches on a particular county location and access criminal, civil, traffic, family, and probate case records. Some counties may have portals with case information dating back to 1991, while others may be more recent. The duration in which cases are available depends on when each county adopted the online case management system. To find out how far back a county’s online records go, visit the Courts on Odyssey page.