An Overview of Michigan's District Courts
In 1969 Michigan Law consolidated almost all of the state's Municipal Courts into a coordinated system of Districts where full-time judges, elected by the citizens, could serve the local legal needs of their communities as "courts-of- record." There are 100 District Courts in Michigan and 265 District Judges who handle hundreds of thousands of traffic, criminal, and civil cases annually.
The District Court has jurisdiction for:
- Jury and non-jury adjudication of all civil litigation, where one party is suing the other party, up to $25,000.00. Civil cases are non-criminal disputes. District Courts also may handle cases over $25,000 where a Circuit Judge has decided that the "probable value" is under that amount, but the judge or jury has no limitation in those cases as to what the final judgment amount may be.
- Jury and non-jury trials of all criminal misdemeanors under State law or local ordinances. Misdemeanors are charges where the punishment may not exceed one year in jail.
- The arraignment, setting and acceptance of bail and conducting of "preliminary examinations" in felony cases. Felonies are cases where the punishment exceeds one year of imprisonment. At Preliminary Examination, the judge hears testimony from witnesses and determines if the charge is correct and "probable cause" exists to believe that the defendant committed that offense. If probable cause is found, the matter is sent to Circuit Court, called a bindover, for a jury or non-jury trial.
- All traffic and parking violations
- Small Claims disputes (up to $6,000.00)
- Landlord-tenant disputes and land contracts forfeitures
- Performing marriages
The Court is served by elected judges who may appoint a magistrate to assist them. Judges are State Officials and are paid (almost entirely) by the State, but the Courts and their other employees are provided by local communities or counties. District Judges are attorneys who are elected on non-partisan ballots for terms of six years. The Governor may appoint replacement to fill vacancies. The judge appointed must stand for election at the next regularly scheduled General election.
A Magistrate's duties are limited by statute and by the Order of the District Court Chief Judge. They can include conducting arraignments, setting bail, conducting small claims trials, traffic informal hearings and performing marriages. Any litigant who does not like the decision of a Magistrate is entitled to a completely new hearing or trial before a judge.
Administration & Organization
The 70th District Court is divided into 5 divisions:
- Court Administration: Responsible for personnel and fiscal management, juror coordination, maintenance of caseflow and court calendaring.
- Criminal Division: Maintains criminal record keeping systems and the processing and scheduling of all criminal and ordinance violations.
- Traffic Division: Responsible for maintaining court records on all traffic and parking ticket violations and the processing and scheduling of these cases.
- Civil Division: Maintains records on general civil, landlord-tenant and small claims cases and the scheduling and processing of these cases.
- Probation Department: Responsible for the supervision, counseling and referral of defendants placed on probation. The Probation Department also performs alcohol assessments and pre-sentence investigation. Those who cannot afford to pay fines and costs are supervised in community service placements with non-profit agencies where they can contribute volunteer hours in lieu of payment, at the judge's discretion.
Educational Group Visits & Tours
The 70th District Court encourages the community to learn more about its operation and jurisdiction through special educational tours and visits offered by the Saginaw County Bar Association. Visiting groups may receive an orientation on local court operations, take a tour of the facility, discuss the Court with the Judges if time allows, and observe courtroom proceedings.
Visits to Schools and Community Groups
District Judges regularly visit the schools in their local areas and speak to church and civic groups.
Michigan District Courts are open 365 days a year to provide for the Constitutional guarantee to a speedy arraignment so the Court can inform anyone arrested as the criminal charge against them and the appropriate bail.
The public is always welcome weekdays during normal court hours to visit our courts and see them in action. There are no guarantees as to what's going to be on the docket---some days are more interesting than others, but as long as you do so quietly, you are free to enter and leave the proceedings as you wish. The 70th District Court is open Monday through Friday (except holidays) from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Your district judges care. They believe that we are all better served when our citizens know their rights and responsibilities under the law!