How Do the Oregon Justice Courts Work?
Oregon Justice Courts function within the boundaries of the county where the courts are located. Oregon currently has 32 Justice Courts in 21 counties. In these courts, cases are heard using the rules of evidence and mode of proceeding identical to those used in Circuit Courts, except where otherwise provided.
Oregon Justice Courts have jurisdiction over all litigable offenses in their respective counties. This is concurrent with any jurisdiction that may be exercised by a Circuit or Municipal Court. Some of these litigable offenses include boating violations, animal regulation violations, traffic violations, truck-overload, truancy, civil complaints, and other violations that occur in the county of jurisdiction. The Justice Courts also conduct weddings at no cost during regular working hours. In addition, a Justice Court has non-exclusive civil jurisdiction over the following actions:
- The retrieval of money or damages when the amount claimed is not more than $10,000
- The retrieval of certain personal property when the value of the property claimed or the damages for the detention is not more than $10,000
- The retrieval of any forfeiture or penalty, whether given by statute or originating from a contract, not more than $10,000
- To give a final verdict without action, upon the defendant’s confession for any of the causes indicated above. However, this excludes a forfeiture or penalty imposed by statute
Note that the value of the property, the amount claimed, damages, or any amount in dispute, exclude disbursements or attorney fees. Also, the cases above do not include actions involving false imprisonment, title to real property, libel, slander, or malicious prosecution.
A Justice of the Peace heads a Justice Court within the district for which he or she is elected. County commissioners establish the boundaries of these Justice Court districts. The qualification for a Justice of the Peace is as follows:
- Must be a resident of the United States and a resident of Oregon for three years before becoming a candidate
- Must be a resident of the Justice Court district or have a primary office in the district where the Justice Court is situated for at least one year before the candidacy
- Must be an Oregon State Bar member of good standing
- Must have concluded a course on courts of special jurisdiction offered by the National Judicial College, or would finish the course within 12 months after appointment or election to the office. This requirement also considers courses equivalent to those mentioned earlier, or any course proposed by the Justice of the Peace and endorsed by the Supreme Court’s Chief Justice.
However, if exigent occurrences prevent a Justice of the Peace from finishing a required course, the presiding judge of the judicial district may grant the Justice of the Peace one extension of time to complete the course. The extension may not exceed 12 months. The presiding judge may also require the Justice of the Peace to conclude additional educational requirements when an extension is granted.
The Justice of the Peace is elected to a term of six years in a nonpartisan election. The retirement age for a Justice of the Peace in Oregon is 75 years. Retirement at 75 years of age is compulsory even if the Justice of the Peace is still in active service. Note that a Justice of the Peace may be asked to withdraw from active service if considered too physically unfit or mentally unstable for regular judicial responsibilities.
If the position of a Justice of the Peace is vacant before an election, the state Governor may appoint a qualified person. Note that the appointee may remain in service until the next general election. If the Justice of the Peace is temporarily absent or incapable of performing duties for valid reasons, the County Court may appoint another sitting Justice of the Peace. Although the appointee may be from any Justice of the Peace district in Oregon, the person must possess the qualifications for election as a Justice of the Peace. However, note that the appointment may not exceed one year. During the temporary tenure, the appointee will be paid the same salary amount receivable by the absent Justice of the Peace.
A temporary Justice of the Peace appointment may be terminated by a written notice filed with the county clerk by the appointing authority. However, if the appointee has qualified and fulfilled the responsibilities of the office, the appointment shall not be revoked.
Generally, every Justice of the Peace is permitted to have two weeks paid vacation every year. In the period of absence, the County Court may designate a Justice of the Peace to stand in for the original Justice of the Peace pro tempore.
Also, a Circuit Court judge, or a Justice of the Peace in a Justice Court district within the county, may carry out the responsibilities of another Justice of the Peace in the county. However, note that this is only possible under the following conditions:
- At the demand of the Justice of the Peace of the Justice Court
- If the office of the Justice of the Peace is vacant
- If the current Justice of the Peace is absent, incapable, or disqualified
The Oregon Judicial Case Information Network (OJCIN) offers access to non-confidential case dockets through a paid subscription resource for court case records. Some cases are confidential and statutorily protected, and are not available to the public. Persons with registered accounts can sign in with their login details, while other persons may register to access court case dockets. There is a $150 registration fee for persons setting up a new account.
Interested persons may also query the court clerk in the Justice Court where the case originated. The record request may be submitted by e-mail, U.S. mail, fax, or in person. The request should contain the following information:
- Type of record(s)
- Subject matter
- Estimated date(s) the record was created or received
- Names of people included in the record or people who created or received the record
- The number of copies requested
Also, the requestor’s personal information may be required if the response is to be delivered by mail. The required information includes:
- Name and signature
- Telephone number where the requesting party may be reached during business hours
- E-mail address, if available
Note that the fees for electronic, e-mailed, or hard copies are not the same. Also, the fees for regular, certified, and exemplified copies vary. Interested persons are advised to confirm current fees at the courthouse.