Functions of the County Court Office
The county court system is organized into 12 judicial districts which range in size from one to nine counties. County courts handle misdemeanor cases, traffic and municipal ordinance violations, preliminary hearings in felony cases, civil cases involving up to $51,000, small claims cases, some divorce cases, probate, guardianship, conservatorship and adoption proceedings, and juvenile matters. The district courts have concurrent jurisdiction in misdemeanor cases, but nearly all misdemeanor cases are tried in the county courts. Preliminary hearings are used in county court to determine whether there is enough evidence to establish probable cause in a felony case. If it appears the crime charged has been committed and there is probable cause to believe that the person charged with committing the crime is responsible, the defendant will be bound over to stand trial in district court.
As Judicial Administrators of County Courts, clerk magistrates are responsible for the administrative functions of the county court offices. Besides administrative duties, clerk magistrates have limited judicial responsibilities which may include accepting pleas in traffic and misdemeanor cases, collecting traffic fines, setting bail, accepting appearance bonds, and performing other judicial services.
Small Claims Division of the Court
Small claims court is a division of county court and the hearings are conducted by a county judge. The court has jurisdiction in civil matters where the damages sought or the money claimed does not exceed $2,700. The person making the claim is known as the plaintiff. This person or party assumes the burden of proof, which is the responsibility to prove the issues of the case. The other person or party, against whom the claim is brought, is known as the defendant. The actual court procedure is informal. Juries are not used, attorneys are not allowed, and the parties involved must represent themselves. Once a judgment is entered, any person not satisfied with the judge's ruling may appeal to the district court within 30 days. If the judgment is for the plaintiff, it is the plaintiff's responsibility to collect the property or money. If the defendant refuses to pay the judgment, the plaintiff then has the option of using an attorney to initiate collection procedures. The usual procedure involves either selling the debtor's property or garnishing the debtor's wages and bank accounts. Instructional brochures regarding the small claims process are available at county courts and the administrator's office. (as of January 1999)