There are approximately 363 incorporated cities in North Dakota. Currently, there are 82 municipal judges. State law permits an individual to serve more than one city as a municipal judge.
Each municipality under 5,000 population has the option of deciding whether or not to have a municipal court. Municipalities may contract with the state to provide municipal ordinance violation court services so that district judges may hear municipal ordinance violations.
Municipal judges have jurisdiction over all violations of municipal ordinances, except certain violations involving juveniles. Violations of state law are not within the jurisdiction of the municipal courts.
A municipal judge is elected for a four-year term. The judge must be a qualified elector of the city, except in cities with a population below 5,000. In cities with a population of 5,000 or more, the municipal judge is required to be a licensed attorney, unless an attorney is unavailable or not interested in serving. At present, there are approximately 22 legally-trained and 60 lay municipal judges in the state. Vacancies that occur between elections are filled by appointment by the municipality's governing body.
State law requires that each new municipal judge attend two educational seminars and all others attend one course conducted by the Supreme Court in each calendar year. If a municipal judge fails to meet this requirement without an excused absence from the Continuing Judicial Education Commission, the judge's name is referred to the Judicial Conduct Commission for disciplinary action.
Municipal courts have jurisdiction over municipal ordinance violations, which are either traffic or criminal cases. Most of the traffic caseload of the municipal courts consists of noncriminal or administrative traffic cases. While these cases greatly outnumber the criminal traffic cases, they generally take much less time to process. There is a lesser burden of proof in noncriminal traffic cases than in criminal cases and most noncriminal traffic cases are disposed of by bond forfeitures. While judges are not needed to process bond forfeitures, support personnel in the clerk's office must account for every citation received by the court.
Municipal criminal ordinance violations that may be heard by a municipal court are either infractions or Class B misdemeanors; and are, in large part, similar or identical to many of the criminal cases heard in the district courts. A large share of the criminal violations are those involving traffic, but many are unique to each city and based on the particular ordinances. The North Dakota Rules of Criminal Procedure and the Rules of Evidence are applicable to municipal court criminal proceedings. Jury trials are available to persons charged in municipal court with Class B misdemeanors upon a request for transfer to district court; otherwise, trials in municipal court are to the judge without a jury. As in all criminal cases, the city must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the alleged criminal offense. Appeal from a criminal conviction in municipal court is to the district court.