There are district court services in each of the state's fifty-three counties. The district courts are funded by the state of North Dakota. The district courts have original and general jurisdiction in all cases except as otherwise provided by law. They have the authority to issue original and remedial writs. They have exclusive jurisdiction in criminal cases and have general jurisdiction for civil cases.
The district courts also serve as the juvenile courts in the state and have exclusive and original jurisdiction over any minor who is alleged to be unruly, delinquent, or deprived. This jurisdiction includes cases in which a female minor is seeking judicial authorization to obtain an abortion without parental consent. Unlike a majority of other states, the responsibility for supervising and counseling juveniles who have been brought into court lies with the judicial branch of government in North Dakota. To meet these responsibilities, the presiding judge, in consultation with the district court judges of each judicial district, has the authority to employ appropriate juvenile court personnel. In addition to these personnel, the presiding judge, on behalf of the district court judges of the judicial district, may also appoint judicial referees to preside over juvenile proceedings, judgment enforcement proceedings, and domestic relations proceedings other than contested divorces.
The district courts are also the appellate courts of first instance for appeals from the decisions of many administrative agencies. Acting in this appellate capacity, district courts do not conduct a retrial of the case. Their decisions are based on a review of the record of the administrative proceeding conducted by the administrative agency.
In 1979 the Supreme Court divided the state into seven judicial districts. In each judicial district there is a presiding judge who supervises all court services of courts in the geographical area of the judicial district. The duties of the presiding judge, as established by the Supreme Court, include convening regular meetings of the judges within the judicial district to discuss issues of common concern, assigning cases among the judges of the district, and assigning judges within the judicial district in cases of demand for change of judge. All judicial districts are served by a court administrator or administrative assistant, who has the administrative responsibility for liaison with governmental agencies, budget, facilities, records management, personnel, and contract administration.
There are, as of the end of 2002, forty-two district judges in the state. Eight judges in four chamber city locations serve the South Central Judicial District, the largest geographically and most populous district in the state. There are seven judges in the Northwest Judicial District serving in four chamber city locations. Seven judges serve the East Central Judicial District in two chamber city locations, and five judges serve the Northeast Central Judicial District in one chamber city location. Six judges serve the Northeast Judicial District in five chamber city locations. Six judges serve the Southeast Judicial District in five chamber city locations. Three judges serve the Southwest Judicial District in one chamber city locations. All district court judges are required by the state constitution to be licensed North Dakota attorneys, citizens of the United States, and residents of North Dakota.
The office of district court judge is an elected position which is filled every six years in a nonpartisan election held in the district in which the judge will serve. If a vacancy in the office of district judge occurs, the Supreme Court must determine whether the vacancy should be filled or whether the vacant office should be abolished or transferred. If the vacancy is to be filled, the governor may either fill the vacancy by appointing a candidate from a list of nominees submitted by the Judicial Nominating Committee or by calling a special election to fill the vacancy. If the vacancy is filled by the nomination process, the appointed judge serves for a minimum of two years and then until the next general election, at which time the office is filled by election for the remainder of the term.