There are 357 incorporated cities in North Dakota (North Dakota League of Cities 2018 Annual Report). A municipal court has been established in 87 cities. There are currently 63 municipal judges who serve in those 87 municipal courts.
Each municipality under 5,000 in 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 20 legally-trained municipal court judges in the state. Vacancies that occur between elections are filled by the executive officer of the municipality with the consent of the governing body of the municipality.
Court rule requires each new municipal judge to complete an orientation program within three months of taking office. All municipal court judges and alternate judges must complete 18 hours of continuing education during each three-year reporting period. If a municipal judge fails to meet this requirement without an excused absence from the Continuing Judicial Branch Education Commission, the judge’s name is referred to the Judicial Conduct Commission for disciplinary action.
A city with a population of less than 5,000 may abolish the court by executing an agreement to transfer all ordinance cases to district court and by abolishing the office of municipal judge by resolution of the city’s governing body. [N.D.C.C. 40-18-06.2]
There is no provision for a city with a population greater than 5,000 to abolish their municipal court. However, there is no restriction on a city of that size transferring all of their ordinance cases to district court, and a city having done so may refuse to appoint a municipal court judge. [Attorney General Opinion 93-F-23]
Except as otherwise provided by law, Municipal Courts have jurisdiction over criminal and non-criminal violations of city ordinances. These can include Class B misdemeanors, infractions and traffic violations. [N.D.C.C. 40-05]
Only a municipal judge who is law-trained may preside over a charge of Driving under the Influence, charged as a violation of 39-08-01 or equivalent city ordinance. [N.D.C.C. 40-18-01 (3)(4) and Attorney General Opinion 2008-L-17]. However, the municipal court does not have jurisdiction over a Driving Under the Influence charge if the individual charged has had two or more previous convictions for violations of 39-08-01 or equivalent city ordinance in the preceding 7 years or three or more violations in the preceding 15 years. If the municipal judge becomes aware of the previous convictions, he or she must dismiss the current charge without prejudice and direct that the charges be filed in district court.
A municipal court has no jurisdiction over a charge of domestic violence in violation of N.D.C.C. 12.1-17-01.2. [N.D.C.C. 12.1-17-01.2(4)]
Except for municipal ordinance that are non-criminal, a municipal court lacks jurisdiction over juveniles because statute vests exclusive original jurisdiction over children under the age of 18 who are alleged to be delinquent, unruly or deprived with the Juvenile Court. [N.D.C.C. 27-20-03 and Attorney General Opinion 2000-F-15]
A citation issued to a juvenile for a minor traffic violation may be handled in Municipal Court. Citations or charges issued to a juvenile for a serious traffic offense or for an offense involving alcohol cannot be handled in Municipal Court and must be transferred to juvenile court. [N.D.C.C. 27-20-03 and Attorney General Opinion 2000-F-15]
Hearings in municipal court are generally held in the municipal court located in the city where the offense was charged. If there is no objection by a party to the proceeding, a municipal court judge can change venue to another facility or city after considering these factors: convenience of the parties and witnesses; judicial efficiency; available facilities; and administration of justice. [N.D.C.C. 40-18-21]
A municipal judge may choose to hold a hearing using telephone, interactive television, or other reliable electronic means that allows for contemporaneous audio or audiovisual communication. [N.D.C.C. 40-18-21.1]
In general, the maximum fine or penalty for violation of an ordinance, resolution or regulation of a city may not exceed $1,500 and the term of imprisonment may not exceed 30 days. [N.D.C.C. 40-05-06(1)]
Except for those violations listed under N.D.C.C. 39-06.1-05, a city may establish a fee for ordinances that regulate the operation or equipment of a motor vehicle at up to twice the fee established for a similar violation under N.D.C.C. 39-06.1-06. [40-05-06(2)].
A municipal judge may impose alternative sanction in lieu of a fine or jail. A municipal judge may also enter a deferred or suspended sentence. [N.D.C.C. 40-05-06(4)]
The sentence for contempt of court may not exceed a fine of $1,500 and 30 days in jail. [N.D.C.C. 40-18-14]
Qualifications for municipal court judge vary based on size of the city and choice of the governing body. In a city with a population of 5,000 or more, the municipal court judge must be an attorney; if less than 5,000 the city can pass a resolution requiring the judge to be an attorney; the qualifications of the municipal court judge affect the types of cases they can preside over. [N.D.C.C. 40-18-01]
Appointment/Election: Municipal Court Judges are elected officials. The term of office for a municipal court judge is four years. [N.D.C.C. 40-14-02 and 40-15-02]. If there is a vacancy in the office of the municipal court judgeship, it can be filled by appointment by the executive officer, subject to confirmation by the governing body of the city; An appointee shall hold office until the next city election. [N.D.C.C. 40-18-03]
Compensation: Compensation for municipal court judge services must be by salary and cannot be based on fines or fees levied and collected by the municipal court. A judge’s salary may not be reduced during his or her term of his of office. [N.D.C.C 40-18-06]. The Supreme Court has established a recommended salary for municipal court judges based on population of the city, but the city is not required to follow the recommendation. [N.D.Sup.Ct.Admin.R. 30]
Education: For a city with a population of 5,000 or greater, the municipal judge must be a licensed attorney. There is no minimal educational requirement to obtain the municipal court judgeship for a city with a population below 5,000. However, the city may adopt a resolution to require that the judge be a licensed attorney. [N.D.C.C. 40-18-01]
Each municipal court judge, including alternate judges, is required to complete a new judge orientation program within 3 months of their election or appointment. They are also required to have 18 hours of continuing education training within each three-year reporting period. The Court System provides annual municipal court judge training that meets this requirement. The city must provide for reimbursement of expenses related to travel and lodging to attend the training program. [N.D.Sup.Ct.Admin.R.36]
Residency: Judges are not required to be a resident of the city in which they serve. [N.D.C.C. 40-18-01]
To transfer municipal ordinances to the district court the city must first obtain the agreement of the governing body of the county, the presiding judge of the district court, and the state court administrator. [N.D.C.C. 40-18-06.2]
The template for the contract to transfer municipal ordinances to district court can be obtained by calling or emailing the office of the state court administrator. This template also includes transfer of cases to the district court for jury trial so there is no need to execute two contracts.
The agreement specifies who is responsible for prosecution and how the fines will be split. The Supreme Court has set the state share of the fines at 60%. It is up to the city to negotiate with the county how the remaining 40% will be split. In the absence of an agreement, statute provides that 100% of collections go to the state’s general revenue fund. Fees established by the legislature must be deposited as required by statute and may not be shared or diverted. [N.D.C.C. 40-18-15.1]
A defendant may elect to have a jury trial removed to district court by filing the request with the municipal court within 28 days of arraignment. The city is responsible for payment of costs to prosecute any case that has been removed to district court; if the defendant is indigent, the city is responsible for securing and paying for counsel for the defendant. If the defendant does not waive jury trial after a case has been transferred to district court, then the case remains with the district court for sentencing. [N.D.C.C. 40-18-15.1]
Prior to July 1, 2011, if a defendant waived jury trial after the case was removed to district court, the case remained with the district court.
Between July 1, 2011 and June 30, 2017, if a defendant waived jury trial after the case was removed to district court, the case had to be remanded to the municipal court, unless there was an agreement between the defense and the prosecution that the case should remain with the district court.
After July 1, 2017, if a defendant waives jury trial after the case has been removed to district court, the case must be remanded to the municipal court for sentencing if the defense and the prosecution agree to the remand. If there is a disagreement between the parties, then the case must remain with the district court.
The template for the contract to transfer cases to the district court for jury trial can be obtained by calling or emailing the office of the state court administrator. This contract is only for those cities that have retained jurisdiction over all of their ordinances. The contract includes optional language to incorporate any other contract executed between the city and the county for prosecution services.
By state constitution, the judicial power of the state is vested in a unified judicial system. The Chief Justice is the administrative head of the unified judicial system with the authority to promulgate rules of procedure to be followed by all court of the state. The unified judicial system consists of a supreme court, a district court and other courts as provided by law. Municipal courts are statutorily created courts and as such are part of the unified judicial system. [Constitution of North Dakota, Article VI]
Annual Certificate of Compliance Administrative
Rule 30 of the North Dakota Rules of Court sets out a number of mandatory requirements and recommended minimum standards for municipal courts. Every year, the municipal court judge must certify that the court is in compliance with these conditions. The Supreme Court can determine whether to enforce compliance or waive a requirement for a specific court. A municipal court judge should not hold court during any year in which compliance with the certification requirement has not been met. [N.D.Sup.Ct.Admin.R.30]
Access to North Dakota Century Code and the Rules of Court
By court rule, the city is required to provide the municipal court with the North Dakota Century Code and the Rules of Court. This requirement can be met through purchase of the hardbound materials or by providing internet access to materials located on the North Dakota legislative website (www.legis.nd.gov) and North Dakota Supreme Court website (www.ndcourts.gov). [N.D.Sup.Ct.Admin.R.30
Information for Municipal Court Judges and Staff
Minimum Standards for Courts –Administrative Rule 30:
Certificate of Compliance:
Supreme Court Administrative Rule 30, Section 5 states:
"Before holding court in any calendar year, the judge of each municipal court shall certify to the State Court Administrator that the municipal court meets the minimum standards in Section 3 and has made its best efforts, in cooperation with city government, to meet the minimum standards in Section 4. A municipal judge should not hold court during any year in which compliance with this certification requirement has not been met."
The Compliance Form is due to the State Court Administrator by Oct. 31 of each year.
Upon the election or appointment of a new judge, the city should notify the State Court Administrator’s office (701-328-4216). The new judge will be assigned a mentor and is required to complete the orientation program. New judges are also required to view the Municipal Court Judge Orientation video.
Each municipal judge must complete at least 18 hours of approved course work in continuing education during each three-year period of tenure. Each municipality shall provide for reimbursement of the expenses for travel and lodging for municipal court judges and alternate municipal court judges to attend the training programs provided by the State Court Administrator pursuant to N.D.C.C. § 40-18-22. Complete education requirements are included in Administrative Rule 36. Guidelines for completing these requirements can be found by clicking here.
Questions about continuing education can be referred to the Director of Education at 701-328-4251 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
North Dakota Municipal Judges Association
- President - Bob Keogh
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