Oregon Courts are made up of the Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, Tax Court, Circuit Courts, and the courts of limited jurisdiction, namely the County Courts, and Municipal Courts, Justice Courts. The courts of limited jurisdiction are considered part of the state-funded court system. The Supreme Court is at the judicial system’s apex level in Oregon and has the final say on appeal cases and other matters concerning the Oregon constitution. The Supreme Court accepts appeal cases from the Court of Appeals, although some specific cases fall under the Supreme Court’s exclusive jurisdiction and will not have to pass through the Court of Appeals. Examples of such cases are cases involving questions of law and capital penalties. The Supreme Court has seven Supreme Court justices, including one chief justice. The justices are elected in a nonpartisan, statewide election to serve six-year terms. In an election conducted among the justices, one is elected to serve as chief justice for six years. The chief justice is responsible for all administrative responsibilities of the Supreme Court.
The Court of Appeals is below the Supreme Court in order of authority. It also carries out appellate functions only on decisions made by the lower courts in the state, reviewing cases already heard in the state’s lower courts. The Oregon Supreme Court chief justice oversees the Tax Court’s affairs, and as such, the Tax Court’s rulings are appealable to the Oregon Supreme Court and not the Oregon Court of Appeals. The state Tax Court presides over tax-related issues in the state. The courts of limited jurisdiction, including the County, Municipal, and Justice Courts, only preside over a few cases within their jurisdiction, such as violations and other less serious cases.
There are also federal appellate courts that are part of the Oregon judicial branch. These federal courts are charged with hearing federal cases otherwise restricted to federal court. They also hear appeals from lower courts. However, they are not constitutionality considered a trial court.
All Oregon state courts, and essentially all its judicial, executive, and legislative branches operate an administrative office. For the courts, these administrative offices manage official accounts of judicial proceedings in the state, and they disseminate Oregon court records to interested and eligible persons per state law.
What are Appeals and Court Limits in Oregon?
A person aggrieved by a lower court’s decision can file an appeal at the state’s appellate courts to petition for review in Oregon. Oregon’s Court of Appeals and Supreme Court are the two appellate courts in the state, and they both hear appeals within their jurisdiction. However, most appeal cases from lower courts are passed to the Court of Appeals, except for capital punishment cases. The Court of Appeals has jurisdiction over all civil, administrative, and criminal appeals. An appellant must file a Notice of Appeal within 30 days of the lower court’s decision. The Supreme Court determines by vote of the Justices whether to review the case. This means that at least three justices must vote to permit the appeal’s review; otherwise, the Court of Appeal's verdict becomes final.
Oregon Rules of Appellate Procedure details the appellate procedure in the state, from when the appeal is filed up to when the appeal is reviewed. It also contains information on the filing of specific appeals in Oregon’s Court of Appeals and Supreme Court.
How Do I Find My Case Number in Oregon?
A case number is composed of a series of numbers and alphabets that reveal certain unique details concerning a particular court case, such as the year a case was filed and the judicial office where it was filed. With a case number, identifying case information is relatively straightforward and does not involve any long processes. Case numbers also make it easy to differentiate a case from another and uniquely make reference to civil and criminal cases in Oregon courts. This is because no two cases have the same case numbers. Hence, it saves time that will have been wasted while going through several search results that are produced during a name search.
A case number can be found by searching the case search portal with the party’s name or company name of one of the parties involved in a case. The search criteria include the party’s last name, first name, or company name. Optional information may also be provided if available. The Find a Court portal helps interested persons locate a court, and it also provides the contact information, location, and website of the court.
Individuals can also find their case numbers by inquiring at the Court Clerk’s office where the case was filed. The Clerk of Court may demand specific information on the case that was filed in order to locate the case number.
Does Oregon Hold Remote Trials?
As the COVID-19 pandemic surged, in-person proceedings became restricted. The Chief Justice Order 20-047 authorized these restrictions to create awareness on remote proceedings and mandate social distancing for many additional months.
On October 28, 2020, the Chief Justice Order 20-045 was issued, and it follows guidance from the Oregon Health Authority. It mandates everyone that visits courthouses in Oregon (including judges and staff) to use protective face coverings, preferably fabric masks and not face shields. This implies that in the courtrooms, everyone must wear a mask unless a particular person is having issues understanding certain communication.
Remote proceedings were partially introduced later on. This implies that in-person proceedings for essential cases were still held, but partially, as the number of judges and staff in the courthouses were restricted to only a few. In May, the Chief Justice introduced CJO 20-016, permitting courts to conduct the full range of court services (except for the landlord/tenant cases prohibited by moratorium), including jury trials in criminal and civil cases if they could be conducted remotely or in-person with safety precautions.
Following Governor Brown’s new restrictions on gatherings and other activities, the Chief Justice issued a new order, CJO 20-047, which further restricts in-person proceedings. So far, Oregon courts have been able to successfully provide remote services using WebEx and telephone communications. Between April and November, the number of remote hearings using WebEx had increased from 600 video proceedings to about 5,000 video proceedings in November. Many proceedings are also being held over the phone.
What is the Oregon Supreme Court?
The Oregon Supreme Court is the court with the final word on appeal cases that have to do with the state’s law. The Supreme Court performs a discretionary review of petitions that objects to the Court of Appeals decisions. The Supreme Court of Oregon also hears petitions to appeal to the Tax Court’s rulings, death penalty cases, and legal discipline matters on direct review. Direct review means that the case will not need to pass through the Court of Appeals before the Supreme Court reviews it. Cases that fall under the Supreme Court of Oregon’s direct review jurisdiction include state agency decisions such as the locations of sites for solid waste disposal, placement of energy production facilities, the station of prisons, and some labor law injunctions.
The state Supreme Court also has original jurisdiction in writs of habeas corpus, writs quo warranto, writs of mandamus, reallocation of state legislative districts, and challenges to ballot measures including their fiscal impact statement, titles, and explanatory statement as listed in the Voters Pamphlet. The Court is authorized to admit new lawyers to practice in Oregon, discipline attorneys and judges, and appoint members to the Board of Bar Examiners, supervising the bar exam and screening potential lawyers before admitting them into practice.
Oregon Court of Appeals
Oregon Court of Appeals is also referred to as the intermediate appellate court of the state. It hears appeals directly from the trial courts and has jurisdiction over various criminal and civil cases apart from a few appeals directly reviewed by the Oregon Supreme Court. The Court of Appeals receives petitions for judicial review and appeals from Oregon's trial courts and state administrative agencies.
Oregon Court of Appeals has 13 judges, elected by a nonpartisan, statewide ballot to serve six-year terms. The 13 elected judges of the Court of Appeals are divided into four panels that hear cases the Chief Judge of the court assigns to them.
Oregon Tax Court
The Oregon Tax Court is the state court with exclusive jurisdiction in all cases that regard state tax laws. The Court is responsible for presiding over tax-related cases, such as cases arising from tax authorities, taxpayers, and taxation issues within the state. Some of these cases include income taxes, property taxes, corporate excise taxes, local budget law, cigarette taxes, timber taxes, and property tax limitations. The Oregon Tax Court hears cases that have to do with taxpayers’ dissatisfaction with the Oregon Department of Revenue decisions or county tax assessors.
The Tax Court has two divisions, including the Magistrate Division and the Regular Division.
Magistrate Division - This division is composed of some magistrates (presently three magistrates), headed by one presiding magistrate that the Tax Court judge appoints. The magistrates are active attorneys delegated by the court as judicial officers to hear cases informally. The magistrates make an effort to resolve a case between parties before bringing the case to trial. The parties are allowed to choose an attorney, a licensed appraiser, an accountant, or even represent themselves, as the court rules are informal. If the mediation fails, the magistrate will consider both parties’ evidence and words and give a written judgment. Parties to the case may appeal the Magistrate Division’s verdict to the Oregon Tax Court's Regular Division.
Regular Division - This division is administered by the Tax Court judge and performs a more formal court proceeding than the Magistrate Division. Parties are allowed to represent themselves, but they are mostly represented by an attorney. The Regular Division of the Tax Court has the same rules as the Tax Court Rules, closely related to the Oregon Rules for Civil Procedure. They are also similar to the Oregon Circuit Court in terms of rules of evidence and procedure. The Regular Division reviews cases that were appealed from the Magistrate Division, and these cases will be started over from scratch so that the judge can review the evidence.
The Oregon Tax Court is administered by the Chief Justice of the Oregon Supreme Court. As such, the Tax Court rulings are only eligible for appeal to the Oregon Supreme Court, instead of the Oregon Court of Appeals. The Oregon Tax Court has one judge elected to a six-year term in a statewide election.
Oregon Circuit Courts
Generally referred to as courts of general jurisdiction, Oregon Circuit Courts hear a wide range of criminal and civil cases. Some of which include domestic relations, traffic violations, juvenile violations, small claims, mental commitments, abuse prevention act, adoption, probate, and guardianship cases. Circuit Courts are courts of record, which implies that every word spoken during a trial in the Circuit Courts is recorded.
The state’s Circuit Courts are also actively involved in both legislatively initiated and self-initiated programs to provide enhanced case resolution processes for cases presented to them by the general public. Some of these programs include treatment courts (drug, alcohol, mental health, veterans courts), domestic relations centers, family courts, parental education programs, and juvenile court improvement programs. This also includes website resources for self-represented litigants, mediation and arbitration programs, and jury management programs (one-trial/one-day service).
Each of Oregon’s 36 counties has a Circuit Court. These Circuit Courts are sectionalized into 27 judicial districts, including:
- First Judicial District – Jackson
- Second Judicial District – Lane
- Third Judicial District – Marion
- Fourth Judicial District – Multnomah
- Fifth Judicial District – Clackamas
- Sixth Judicial District – Umatilla, Morrow
- Seventh Judicial District – Gilliam, Sherman, Hood River, Wheeler, and Wasco
- Eighth Judicial District – Baker
- Ninth Judicial District – Malheur
- Tenth Judicial District – Union and Wallowa
- Eleventh Judicial District – Deschutes
- Twelfth Judicial District – Polk
- Thirteenth Judicial District – Klamath
- Fourteenth Judicial District – Josephine
- Fifteenth Judicial District –Curry and Coos
- Sixteenth Judicial District – Douglas
- Seventeenth Judicial District – Lincoln
- Eighteenth Judicial District – Clatsop
- Nineteenth Judicial District – Columbia
- Twentieth Judicial District – Washington
- Twenty-first Judicial District– Benton
- Twenty-second Judicial District – Jefferson and Crook
- Twenty-third Judicial District – Linn
- Twenty-fourth Judicial District – Harney, Grant
- Twenty-fifth Judicial District – Yamhill
- Twenty-sixth Judicial District – Lake
- Twenty-seventh Judicial District – Tillamook
Oregon County Courts?
Oregon County Courts are trial courts with limited jurisdiction over probate and juvenile cases. There are currently only six counties with county courts in Oregon, including traffic violations Gilliam, Sherman, Wheeler, Grant, Harney, and Malheur. However, only Gilliam, Sherman, and Wheeler have juvenile and probate jurisdiction, while Grant, Harney, and Malheur have just probate jurisdiction.
The Oregon County Courts that have probate and juvenile jurisdiction set policies and direct the county’s business affairs while performing duties like allocating and levying taxes and supervising all county programs’ organization and financing. The County Court judge is the Board chairman and is essentially responsible for nonjudicial administration. Other responsibilities of the County Court judge involve:
- Personnel administration
- Handling probate and juvenile court matters
- Preparing and monitoring the budget
- Addressing day to day concerns of local citizens
- Approval of county laws, ordinances, resolutions, and court orders
- Liaison assignments to regional, local, and state boards
- Advocate for the county at the state legislature
- Administers all non-elected departments and represents the county in various forums.
The County Courts with only probate jurisdiction do not preside over trials, neither do they sentence defendants, or have jurisdiction over the legal communities. Hence, they are not classified as courts of law. The judge is only authorized to handle probate matters and conduct weddings.
Oregon Justice Courts
Oregon Justice Courts have jurisdiction over offenses perpetrated or triable in their respective counties. The Court carries out its functions in accordance with any jurisdiction that may be exercised by a Circuit or Municipal court within the county where it is located. The rules of evidence and mode of proceeding of the Justice Courts are similar to those used in Circuit courts, except where otherwise provided. Some cases that the Justice Courts hear include truancy, boating violations, violations of traffic, animal regulation violations, truck-overload, civil complaints, and other violations occurring in the county of jurisdiction. Oregon Justice courts also perform marriage solemnization at zero cost during regular working hours.
Oregon Municipal Courts
Oregon Municipal courts are set up in most incorporated cities of the state by a charter or ordinance. The Municipal Courts’ mode of operation is largely regulated by state law. The Municipal courts in Oregon have concurrent jurisdiction with Oregon Circuit, and Justice Courts over all misdemeanors and violations perpetrated or triable in the city where the court is situated. However, Justice Courts do not have jurisdiction over felonies or designated drug-related misdemeanors, as specified in ORS 423.478. Municipal courts majorly hear the following cases:
- Traffic crimes and violations;
- Vehicle forfeitures and impoundments;
- Violations of municipal ordinances and codes, including animal, high grass, and waste nuisances;
- Parking and pedestrian violations.