CHAPTER 3: OVERVIEW OF THE COLORADO COURT SYSTEM - Table of Contents
3.1 - Overview of the Colorado Court System • 3.2 - Overview of the Criminal Justice Program • 3.3 - Prosecutors and Defense Lawyers • 3.4 - Overview of the Civil Justice Process • 3.5 - Plaintiff and Defense Counsel • 3.6 - State Courts in Boulder County • 3.7 - Municipal Courts in Boulder County • 3.8 - Small Claims Courts in Boulder County
The judicial system in Colorado is established by Article VI of the Colorado Constitution. Section 1 of this Article provides that judicial power in the State of Colorado shall be vested in a Supreme Court, district courts, county courts and such other courts as the legislature may establish. The Constitution also makes provision for special probate and juvenile courts in Denver. Section 1 also provides that home rule cities retain certain judicial powers. The Colorado legislature used the power vested in it by Article 1 to create the Colorado Court of Appeals.
Legal cases are generally filed in trial courts. Trial courts in Colorado include municipal courts, small claims courts, county courts and district courts. Municipal courts have jurisdiction over disputes that arise within the geographical boundaries of a particular city under that city's municipal code. Small claims courts and county courts adjudicate disputes occurring within the county and arising under state law. Small claims courts have jurisdiction over civil matters in amounts up to $7,500, use simplified procedures, and are available to litigants without lawyers. County courts have jurisdiction over misdemeanor and traffic offenses, some preliminary matters in felony offenses, and civil disputes that involve claims that do not exceed $15,000. District courts adjudicate the more serious disputes arising under state law. District courts have jurisdiction over criminal offenses that have been designated as felonies, divorces, probate matters, juvenile matters and all civil matters in which the claims exceed the jurisdiction of the county court. In addition, many district courts, particularly in more populous jurisdictions, have magistrates who are empowered to assist the judges by acting as a judge in all matters except for civil trials and, unless consent is given, permanent orders hearings in domestic relations cases.
The city council or the mayor of the municipality appoints municipal judges. The municipal government sets the length of the judge's term and the compensation. County court judges are appointed by the governor from a list of names submitted to the governor by a nominating commission. County court judges are appointed for a provisional term of two years and thereafter until the next general election. At that election, a county court judge must stand for retention. If retained, a county court judges serves for a term of four years. District court judges are appointed in the same basic fashion, but a district court judge's term of office after retention is six years. Magistrates and small claims court judges are appointed by the chief district court judge in each judicial district.
If a party to a legal dispute is not satisfied with the outcome in the trial court, that party may have the right to appeal the decision to a 'higher' court. Generally, appeals from municipal and county courts are heard by the district court. A party still not satisfied with the outcome may appeal to the Colorado Supreme Court, but that court has discretion to hear, or refuse to hear, the appeal. Generally, the Colorado Court of Appeals hears appeals from the district court. Again, a party that remains dissatisfied with the outcome after the initial appeal, may ask the Colorado Supreme Court to hear the appeal. Exceptions to these rules exist for certain appeals that may be taken while a case is still pending in the trial court, and certain appeals that challenge a law on the ground that the law violates the constitution. Appeals are discussed in more detail in Chapter 7.7 and Chapter 14.
The Colorado Court of Appeals consists of sixteen judges who are appointed by the governor in the same general fashion as are county and district court judges from a list of names submitted by a statewide nominating committee. A judge is appointed for a provisional term of two years and until the next following general election. At that time, the justice must stand for retention. A court of appeals judge who is retained at that election serves for eight years, and may stand for retention again. Judges on the court of appeals sit in panels of three and hear appeals from the district courts. A party that is not satisfied with the resolution of the appeal by the court of appeals may appeal that decision to the Colorado Supreme Court.
The highest court in Colorado is the Colorado Supreme Court. There are seven justices on the Colorado Supreme Court, appointed by the Governor from a list of names sent to the governor by the Supreme Court Nominating Commission. A justice is appointed for a provisional term of two years and until the next following general election. At that time, the justice must stand for retention. A justice who is retained at that election serves for ten years and may stand for retention again.
The Colorado Supreme Court is the final arbiter of all questions relating to the Colorado Constitution and the interpretation of the laws of the state of Colorado, subject only to federal constitutional rights as established by the United States Supreme Court. The Supreme Court hears interlocutory appeals as described in Chapter 7.7 of this Manual and has discretion to choose which appeals it will hear from the Colorado Court of Appeals. The Supreme Court looks at many factors, including the importance of the issue and whether different panels of the court of appeals have reached different conclusions, in deciding whether to accept an appeal from the court of appeals.
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