The Ohio Constitution creates three separate branches of government: the executive (governor), the legislative (Ohio General Assembly), and the judicial (courts).
There are three levels of state courts in Ohio.
All judges in Ohio are elected to six-year terms.
The Ohio Supreme Court
The Ohio Supreme Court is the state’s highest court.
The chief justice and six justices decide all state constitutional questions, cases involving questions of public or general interest, and all criminal appeals where the death penalty has been imposed.
The Supreme Court also makes rules about the operation of the courts and the practice of law in Ohio, and it has the authority to discipline lawyers and judges for misconduct.
Ohio’s appeals court is divided in to 12 districts that hear appeals of cases from common pleas, municipal, and county courts. Each case is heard and decided by a three-judge panel.
Common Pleas Courts
There is a court of common pleas in each of Ohio’s 88 counties. There are several divisions within common pleas courts.
The general division common pleas courts have the power to hear all criminal felony cases and civil cases in disputes of more than $15,000.
Domestic Relations Division
Domestic relations courts have jurisdiction over all proceedings involving divorce or dissolution of marriages, annulment, legal separation, spousal support, and allocation of parental rights and responsibilities for the care of children, including child support issues.
Juvenile courts hear cases involving persons under 18 years of age who are charged with acts that would be crimes if committed by an adult. They also hear cases involving unruly, dependent, and neglected/abused children. Juvenile courts have jurisdiction in cases involving paternity, child abuse, nonsupport, contributing to the delinquency of minors, and the failure to send children to school.
Probate courts have the authority to issue marriage licenses, preside over adoption cases, guardianships, and estates. They also preside over cases involving involuntary hospitalization for mental illness and hear certain eminent domain cases.
Municipal and County Courts
Municipal and county courts have the authority to conduct preliminary hearings in felony cases and to handle traffic and non-traffic misdemeanors. These courts also have limited jurisdiction to hear civil cases in disputes of less than $15,000. Judges of municipal and county courts also have statewide authority to conduct marriage ceremonies.
Mayor’s courts are not courts of record in Ohio. However, state law allows mayors of villages and cities with more than 200 residents to have a mayor’s court where there are no municipal courts. These courts only hear cases involving violations of local ordinances and state traffic laws, and hearings are held before the mayor or a magistrate. The magistrate must be a lawyer with at least three years of experience. Anyone convicted in a mayor’s court may appeal the decision to a trial court.
Court of Claims
The Ohio Court of Claims hears civil cases filed against the state of Ohio and appeals of claims for compensation by crime victims. Court of Claims judges are assigned to cases by the Ohio Supreme Court chief justice.
The United States Courts System
The federal court system is similar to Ohio’s with:
- trial courts known as U.S. district courts
- appellate courts known as circuit courts of appeals
- and the U.S. Supreme Court.
The U.S. court system also has specialized courts such as bankruptcy court and the court of claims.
Unlike Ohio, where judges are elected, federal judges are appointed for life by the president and must be confirmed by the Senate.
An Introduction to Ohio’s Court System
REQUIRED CONDUCT OF JUDGES
Judges are held to high standards of professional conduct.
Any judicial candidate for a state court in Ohio must have at least six years of experience as a practicing attorney. As a licensed attorney in Ohio and an officer of the court, each attorney must adhere to the Ohio Rules of Professional Conduct.
In addition, the Ohio Code of Judicial Conduct establishes standards for the ethical conduct of judges and judicial candidates.
Any attorney or judge who fails to conduct himself or herself according to the governing rules of conduct may be subject to discipline by the Ohio Supreme Court.
Discipline may range from a public reprimand, to a short- or long-term suspension from the practice of law, or even disbarment. Additionally, the Ohio Supreme Court has the authority to remove judges from their judicial seat as a form of discipline.