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How Does the Kentucky District Court Work?

The Kentucky District Court is a trial court with limited jurisdiction over some civil and criminal cases within the state of Kentucky. The District Court has exclusive authority to make all criminal cases’ final disposition, including violations of city, urban-county, or county ordinances or codes, except felonies and capital offenses. It has exclusive jurisdiction to hear charges of misdemeanors and infractions, except where the criminal charge is attached to an indictment for a felony and commits the accused to jail or set bail.

The Kentucky District Court has concurrent jurisdiction with the Circuit Courts to examine charges of public offenses denominated as felonies or capital offenses. Both courts also share jurisdiction over crimes punishable by death or imprisonment and to send the accused to jail or set bail or give any other form of pretrial release.

The court also has the power to reduce a felony charge to a misdemeanor under the law. For civil cases, the Kentucky District Court has exclusive jurisdiction over:

  • Civil cases that do not involve more than $5,000, exclusive of costs and interest, except matters that affect title to real estate and issues of equity
  • Uncontested Probate matters
  • Matters involving trusts

The Kentucky District Court also has exclusive juvenile jurisdiction over all matters involving minors as long as the law does not vest jurisdiction over the case in another court. Section 24A.220 of the Kentucky Revised Statutes establishes a small claims division for every District Court.

The small claims division has jurisdiction alongside the Kentucky District Court over all civil actions, apart from malicious prosecution, libel, alienation of affections, slander, and abuse of process actions, if the amount in dispute does not exceed $2,500, excluding interest and costs.

A plaintiff that wants to disaffirm, avoid, or rescind an agreement or contract for the purchase of goods or services may use the Kentucky District Court small claims division if the claim is not above $2,500 exclusive of costs and interest. If the defendant’s counterclaim is beyond the jurisdictional limit of the division, the case is removed to the regular District or Circuit Court.

Similarly, a defendant may request that a case be transferred to the small claims division if the matter is within the division’s jurisdictional limit. An action may also be moved from the division to the Kentucky District Court if the judge believes the case to be too complicated for the division’s simplified procedure.

The small claims division can not conduct jury trials. Therefore, if the defendant requests a jury trial, the case must be transferred to the District Court. Any person that fails to make such demand is deemed to have waived the right to a jury trial. A party aggrieved with the division’s judgment may appeal within ten days to the Circuit Court in the judicial circuit where the division is located.

The Kentucky District Court is a court of continuous sessions. As such, the court may schedule sessions at any convenient time and place subject to the Supreme Court’s direction. The time may be at nights, holidays, and weekends. It has no appellate jurisdiction and is a court of record.

The State of Kentucky is divided into 60 judicial districts, each of which comprises one or more counties. Each judicial district has one District Judge unless otherwise provided by law. Any county that does not have a resident District Judge has a trial commissioner. The trial commissioner must be resident in the county and be an attorney if there is one qualified and available.

Even where there are resident judges in the county, the chief judge may choose to appoint a trial commissioner if it is deemed necessary. In Judicial Districts that have only one judge, that judge is the chief judge. On the other hand, where there are two or more judges, those judges select the chief judge.

If the judges fail to appoint the chief judge within a reasonable time, the Kentucky Supreme Court designates the chief judge. The chief judge of the Kentucky District Court exercises the authority and performs the particular district’s administration duties as the Supreme Court prescribes.

Kentucky District Court judges are elected from the respective judicial districts on a nonpartisan basis. The judges hold office for a term of four years. A district judge may, however, be suspended without pay or retired for disability or removed for a good cause by a commission.

The commission consists of one Court of Appeals judge, one circuit judge, one district judge, one member of the State bar, and two persons appointed by the Governor. These persons hold office for four years, and all its actions are subject to judicial review by the Kentucky Supreme Court.

To be eligible to serve as a Kentucky District Court judge, a person must:

  • Be a United States citizen.
  • Be licensed to practice law in the State.
  • Have been residing in Kentucky for at least two years
  • Have been a licensed attorney for at least two years

During office, the district judge is not permitted to practice law, hold office in a political organization or party, or run for a non-judicial elective office. Suppose there is a vacancy in the office of a Kentucky district court judge. In that case, the Governor appoints a person to fill the vacancy from a list of three names submitted by the appropriate judicial nominating commission.

Interested persons may obtain Kentucky District Court case records from the Kentucky Court of Justice website. Users may look up a case by party, case number, or by citation. If searching for the case by case number, choose the relevant county, and enter the case number. Alternatively, if searching by citation, provide the year, control number, and type. Users searching for a case by a party must provide at least any of the following combinations:

  • First name and last name
  • Last name and birth date
  • DLN
  • Social Security number
  • County and event range

The search page results differ depending on the provided parameters. Whichever way, the case records that match closely the details entered appears at the top of the page, while those that least match the parameters are at the bottom of the page. The page provides a summary of the cases. This includes the parties’ names, the party type, county name, case type, case number, personal identifiers, next court event, if applicable, and case title.

For a more comprehensive case record or a certified copy of a Kentucky District Court record, visit the Clerk of Court’s Office of the relevant county. To find the contact information and address of the Court Clerk, go to the Kentucky Court of Justice website. Select the appropriate county, and the contact details appear on the page. Note, the Circuit Court Clerk of any Kentucky county also serves as the District Court’s Clerk in that county.

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  • And More!