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How Do North Dakota Municipal Courts Work?

The North Dakota Municipal Courts are trial courts with limited jurisdiction over municipal (city) ordinances with some exceptions. Municipal Courts have jurisdiction over criminal and non-criminal violations of city ordinances and can perform marriages. In some cases, Municipal Courts may provide sign and language interpreters for parties appearing before it. If interpreters are required, individual courts should be contacted beforehand to know of availability. 

Some offenses the court has jurisdiction over include:

  • Class B misdemeanors
  • Traffic violations and infractions
  • Driving under influence 
  • Non-criminal juvenile violations of municipal ordinances

Where an individual has been charged and convicted for violating a city ordinance twice within the last seven years, the Municipal Court loses jurisdiction. In such a case, the Municipal Court judge dismisses the case without prejudice and order it re-filed at the District Court. Parties may also request a change of judge following the procedure set out in section 29–15–21 of the North Dakota Century Code. If the request is granted, a new Municipal Court judge or District Court judge will be appointed to decide the case. 

The maximum penalty which Municipal Courts may give is $1,500 or not more than 30 days in jail. Judgments by a Municipal Court are appealed to the District court. Where an appeal is made to a District Court, the trial is carried out afresh. 

Municipal Courts have been established in 90 of the 357 incorporated cities in North Dakota. Cities that do not have a Municipal Court may choose to establish one by a resolution of the governing body. A city with less than 5,000 inhabitants may choose to abolish their Municipal Court by executing an agreement to transfer all ordinance cases to the District Court. The city would also have to abolish the position of the Municipal Court judge by a resolution of the city’s governing body. 

Cities with over 5,000 inhabitants do not have legal backing to abolish Municipal Court in the manner described above. However, the city may choose to transfer all their ordinance cases to the District Court and not appoint a Municipal Court judge. 

All judges in North Dakota Municipal Courts are part-time and are elected by the people to four-year tenures. For cities with more than 5,000 people, Municipal Court judges must be licensed to practice law in the state of North Dakota unless no such person exists in the city. However, this requirement may be waived in cities with less than 5,000 inhabitants. Regardless, the inhabitants of any city may require that their judges be licensed attorneys, through a resolution or an ordinance.

Note that cities with judges that are not licensed attorneys may only hear a restricted number of ordinance violations. For example, these judges may not decide cases that involve driving under the influence.

A Municipal Court judge’s seat may become vacant due to various reasons such as retirement, death, or resignation. If the seat becomes vacant before the tenure expires, the position is filled through an appointment by the city’s executive officer. However, note that this is subject to the confirmation of the governing body. 

The position will be held until the next general elections, where a successor may be elected and appointed. In certain cases where the Municipal Court judge cannot serve due to temporary absence, disqualification, or disability, the governing body may appoint an alternate judge. An alternate judge must have the same qualification required for a Municipal Court judge. 

Municipal Court judges and alternate judges are required to undergo continued legal education in accordance with the requirements set out by the Supreme Court. These judges must undertake at least 18 hours of approved course work within each three-year tenure. The judges are mandated to comply with the Guidelines for the completion of the education hours. 

Not all Municipal Courts have clerks. A city may appoint a clerk to assist the judge subject to certain qualifications and salaries set out by the city. Where a clerk is not appointed, the judge will perform the clerk’s duties in addition to the judge’s primary responsibilities. The clerk is responsible for administering court records and provides information to assist the public with filing cases. However, note that the clerk cannot provide legal advice. 

The North Dakota Courts website contains information on the state’s Municipal Courts. This information includes the court locations, details on presiding judges, and contact information. Note that the court may sit in various locations depending on certain factors, as directed by a municipal judge. Some of these factors may include:

  • Convenience to the parties and witnesses
  • Judicial efficiency
  • Available facilities
  • Administration of justice

Note, the judge cannot change the location of the court if any of the parties objects to the change. In accordance with section 40–18–21.1 of the North Dakota Century Code, proceedings may be conducted using telephones, interactive televisions, and other electronic means that permit live audio or audio-visual communication. 

Before holding court every calendar year, a Municipal Court judge must certify to the State Court Administrator that the required court standards have been met. To this effect, the judge must submit a completed compliance form to the State Court Administrator by the 31st of October each year. 

Municipal Courts are open to the public every day except Sundays. Although the court is not to sit on Sundays, the judge is still empowered to receive complaints, issue processes, take bail, and receive verdicts.

Municipal Court records are accessed by searching for the court where the trial took place. Note that this search may cost a fee. Alternatively, the North Dakota Supreme Court provides an online search tool through the District Court Case Search and Payment Processing portal. 

Requestors may also find information on the Municipal Court records on the Courts on odyssey page. This page contains details on records accessible via the search platform.

  • Criminal Records
  • Arrests Records
  • Warrants
  • Driving Violations
  • Inmate Records
  • Felonies
  • Misdemeanors
  • Bankruptcies
  • Tax & Property Liens
  • Civil Judgements
  • Federal Dockets
  • Probate Records
  • Marriage Records
  • Divorce Records
  • Death Records
  • Property Records
  • Asset Records
  • Business Ownership
  • Professional Licenses
  • And More!