Summary Review of Court Systems -
Structure of Civil Courts
Kansas has four different levels of courts: the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeals, district courts, and municipal courts. The cases heard by municipal courts are usually related to minor traffic infractions, city ordinance violations, and some misdemeanor criminal offenses.
Kansas district courts are courts of general jurisdiction for all civil and criminal matters and hear the majority of cases and controversies in the state. District courts in Kansas may be divided into divisions depending on the amount of cases and number of judges in that district. These divisions include, but are not limited to, domestic relations, criminal, juvenile cases, and probate and administration of estates. Each county in Kansas contains a district court and is placed into one of thirty-one different judicial districts in Kansas. Each district court must have one resident judge assigned to it, however, magistrate judges may also be assigned to different district courts with limited jurisdiction. A judge may act as the resident judge for multiple different district courts in different counties. This is common in judicial districts with multiple counties with very little cases. Also, more than one judge may be assigned to a district court if the volume of cases within that district creates such necessity. Each judicial district encompasses anywhere from one to seven different counties in Kansas.
Basis of Jurisdiction
Municipal courts are located throughout different cities in Kansas and are courts of limited jurisdiction. Anyone convicted in a municipal court holds the right to appeal to the district court of the county in which the municipal court is located.
Every county must have a district court, and the district court has “general original jurisdiction of all matters, both civil and criminal, unless otherwise provided by law.” K.S.A. 20-301. There are two classes of judges in the district courts, district judges and district magistrate judges, and the judges from both classes are considered “judge of the district court.” K.S.A. 20-301a. Judges of the district court may exercise their power and authority anywhere within their judicial district and they may exercise their power “anywhere within any other judicial district when assigned to hear any proceeding or try any cause in such judicial district.” K.S.A. 20-301a. The district judge has and exercises “the full judicial power and authority of the district court.” K.S.A. 20-302.
A district magistrate judge has limited jurisdiction and power over certain civil actions, traffic infractions, misdemeanor charges, preliminary examination of felony charges, probate, and uncontested divorce actions. K.S.A. 20-302b(a). However, unless the parties consent, a district magistrate judge does not have jurisdiction over the following actions: actions with the amount in controversy exceeding $10,000; actions against state officers; actions for specific performance of real estate contracts; actions to recover title to real estate or to establish a legal or equitable interest in real property; “actions to foreclose real estate mortgages or to establish and foreclose liens on real estate;” contested divorces and custody of minor children; “habeas corpus; receiverships; declaratory judgments; mandamus and quo warranto; injunctions; class actions;” and actions involving sexually violent predators. K.S.A. 20-302b(a)(1)-(13). Additionally, “in the absence, disability or disqualification of a district judge, a district magistrate judge may:” grant restraining orders; appoint a receiver; and make interlocutory orders. K.S.A. 20-302b(b).
For civil matters, an action on appeal from a district judge or a magistrate judge who is admitted to practice law in Kansas will be taken to the Kansas Court of Appeals, and an action on appeal from a magistrate judge who is not admitted to practice law in Kansas will be “taken to a district judge of the county.” K.S.A. 60-3902(c).
The Kansas Court of Appeals is an intermediate appellate court and has appellate jurisdiction over all Kansas district courts decisions in all civil and criminal matters. Decisions made by the Kansas Court of Appeals of which the Kansas Supreme Court declines to exercise its appellate jurisdiction over are binding on all Kansas district courts.
The Supreme Court of Kansas has original jurisdiction in quo warranto, mandamus, and habeas corpus, and discretionary appellate jurisdiction over all civil and criminal matters heard by the Kansas Court of Appeals. The Supreme Court is a court of last resort, or, in other words, a holding by the Kansas Supreme Court is binding on all other state courts within Kansas.
Kansas has not established specialized commercial courts.
K.S.A. 5-502(f) defines “mediation” as the intervention into a dispute by a third party who has no decision making authority, is impartial to the issues being discussed, assists the parties in defining the issues in dispute, facilitates communication between the parties and assists the parties in reaching resolution.” In general, parties attend a mediation in an effort to resolve the case early or because the mediation is court ordered. Private mediation is conducted prior to filing a petition or motion for mediation with the court or in anticipation that a court may order mediation. The mediator voluntarily selected by the parties in a private process does not have to be approved. In Kansas, the legislature has indicated that licensed attorneys do not need to meet any mediation standards.
Pursuant to K.S.A. 5-509(a), a court may order mandatory mediation. Specifically, the statute states, “upon finding that alternatives to litigation may provide a more appropriate means to resolve the issues in a case, and that the costs of the dispute resolution process are justified relative to the parties’ ability to pay such costs, a judge may order the parties to the case to participate in a settlement conference or a non-binding dispute resolution process.” Kansas Supreme Court Rule 907(a)(2) states that “before ordering mediation, a district court must determine whether mediation is appropriate.” Section (c) further states, “if a district court determines that mediation is appropriate, the court must issue an order for mediation. The mediator must receive the written order specifying the dispute to be resolved before initiating mediation. The order must include a statement that mediation is a confidential process, subject to the exclusions described in K.S.A. 5-512(b) and, in domestic cases, K.S.A. 23-3505(b).” It is the recommendation of the Kansas Supreme Court’s Dispute Resolution Advisory Council that judges should use those approved mediators or licensed attorneys who have the most mediation and case specific experience with the issues in question.
“If the parties involved in the dispute reach an agreement, the agreement may be reduced to writing and signed by the parties. The agreement shall set forth the settlement of the issues and the future responsibilities of each party. If a court referred the case, the agreement as signed and approved by the parties may be presented to the court as a stipulation and, if approved by the court, such agreement shall be enforceable as an order of the court.” K.S.A. 5-514.
Pursuant to K.S.A. 5-512(b), the confidentiality and privilege requirements for mediations shall not apply to: “(1) information that is reasonably necessary to establish a defense for the neutral person or staff of an approved program conducting the proceeding in the case of an action against the neutral person or staff of an approved program that is filed by a party to the proceeding; (2) any information that the neutral person conducting the proceeding is required to report under K.S.A. 38-1522, and amendments thereto; (3) any information that is reasonably necessary to stop the commission of an ongoing crime or fraud or to prevent the commission of a crime or fraud in the future for which there was an expressed intent to commit such crime or fraud; (4) any information that the neutral person conducting the proceeding is required to report or communicate under the specific provisions of any statute or in order to comply with orders of a court; or (5) any report to the court that a party has issued a threat of physical violence against a party, a party’s dependent or family member, the mediator or an officer or employee of the court with the apparent intention of carrying out such a threat.”
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