As the strength of the Oklahoma judiciary, district courts have general jurisdiction over almost all civil and criminal matters within their sphere of influence. Oklahoma has 77 district courts, each with one or more district judges and an associate district judge. The judges are elected, in a nonpartisan manner, to serve a four-year term. In the event of a vacancy in any of the district courts, the governor appoints a judge to serve until the next election. A special judge may be appointed to assist in the event of a heavy caseload.
Oklahoma is divided into nine Judicial Administrative Districts, involving several district courts to assure a well-organized system. From the judges of the district courts, one is selected to serve as the Presiding Judge, who is responsible for the administration of their district. The Presiding Judge is answerable to the Oklahoma Supreme Court.
Candidates for district judge must be a practicing lawyer or judge for the past four years and must live in the districts in which they seek election. Associate judges must have been practicing lawyers or judges for the past two years.
Civil appeals are heard by the Oklahoma Supreme Court and criminal appeals are heard by the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals.
Civil cases involve a dispute between two or more parties over an injury, their rights, or their obligations. Civil cases do not involve a person being prosecuted for violating a criminal law. The Court’s Civil Division handles non-criminal cases other than family, juvenile, and probate. Small Claims is part of the Civil Division.
Criminal Court is the court where the state holds people accountable for violations of criminal law. Only the State, through the office of the District Attorney in each county, can charge individuals with criminal violations. Criminal courts conduct arraignments, pretrial hearings, preliminary examination hearings, pretrial law and motion hearings, trials, sentencing, probation-related hearings, and proceedings regarding criminal justice mental health.
Family Law Courts hear cases involving dissolution of marriage, nullity, legal separation and paternity, including related issues of spousal support, child support and custody and marital property. Family Court also focuses on matters that relate to domestic violence (protective orders).
Juvenile focuses on two different types of cases that involve children under the age of 18 (minors). Juvenile Deprived matters involve cases related to the abuse and/or neglect of a minor, while Juvenile Delinquency matters involve violations of criminal laws by a minor.
Probate court hears cases related to the personal and financial affairs of adults and children. The Probate Division hears cases concerning the appointment of personal representatives including guardianships for children and conservatorships for incapacitated adults; the distribution and handling of estates of people who have died; petitions regarding trust administration; review and accounting of guardians and conservators; disputes about wills, trusts, and powers of attorney; and other matters that may arise under the Probate code.