The judicial machinery of Minnesota comprises of a range of tribunals that are arranged in a pyramid structure. At each level of this hierarchy, the courts have very specific powers in terms of the cases they handle. The Supreme Court of MN which is the ultimate ruling authority in the state is an apex entity that has original and appellate jurisdiction. Otherwise, all other tribunals can be segregated into appellate, limited or general jurisdiction courts.
Conciliation Courts: These tribunals only here civil cases, hence they are courts of limited jurisdiction. A restriction has also been imposed on the dispute amount which in this case is limited at $7500.
District Courts: These are tribunals of general jurisdiction, so they hear matters ranging from violation of traffic laws to first degree murder and from family and divorce cases to probate and inheritance issues. District Courts also have appellate jurisdiction for cases that come up from the Conciliation Courts and hear petitions for the issue of MN arrest warrants.
At this point, there are 87 district courts in the state, one in each county. These tribunals are placed in 10 judicial districts for administrative convenience. A judicial district comprises of 2 to 17 counties except for the 2nd and the 4th district which have one county each; Ramsey County in the former and Hennepin County in the latter. Each judicial district is served by a Chief Judge, an assistant chief judge and a judicial administrator.
In all, district courts have 289 judges. On an average over 2 million cases are heard by these tribunals annually. Some district courts are bifurcated further into specialized tribunals with limited jurisdiction. For instance, some counties have separate criminal, civil, family and juvenile courts. The court administrator is responsible for the day to day working of the tribunals.
The Court of Appeals: The intermediate appellate court of Minnesota came into being in November, 1983. This tribunal offers quick revisions of all decisions made by lower courts including the district tribunals. This is the primary error correction court in the state and as such it handles all appellate matters thus taking the burden away from the Supreme Court and allowing the apex body to concentrate on resolving disputes that involve public policies and laws.
Approximately, 2500 cases are heard by the Court of Appeals each year; in 95% of these, the decision of the intermediate appellate court is held final. Only about 5% of these matters are forwarded for review to the Supreme Court of Minnesota. The Court of Appeals is legally bound to issue its decision in a case within 90 days of hearing oral arguments or within 90 days of the case’s conference date.
This means that Minnesota residents can expect quick processing of all cases through this judicial rung since the time limit is the shortest of that imposed on any appellate tribunal. In order to ensure that cases are dealt with expeditiously, the 19 judges who serve the Court of Appeals sit en banc in three judge panels and travel to various judicial districts to hear oral arguments.
The Minnesota Supreme Court: As stated earlier, this tribunal is at the top of the judicial hierarchy in the state. It comprises of 7 justices and its functions include solving legislative disputes, accepting appeals from the intermediate appellate court, Tax Court and the Worker’s Compensation Courts which are specialized tribunals and overseeing the administration of the judicial system of MN.
The court received petition for review in approximately 900 cases every year; however, only 1 in 8 reviews is accepted. All first degree murder cases are directly appealed to the Supreme Court.