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California Superior (Trial) Courts

The state of California has 58 trial courts called Superior Courts that serve the state’s 34 million residents. Before the middle of 1998, the state also had Municipal Courts. Voters modified the state Constitution with Proposition 220 and merged the two courts into one unified trial system. By February of 2001, all counties had combined their courts into one system. Superior Courts sometimes use juries, and sometimes the judge decides the verdict. When decisions from Superior Court need review, they are passed along to the Court of Appeals for a final decision. They then proceed to the Supreme Court if the Court of Appeals cannot resolve them.

California Superior Courts are the largest in the country with more cases than any other state. They handle almost 8 million cases per year in 373 courthouses. Of the total, 6.3 million are criminal offenses with 1.5 million civil cases. Most of the issues seen by the Superior Courts are traffic-related issues. California’s Superior Courts have trial jurisdiction over all civil and criminal cases in the state. The types of cases they resolve are family issues, mental health cases, probate matters, small claims, juvenile cases, and traffic violations. Superior Courts in some counties have specialized divisions to handle things like domestic violence, non-violent drug offenses, and civil cases where special relief is requested.

Superior Courts have approximately 1,743 judges presiding over the 58 counties of the state. Judges are elected by county voters in a nonpartisan election, and they serve six-year terms. The governor for the state appoints new judges when a vacancy occurs. To qualify to be a California Superior Court judge, the individual must have practiced law or worked as a judge for at least ten years before being elected. The Superior Courts are overseen by the Judicial Council which is made up of 21 members.

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