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Iowa District Courts

In Iowa, just about every case begins in District court. There is one District Court in every one of the 99 counties in the state. District Courts are original jurisdiction trial courts for the state, and they have jurisdiction over probate, juvenile, criminal and civil matters. Many cases tried in District Courts use juries; a judge decides others.

For administrative purposes, the state is divided into eight judicial districts with one Chief Judge in charge of the entire district. Chief Judges are selected and appointed by the Supreme Court. District Courts have three levels of judges: district judges who have general jurisdiction over all types of cases brought to District Court. Then there are associate judges (district associate, associate juvenile, associate probate) and then magistrate judges who have only limited jurisdiction. Cases in District Court may be appealed in the Court of Appeals or the Supreme Court. Most go directly to the Court of Appeals. Some small claims appeals may be appealed by a District Court judge. The Supreme Court and Court of Appeals have the power to remand a case be re-tried in a lower court.

On average, Iowa District Courts see about 83,000 cases per year. The majority (57,000) of those cases are simple misdemeanor cases. Only about 2,000 are juvenile cases, 7,000 are serious criminal issues, and the remaining cases are civil actions. Iowa’s Judicial Branch website has detailed information on District Courts including a directory where each can be found. It also has links and information on e-filing documents and paperwork as well as judge’s biographies, downloadable forms and a page detailing the expedited processing option for all civil lawsuits of less than $75,000. This new law went into effect in 2015 to help reduce the time and expense of litigation.

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