Maine’s District Courts were created in 1961 and are the limited jurisdiction courts for the state. The state is split into eight jurisdictional regions, and 38 judges preside over District Courts. These courts hear both civil and criminal issues but do not use juries. They also have a special division that focuses solely on family matters called Family Court. The court uses 8 Family Law Magistrates to cover cases in Family Court.
The types of cases resolved in District Courts are traffic violations, divorces, custody battles, property disputes, domestic relations cases, involuntary commitments, separations, civil suits, and small claims. If a criminal or civil case requires a jury trial, it will be moved up to Superior Court. These courts can also handle Class D and E criminal violations if the defendant waives his or her right to a jury trial. District Courts specialize in juvenile cases as well.
Cases heard in District Court may be appealed directly to the Supreme Court. The only exception to this is small claims and forcible entry cases. Small Claims Court is another division of District Court that specializes in civil matters between parties. They hold Small Claims court on specific days. The Chief Judge of District Court dictates the schedule for Small Claims Court. Proceedings are quick and informal. Small claims cases in District Court are capped at $6,000. Any appeals from Small Claims Court go directly to the Supreme Court. Defendants in Small Claims Court do have the right to a jury trial, and if they choose one, they will be moved to Superior Court.
Judges are trained in both the Superior Court and District Court so they can work in either arena. Cross assignment helps to make the court system of Maine more efficient and reduce time and expense.