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NCJ Number
Judicature Volume: 76 Issue: 4 Dated: (December-January 1993) Pages: 179-184
C Baar
Date Published
6 pages
The operation of unified trial court systems in Illinois, South Dakota, and Minnesota is examined with a view toward explaining the success and acceptance of the unified trial court in those States and the extent to which trial court reform has stopped short of ABA prescriptions.
The unified trial courts in Illinois and South Dakota use two classes of judges in order to respond effectively to the distinctive characteristics of their political environments. In both States, circuit judges handle criminal felonies, civil jury trials, and civil matters other than small claims, while the associate circuit judges and magistrates preside over misdemeanor criminal cases, small claims, and traffic. This type of flexible system has allowed those States to maintain a division of judicial business that parallels the traditional distinction between general and limited jurisdiction trial courts. Minnesota features a one-level district court, in which county, municipal, and district courts are consolidated, that meets the ABA standards. A key component of the system in Minnesota is the complete absence of judicial specialization. The exceptions to this generalist system are the arbitrators and mediators that work as family court referees, conciliation court judges, and volunteer lawyers in a court-annexed pretrial program. The author notes that the ABA model for court unification has been replicated in no more than three States and is both unnecessary and insufficient to achieve the fundamental principles that should guide the design of trial courts. 20 notes


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