Oregon has nearly 300 elected or appointed state court judges, justices of the peace, municipal judges, administrative law judges, and juvenile referees. There are additionally hundreds of additional staff members such as judicial assistants, court clerks, bailiffs, receptionists, cashiers, trial court administrators, and courthouse security. When talking about “courts” or “judges” in Oregon, some understanding of the terminology and structure of the state and federal legal system is therefore helpful.
Office of Administrative Hearings
The Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH) was created by the Oregon Legislature in 1999 to provide an independent and impartial forum for citizens and businesses to dispute state agency action against them. Previously, employees of the agencies themselves heard these cases. The OAH holds over 30,000 hearings a year for approximately 70 various state agencies.
Administrative Law Judges
Administrative Law Judges (also abbreviated as “ALJs”) are the hearing officers that preside over hearings held by the Office of Administrative Hearings. There are approximately 65 Administrative Law Judges in Oregon.
Judges are officials in the state with the legal authority and power to make decisions on cases brought before them in a court of law.
Oregon Tribal Courts
Information on the tribal courts in Oregon, can be found at the Commission on Indian Services page.
Oregon Municipal Courts
Oregon Municipal Courts are typically city courts that hear traffic tickets and other minor violations (although some municipal courts will handle some misdemeanor crimes such as DUI). Municipal courts may or may not be courts of record.
Oregon Justice Courts & Justices of the Peace
Justices of the Peace and Justice Courts still exist in Oregon and they are a hold-over from the territorial days when each precinct of the state was entitled to a justice court. Justices of the Peace are elected at the county level for six-year terms, and they typically handle traffic, boating, wildlife and other violations. They also perform weddings. There are 32 Oregon Justice Courts in 21 counties throughout the state.
Oregon County Courts & County Judges
Historically, Oregon had 36 county courts (one for each county in the state) with county judges being part of the county commission. Currently, only seven Eastern Oregon counties have county courts with any legal jurisdiction.
Oregon District Courts
Oregon historically had a division between Circuit Courts and District Courts. District Courts had limited jurisdiction over smaller civil cases and lesser crimes. However, District Courts were merged into Circuit Courts in January 1998. Note: While Oregon no longer has state district courts, there are still federal district courts. The United States District Court for the District of Oregon maintains four divisional offices in Portland, Eugene, Medford, and Pendleton.
Oregon Circuit Courts
The Circuit Courts in Oregon are grouped by district (not to be confused with the former state “District Courts” or the current federal “District Courts”). There are 27 Circuit Court Districts in Oregon– meaning that some of the smaller counties actually share judges with two to four other counties. There are 36 counties in Oregon and each county has at least once Circuit Court. Some counties (like Multnomah County) have more than one Circuit Court (they have annexes with additional courtrooms). The following is a list of the Circuit Court Districts, along with the counties that are contained within the district:
- First Circuit – Jackson County
- Second Circuit – Lane County
- Third Circuit – Marion County
- Fourth Circuit – Multnomah County
- Fifth Circuit – Clackamas County
- Sixth Circuit – Umatilla County and Morrow County
- Seventh Circuit – Sherman County, Gilliam County, Wheeler County, Wasco County, and Hood River County
- Eighth Circuit – Baker County
- Ninth Circuit – Malheur County
- Tenth Circuit – Wallowa County and Union County
- Eleventh Circuit – Deschutes County
- Twelfth Circuit – Polk County
- Thirteenth Circuit – Klamath County
- Fourteenth Circuit – Josephine County
- Fifteenth Circuit – Coos County and Curry County
- Sixteenth Circuit – Douglas County
- Seventeenth Circuit – Lincoln County
- Eighteenth Circuit – Clatsop County
- Nineteenth Circuit – Columbia County
- Twentieth Circuit – Washington County
- Twenty-first Circuit – Benton County
- Twenty-second Circuit – Crook County and Jefferson County
- Twenty-third Circuit – Linn County
- Twenty-fourth Circuit – Harney County and Grant County
- Twenty-fifth Circuit – Yamhill County
- Twenty-sixth Circuit – Lake County
- Twenty-seventh Circuit – Tillamook County
Oregon Court of Appeals
The Oregon Court of Appeals was created in 1969 and is the state intermediate appellate court. It’s located in Salem, and has thirteen judges. This court system is in-between the Circuit Courts and the Oregon Supreme Court and therefore receives nearly every appeal or judicial review taken from Oregon’s trial courts and administrative agencies.
Oregon Supreme Court
U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon
The U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon is the federal district for the State of Oregon. The District has courthouses in Portland, Eugene, Medford, and Pendleton. This court system handles an average of 2,400 civil cases and 1,100 criminal cases per year.