How and why Michigan’s district courts were created
It is likely that few people know that January 1, 2023 marked the 54th anniversary of Michigan’s District Court system. That’s understandable as most people probably know little about district court history.
History is important for all of us and today I will briefly explain how and why the district courts came to be.
Michigan’s present court system traces its roots back to 1835 when we were still a territory and our first Constitution was adopted. Statehood was granted in 1837.
Among the Constitution’s provisions was the creation of a court system made up of a supreme court, county courts, circuit courts, probate courts and justice of the peace courts.
The jurisdiction of the justice courts was set by law as being comprised of minor civil and criminal cases.
Michigan subsequently had three Constitutions in 1850, 1908 and 1963.
These Constitutions all had provisions for courts, including the justice of the peace courts, which continued to have jurisdiction over minor cases. Other limited jurisdiction courts were statutorily created including police and municipal courts.
Due to the great number of courts, jurisdictional issues, and for the integrity of the justice system, the 1963 Constitution provided that the limited jurisdiction courts were to be abolished and statutorily replaced with district courts within five years.
The legislature passed the enabling legislation to be effective June 17, 1968, combining the jurisdictional powers of these courts in the district courts, which were to start operations Jan.1, 1969.
Four municipal courts were allowed to continue.
Today our district courts have jurisdiction in many areas including civil cases when $25,000 or less is at issue and landlord-tenant, land contract forfeiture, civil infraction, small claims, misdemeanor, and the initial stages of felony cases.
On a local historical note, because of time constraints as to finding a court site, the first Fenton Court was located in an old lumberyard building next to a railroad track.
Unfortunately, every time a train went by, the courtroom shook, and due to the noise including the train whistle, the court proceedings were stopped until the train passed.
Things improved when the court moved to a quieter site.
I believe that time has shown that the district courts have played a valuable role in our justice system and served the public well.