Effective January 15, 1998, the Legislature brought to an end the system of district courts first created back in 1913.
As of January of 1997, Oregon had 63 district court judges, sitting in all but six of Oregon's 36 counties.1 The primary difference between the district court and the circuit court was that the circuit court was a court of general jurisdiction, while the district court was a court of limited jurisdiction.2 The district court had limited jurisdiction over criminal offenses, and limited jurisdiction in civil proceedings.3
Calls to consolidate Oregon's trial courts had been going on for many years. The Oregon State Bar's Judicial Administration Committee had proposed consolidation back in 1971, but the proposal did not pass the Bar Convention.4 And in 1972, then-Chief Justice Kenneth J. O'Connell published a law review article arguing for consolidation.5
In 1979, the Legislature considered consolidation, but deferred action to allow the Oregon Commission on the Judicial Branch to review the matter.6 The Commission concluded that consolidation would promote a higher-quality trial court, would simplify administration, and would allow the more efficient use of judges.7 The Legislature, however, did not make consolidation part of its 1981 unification legislation.
Consolidation legislation finally was enacted in 1995.8 The act abolished all district courts.9 The judicial authority vested in the district courts, and the cases pending in the district courts, were transferred to the circuit courts.10 The sitting district court judges were made into circuit court judges.11 The relevant provisions of the act became effective on January 15, 1998, to allow time to smooth the transition.12