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The Consolidation of Courts

Oregon Judicial Department (OJD) History


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Subject Guide

The Consolidation of Courts



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



FN1. Oregon Blue Book 1997-98, at 137 (1997). 
FN2. Oregon Judicial Department, Report of the Court Consolidation Issues Study Committee, March 1997, at 3-4 (identifying chief differences between circuit courts and district courts); see Or Const, Art VII (Original), § 9 (generally vesting judicial power with circuit court, unless Constitution or other law otherwise vests power with another court).
FN3. See ORS 46.040 (1993) (granting to district court limited criminal jurisdiction); ORS 46.060 (1993) (granting to district court limited civil jurisdiction)
FN4. 1980 Report of the Oregon Commission on the Judicial Branch, February 1981, at 63. 
FN5. Kenneth J. O'Connell, We Should Unify the Trial Courts in Oregon, 51 Or L Rev 641 (1972). 
FN6. 1980 Report of the Oregon Commission on the Judicial Branch, February 1981, at 63-64. 
FN7. Id. at 64-66. 
FN8. Or Laws 1995, ch 658. 
FN9. Id. § 3. 
FN10. Id. §§ 1, 2
FN11. Id. § 3.
FN12. Id. §§ 129, 150 (both providing same effective date); see id. § 149 (directing Chief Justice to prepare study regarding, among other things, "those changes that may be advisable... by reason of sections 1 to 128 of this Act").

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