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How Do Kansas Municipal Courts Work?

Kansas Municipal Courts are limited jurisdiction courts that handle cases involving alleged violations of city or town ordinances committed within the city limits, including:

  • Traffic violations and infractions, e.g., driving under the influence (DUIs), speeding tickets, parking infraction, etc.
  • Environmental violations
  • Minor criminal offenses/misdemeanors such as petty theft, drug violations, prostitution, and domestic violence

Generally, cases handled in the Municipal Court are more civil than criminal, but they may still result in expensive fines and other penalties. In Kansas municipal courts, the judge resolves legal actions initiated by the city prosecutor (representing the state) who alleges that a city ordinance or law has been broken. Instead of juries, Municipal Court Judges hear, resolve, and preside over these cases. The judge presides over the cases before the court under the State Code of Criminal Procedure, the State Code of Municipal Courts, the Kansas Rules of Evidence, and the municipal codes specific to the city where the cases are being heard.

Defendants charged with offenses in a Kansas municipal court have the option of hiring attorneys, or to be without counsel and represent themselves. In instances where the Municipal Court judge believes that a defendant cannot employ counsel, an attorney will be appointed to the accused individual. If the person is convicted, the case may be appealed to the district court in the same county or district where the municipal court is located.

Municipal court judges in Kansas are appointed by the local district commission to serve four-year terms. According to Kansas statutes, individuals who qualify to be municipal court judges must be citizens of the United States, high school graduates or equivalent, and residents of counties where they intend to hold the office or position. Additionally, Municipal Court judges may or may not be lawyers; this is dependent on the county or town where the position will be held.

By state law, cities in the state of Kansas are divided into classes based on their population; hence, the qualification requirements of the Municipal Court judges may vary based on the class of the city where they will hold the office or position. In first-class cities, nominees must be lawyers regularly admitted to practice law in the state. In other cities, the individual must either be certified by the Kansas Supreme Court to hold the office or legally admitted to practice law in the state. Appointed non-lawyer municipal court judges have 18 months from inauguration to complete the training program and pass the examination under the Supreme Court’s direction. They must also attend 13 hours of continuing legal education annually.

Some cities appoint full-time municipal court judges and administrative judges. While the Municipal Court Judge has all judicial power and authority in the court as authorized by law, the administrative judge is simply responsible for its day-to-day administration and operation. These responsibilities include monitoring court employees, judges’ supervision, and creating/submitting annual reports on hours worked by the municipal judges to the unified government board of commissioners. Again, when the municipal court judge is not available to preside over a court case due to disqualification, absence, or illness, the administrative judge can designate attorneys to act as Judges pro tempore (temporarily).

The Municipal Court Clerk is an integral part of the municipal court. According to state statutes, the city’s governing body may assist the Municipal Court judge by providing for the Office of Clerk of the municipal court. In cases where the Clerk is not provided, the municipal court judge may appoint the Clerk or serve as the Clerk.

The duties of a Clerk of the municipal court include:

  • Assisting the municipal court judge in deciding court cases,
  • Accepting payments of fines
  • Processing citations and Uniform Criminal Complaints (UCC’s)
  • Issuing processes of the court
  • Managing filing, maintenance, and distribution of all municipal court records,
  • Attending court proceedings and setting court dockets, etc.

In addition to these, the Clerk is tasked with turning over all fines, penalties, forfeited bonds, and state assessments collected by the court to the City treasurer monthly. Since many of the cases handled in municipal courts are traffic-related, the Clerk is responsible for informing the Kansas Department of Motor Vehicles of traffic court case dispositions.

The Kansas Open Records Act governs the response to requests for municipal court records across the state. According to the act, individuals seeking access to court records maintained by the municipal court can query the Court Clerk. Depending on the city, inquirers may access these records online, via mail, fax, over the phone, and on-site physical visits. Municipal court information of cities across the state is available via the Kansas Judicial Branch website.

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