The Ohio Court System is the judicial branch of Ohio's state government. It's the job of Ohio courts to interpret state laws and to provide a fair and impartial means for resolving legal issues.
Ohio state law arranges the court system into three levels. Each level has its own area of responsibility and authority.
- The top level is the Ohio Supreme Court
- The second level is the Courts of Appeals
- The third level is Ohio's trial courts
Judges oversee the legal process, interpret the law and make decisions to resolve issues fairly under the law. In Ohio, judges are elected officials who serve six-year terms. Go to Judicial Votes Count to learn more about how judges are elected and how you can make informed choices about judicial candidates.
Ohio Supreme Court
The top level is the Ohio Supreme Court. Six Justices plus the Chief Justice are on this court.
This court is sometimes known as "the court of last resort" because there is no higher court to appeal to in the state's court system. Most of the Supreme Court’s cases are appeals from Courts of Appeals and other state agencies.
Courts of Appeals
The second level of courts in Ohio are the Courts of Appeals. Its main responsibility is reviewing cases from the trial courts below it. If someone is unhappy with the results of a trial from a lower court, they can appeal to this court.
There are twelve District Courts of Appeals. Check the Ohio Supreme Court website to see a map of the appeals court districts.
The third level is the trial courts. They include:
- Court of Common Pleas
- Municipal and county courts
- Court of Claims
- Mayor’s courts
Except in a few instances involving the Court of Claims, appeals from all but Mayor’s Courts go to the Courts of Appeals.
Court of Common Pleas
Many civil cases begin here. All 88 Ohio counties have a Court of Common Pleas.
The Court of Common Pleas is divided into four divisions:
- General Division. This division hears criminal cases, civil cases that exceed $15,000 and appeals from some state administrative agencies.
- Domestic Relations Division. This division hears cases about divorce, alimony, child support and child custody.
- Juvenile Division. This division hears offenses committed by minors, nonsupport, paternity cases and some types of custody cases.
- Probate Division. This division hears cases on estates, trusts and wills, adoption and guardianship.
Court of Claims
The Court of Claims was created to hear lawsuits against the state. The judges on this court are not elected. The Chief Justice assigns judges to this court.
Lawsuits against the state usually involve issues like personal injury and property damage where the state is alleged to be at fault. They also consider cases involving discrimination by state agencies or wrongful imprisonment claims.
The Ohio Attorney General's Office makes decisions about victims’ compensation. Appeals for those decisions come to this court.
Finally, if someone requests a public record and is turned down, that person can appeal the decision. Like all suits against the state, the appeal is handled by the Court of Claims.
Municipal and County Courts
Municipal and county courts have a lot of overlap. Sometimes a municipal court will oversee an entire county, sometimes it is a county court. It varies from county to county.
These court will often handle the preliminary hearing for felony cases. They can handle misdemeanor cases. They are probably best known for traffic courts. Some of the major case types they deal with are domestic violence and DUI, evictions and claims for less than $15,000.
Mayor’s courts are not part of Ohio’s judicial branch. It is the one court where a non-lawyer, the mayor, can act as judge. They do not use juries.
Mayor's courts enforce city ordinances, hear traffic cases and some misdemeanors. Someone who is convicted in this court may appeal the municipal or county court for that county.