The Kansas judicial branch, along with the state's executive and legislative branches, ensures the administration of justice within the state.
There are different levels of courts in Kansas to handle various types of cases. The Kansas court system is led by the Kansas Supreme Court, with a chief justice and six justices. The Kansas Court of Appeals is the intermediate appellate court with a chief judge and 13 judges. The District Courts are the state's trial courts. Each judicial district has district judges and district magistrate judges. Municipal Courts also exist in Kansas. They operate with limited jurisdiction within Kansas City limits, handling cases of ordinance violations. The Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, and the District Courts constitute the unified judicial system of Kansas.
Typically, most civil and criminal cases originate at the District Courts. Appeals of the decisions of the District Courts are typically made to the Court of Appeals but are sometimes transferred to the Supreme Court in specific circumstances. Kansas Municipal Courts register over 300,000 case filings annually, while the District Courts handle about 400,000 cases yearly. Kansas appellate courts hear over 1,700 appeal cases yearly and render more than 1,300 opinions.
Supreme court appeals are heard by federal appellate courts within the state. Federal courts are part of the federal judiciary and have exclusive jurisdiction over federal cases. In addition, the administrative office of each court is tasked with maintaining Kansas court records generated in the course of judicial proceedings.
What is the Kansas Supreme Court?
The Kansas Supreme Court is the apex court in the state. It has overall appellate jurisdiction over all the other courts in Kansas. The court plays an overall administrative role over the operations of the lower courts and sets binding legal precedents on them with its decisions.
The Kansas Supreme Court consists of seven justices who are appointed to serve initially for one year by the Governor through a nomination process by the nine-member Nominating Commission. Justices may be retained to serve six-year terms if successful in retention votes after the expiration of their first year in office. At the end of the six-year term, a Justice may be retained again through another retention vote.
Kansas law empowers the court to appoint the longest-serving member of the seven-justice panel as the Chief Justice. The Chief Justice holds administrative control over the operations and affairs of the Supreme Court.
Kansas Court of Appeals
The Court of Appeals is Kansas’ intermediate appellate court. It handles appeals from the District Courts in civil and criminal matters except in instances where an appeal falls in the exclusive jurisdiction of the Supreme Court.
No new trials are held in the Court of Appeals for appeals of District Court decisions. The judges only review the trial record from the District Courts, written briefs from the involved parties, and hear oral arguments of the attorneys representing the parties.
There are 14 judges in the Kansas Court of Appeals. Cases are typically heard by a panel of three judges and sometimes en banc, that is, by the entire 14-member team.
Judges of the Kansas Court of Appeals are appointed to initial four-year terms by the Governor with the consent of the state Senate. They may be retained to serve a further four-year term if successful in a public vote. The Supreme Court assigns one of the 14 judges to serve as Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals.
Kansas District Courts
Kansas District Courts are the trial courts of general jurisdiction in the state. Kansas is divided into 31 judicial districts and a District Court located in each county. District Courts are courts of record and have jurisdiction over all civil and criminal cases. Under Kansas laws, District Courts are authorized to review decisions of the Municipal Courts. Their jurisdiction cover cases such as:
- Domestic relations matters
- Damage suits
- Probate and administration of estates
- Guardianships and conservatorships
- Mental health
- Juvenile matters
- Small claims (up to $4,000)
There are two kinds of judges in the District Courts; District Judges and District Magistrate judges. District Magistrate Judges are not required to be lawyers but have jurisdiction over criminal misdemeanors, juvenile matters, probate matters, and traffic violations. They can sit on preliminary hearings and prosecutions in criminal felonies. The Magistrate Judges also share jurisdiction with District Judges in certain civil matters.
Unlike District Magistrate Judges who have limited jurisdiction, District Judges can hear all types of cases within the overall subject-matter jurisdiction of the District Court. They are required to be trained in law and are authorized to review decisions of District Magistrate Judges.
The Supreme Court appoints a District Judge as Chief Judge for each judicial district. The Chief judge plays a supervisory role over administrative and clerical tasks of the courts in the judicial district. The Chief Judge also plays a vital role in the delegation of cases within the district.
Kansas Municipal Courts
Kansas Municipal Courts are courts of limited jurisdiction. The geographic jurisdiction of these courts only covers the city, town, or municipality where they are situated. Their subject matter jurisdictions are generally linked to violations of city ordinances. They handle cases such as:
- Domestic violence, DWIs/DUIs
- Traffic infractions
- Parking infractions
Although Municipal Court cases are heard without a jury, an offender may still be represented by an attorney. An aggrieved party may appeal a Municipal Court decision to the District Court in the county where the Municipal Court is located.
Kansas does not require Municipal Court judges to be lawyers. However, those who are not lawyers are required to be certified by the Kansas Supreme Court. Kansas Municipal Court judges are required to complete 13 hours of continuing legal education annually. A Municipal Court judge is authorized to appoint an attorney or any other qualified individual to temporarily act in their stead in instances where they cannot be present for court proceedings.
What are Appeals and Court Limits in Kansas?
An appeal involves a petition to a higher court to review the judgment or order made by a lower court judge. The right of parties to proceedings to appeal decisions from lower courts helps to keep judges accountable. The higher court determining an appeal will correct errors by the trial judge in the decision-making process, if any. An appeal process usually begins with the filing of a Notice of Appeal. Timely filing of a Notice of Appeal is jurisdictional. Typically, it must be served on all parties to a case, including the lower court, the higher court, and the opposing parties. However, failing to serve all parties concerned does not affect the validity of an appeal.
In a criminal appeal for a crime committed on or after July 1, 1993, a defendant intending to petition for a review in Kansas, must file a Notice of Appeal within 14 days from the oral pronouncement of sentence in the District Court. Kansas permits both the defendant and the State to file an appeal against a departure sentence. The State has up to 30 days to appeal a departure sentence. Kansas courts recognize certain exceptions to appeal time limits. These exist when an indigent defendant was:
- Not informed of the right to appeal
- Not furnished an attorney to exercise that right
- Furnished an attorney who failed to perfect and complete an appeal
In a civil appeal, a Notice of Appeal must be filed within 30 days from the entry of judgment. The exception to this rule applies to an order appointing or refusing to appoint a receiver. Kansas stipulates a 14-day window for such situations. Note that an entry of judgment occurs when a journal entry or judgment form is filed. A judgment is only effective when a journal entry or judgment form is signed by the judge and filed with the clerk of the District Court. Kansas does not recognize trial docket minutes or judge's notes as an entry of judgment. Any Notice of Appeal filed after the oral pronouncement of final judgment but before the filing of a journal entry is deemed a premature Notice of Appeal. It only becomes effective upon the filing of the journal entry.
A District's Court extension of the time for the filing of a Notice of Appeal may not exceed 30 days from the expiration of the original time for filing the Notice upon the presentation of excusable neglect.
Kansas permits certain posttrial motions to extend the time for filing a Notice of Appeal if such motions are filed within 28 days of entry of judgment. These types of motions stop the running of appeal time and begin the cycle in its entirety on the date of the entry of the order ruling on the post-trial motion. To step the running time on an appeal, a post-trial motion must be one of the following:
- A motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict
- A motion to amend or make additional findings of fact
- A motion for a new trial
- A motion to alter or amend the judgment
However, a motion for relief from judgment or order for clerical mistakes, inadvertence, excusable neglect, surprise, fraud, or newly discovered evidence does not extend the time for filing a Notice of Appeal.
In limited action civil appeals, where a case was determined by a district magistrate judge who is not licensed to practice law in Kansas, the Notice of Appeal from the district magistrate judge's decision must be filed in the District Court within 14 days of the entry of the order. After the ruling by the District Court, a Notice of Appeal to the Court of Appeals must be filed not later than 30 days after the entry of the District Court's order, ruling, or judgment. Kansas permits an exception if a defendant is appealing an action for forcible detainer granting restitution of the premises. In that wise, a Notice of Appeal must be filed within seven days of the entry of judgment. The Kansas Supreme Court Attorney Directory can help uses find current information on attorneys licensed in Kansas.
A 14-day window applies for the filing of a Notice of Appeal in juvenile matters such as in any appeal against an order of temporary custody, adjudication, disposition, and finding of unfitness of termination of parental rights. In this case, the appeal is made to the District Court and the order appealed must have been entered by a magistrate judge who is not licensed to practice law in Kansas. The Notice of Appeal from a District Court must be filed within 30 days.
How Do I Find My Case Number in Kansas?
A case number is a distinct number assigned to a court case. It is useful in determining the year the case was filed, the court that handled the case, and what kind of case it is. Interested persons can find a case number in Kansas by providing the name of a party to the case on the Kansas District Court Public Access Portal or the Appellate Courts Search Portal. A case number can also be found by visiting the local courthouse where the record is filed. Note that a nominal search fee applies for providing this service in Kansas courts. District Court locations in Kansas are provided on the judicial branch's website
Case numbers are quite helpful for both requesters and record custodians in tracking and obtaining court case files promptly.
Does Kansas Hold Remote Trials?
Yes. Following, the State of Disaster Emergency Declaration by Kansas Governor, Laura Kelly, in response to confirmed cases of the Coronavirus in the state, the Chief Justice of the Kansas Supreme Court issued Administrative Order 2020-PR-045 authorizing the use of two-way electronic audio-visual communication in any court proceeding in the state. Under this Order, essential, non-essential, and any portion of a court proceeding, including all criminal, juvenile offender, civil, probate, child in need of care, or other proceedings under the jurisdiction of Kansas District Courts or appellate courts may all be conducted remotely.