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How Courts Work

Learn about the different courts in Nevada, how civil cases move through the courts, and who you might meet at the courthouse.

Courts in Nevada
Nevada Supreme Court
District Court
Justice Courts
Municipal Courts
Federal Courts
Inside the Court
How a Civil Case Moves Through the Courts 

Courts In Nevada

The Nevada judiciary (sometimes referred to as the "judicial system") is one of three branches of Nevada's government – the other two are the executive and legislative branches.  The function of the judicial branch of government is to interpret and apply law, as well as ensure equal justice under the law.  (The legislative system makes laws, and the executive branch enforces them.)  The Nevada judiciary has the responsibility to provide impartial, efficient, and accessible dispute resolution in legal matters.

The Nevada Constitution states that judicial power shall be vested in a court system comprised of a supreme court, district courts, and justices of the peace, and that the Nevada legislature may establish municipal courts.  (Nev. Const. art. 6, § 1.)  Each of these courts is described below.

 Nevada Supreme Court

The Nevada Supreme Court is the state's highest court.  Its primary responsibility is to review and rule on appeals from district court cases.  The court does not conduct fact-finding trials; rather, the justices determine if legal or procedural errors were committed during the case in the district court.

The supreme court is funded almost equally from the state general fund and from administrative assessments.

The Nevada Supreme Court has seven justices.  The justices are elected by voters at a general election.   The term of office for a justice in Nevada is six years.

Click to visit our Nevada Supreme Court page to learn more.

District Courts

The district courts in Nevada have general jurisdiction over all legal disputes.  These are the courts where criminal, civil, family, and juvenile matters are generally resolved through arbitration, mediation, and bench or jury trials.  District courts also handle appeals from justice and municipal court cases.

The funding for district courts is split between the state and counties.  District court judges' salaries are paid by the state while the county pays for support staff and court facilities.

There are nine district courts in Nevada.  The Eighth Judicial District Court has jurisdiction over all of Clark County.  It currently has thirty-two judges (organized by department number) and twenty family court judges (organized by department letter).  District court judges are elected by the voters at a general election.  The term of office for a district court judge is six years.

Click to visit our District Court page to learn more.

Justice Courts

The justice courts in Nevada handle misdemeanor crime and traffic matters, small claims disputes, evictions, and other civil matters involving amounts less than $10,000.  The justice courts also handle felony and gross misdemeanor arraignments and conduct preliminary hearings to determine if sufficient evidence exists to hold criminals for trial in the district court.

Each county funds its own justice courts.  The funds collected by those courts go to their respective county treasurer for disbursement to county and state entities.

There are forty-three justice courts in Nevada, which are presided over by justices of the peace.  The justice courts are organized by township.  In Clark County, there are eleven justice courts (Boulder City, Bunkerville, Goodsprings, Henderson, Las Vegas, Laughlin, Mesquite, Moapa, Moapa Valley, North Las Vegas, and Searchlight).  Justices of the peace are elected by the voters at a general election.  The term of office for a justice of the peace is six years.

Click to visit our Justice Courts page to learn more.

Municipal Courts

The municipal courts in Nevada manage cases involving violations of traffic and misdemeanor ordinances that occur within the city limits of incorporated municipalities.  Nevada has nineteen municipal courts that are presided over by municipal judges.

Each of the municipal courts is funded by the city in which it is located and most of the funds collected by the municipal court go into the municipalities' general fund.

Federal Courts

In addition to the state courts described above, there are also federal courts that handle federal cases that take place in Nevada.  There are three levels of federal courts:  The U.S. district courts (the trial courts), the U.S. courts of appeals (the appellate courts), and the U.S. Supreme Court.

The federal courts handle two main types of cases:  Cases involving the U.S. government, the U.S. Constitution, or federal laws; and cases where two of the parties are from different states or countries and the case is worth more than $75,000 (known as "diversity jurisdiction").  The federal court also handles bankruptcy cases.

You can learn more about federal courts at your local law library.  Click to visit our Law Libraries page.


Inside The Court

When you walk into a court for the first time, you may want to first stop at the information booth or a self-help center (if the court has either).  Tell the court or self-help center staff why you are at the court, what you are looking for, and what you are trying to accomplish.  They will be happy to point you in the right direction if they can.

In most courts, you will probably find these court employees and staff:

  • The court clerk.  If you are submitting papers to the court (known as "filing") or trying to get general information about a case, you may need to visit the court clerk's office.  The court clerk is responsible for filing all documents that the parties submit to the court.  The clerk also has access to the court's case records and can provide you with copies of documents that have been filed in a case (likely for a fee).
  • Judicial officers.  Every courtroom has a judicial officer, the person who makes the decisions about the problems that people came to court about.  He or she wears a black robe and sits at the front of the courtroom facing everyone else.  A judicial officer can be
    • A judge.  A judge is usually an attorney elected by the voters at a general election to serve as a judicial officer for a specific term.
    • A commissioner.  A commissioner is a person chosen by the court and given the power to hear and make decisions in certain kinds of legal matters.
    • A temporary judge.  A temporary judge is a lawyer who volunteers his or her time to hear and decide cases.  Also called a "judge pro tem."
    • A referee.  A referee is a type of master appointed by a court to assist with certain proceedings.
  • The courtroom clerk.  Every courtroom has a clerk who helps the judge manage cases, keeps court records, deals with financial matters, and gives other administrative support to the judge and the court as a whole.
  • A bailiff or marshal.  Most courtrooms have a bailiff or marshal in charge of security in the court.
  • A court reporter.  Many courtrooms have a court reporter who writes down, word for word, what is said during the proceedings.  People can ask for a copy of this official record, called the "transcript," but they usually have to pay for it.  Small claims and some other courtrooms do not have court reporters so there is no transcript of the hearing.
  • A court interpreter.  When one of the parties or witnesses in a case does not speak English well, there usually is a court interpreter (who speaks English and the non-English speaker's primary language) to help the non-English speaker understand what is going on.  In most cases, the person needing the interpreter needs to arrange for the interpreter in advance.  Click to visit our Interpreters page to learn more.

The best way to find out what goes on in a courtroom is to visit a courtroom and watch.  Most hearings and trials are open to the public.  If you have a case with a particular judge, go watch the judge to see how he or she handles cases like yours.  That way, you will have an idea of what to expect.


How A Civil Case Moves Through The Courts

Most civil cases (which are, typically, lawsuits between individuals or businesses over money or property) can be divided into the following stages:

  • Pre-filing.  During the pre-filing stage, the dispute arises and the parties make demands, try to negotiate a resolution, and prepare for the possibility of a court action.
  • Initial pleading. During this stage, one party files papers (called a "complaint") to start the court action, and the other party files some type of response (an "answer" or maybe a "motion").
  • Discovery. During the discovery stage, both sides exchange information and learn about the strengths and weaknesses of the other side's case.
  • Post discovery/pre-trial. In this stage, the parties start preparing for trial; they get their evidence and witnesses in order, they might engage in some type of settlement conference, and they may file motions with the court to resolve the case or limit the issues for trial.
  • Trial. During this stage, the case is actually heard by the judge or a jury (which could last for a couple of hours or a couple of months, depending on the complexity of the case), witnesses are examined, evidence is presented, and the case is eventually decided and a judgment entered.
  • Post-trial. During the post-trial stage, one or both of the parties might appeal the judgment that was entered at trial, or the winning party might try to collect the judgment that was entered.

To learn more about civil cases, click to visit the Small Claims and Lawsuits for Money sections.