The court system plays a big role in everyone's life, so it is very important that everyone understands how the courts work. Look at all the things in every day life that involve the court system:
The Nebraska court system is made up of the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeals, district courts , and county courts. There are also special courts for kids, and for workers who get hurt at their job.
The Supreme Court has a Chief Justice and six associate justices. The six associate justices each come from a different area of the state called a district, and the Chief can come from anywhere in the state. The Governor appoints the justices from a list given to him by a special committee whose job is to recommend people be judges.
The Supreme Court's main jobs are to look at cases from other courts to be sure that they didn't make any mistakes, and to see that the state's court system runs smoothly. It also looks at all cases involving the death penalty or life in prison, or when the case has a question about the Constitution of the State of Nebraska.
The Supreme Court is also in charge of all the lawyers in the State of Nebraska.
The court of appeals has six judges, one from each of the same six districts as the Supreme Court. One of these six judges is appointed by the Supreme Court for a one year term as chief judge.
The court of appeals' job is to hear all appeals not involving penalties of death, or life in prison. So, whenever someone is unhappy with the decision given by a lower court (usually a county or district court), they can have the court of appeals hear the case again, to see if anyone made any mistakes that could make them change the decision.
There are 12 judicial districts and 56 district court judges to serve all 93 of Nebraska's counties. District courts hear all serious criminal cases, civil cases involving more than $52,000, and divorce cases.
Within those same 12 judicial districts (some of which have only one county, and some have up to 17), there are 58 county court judges. County Courts handle all minor criminal cases, traffic violations, civil cases involving less that $52,000, guardianship, adoption, and juvenile cases.
Nebraska has juvenile courts in Lancaster, Douglas, and Sarpy counties. These courts only deal with crimes committed kids under 18, and with children who have been abused by their parents.
OK-so after all that confusing stuff, lets break it down into some numbers:
Courts deal with many kinds of cases:
The right to a trial by jury is given to everybody by the Constitution of the United States of America. Jury members are people who listen carefully to everything said in the court room, and then decide who wins the case. Jury trials are held in county and district court, when somebody asks for one.
Sometimes it can make it easier to understand something if you compare it to something you know about. In some ways, the court system is a little like a soccer game.
The Courtroom is the stadium where the court case takes place.
The two different sides in a court case are like the players in a soccer game. They can be called all kinds of different names, like litigant, defendant, prosecution, plaintiff, and others. The different sides in a court case are like soccer teams because they play each other and try to win the game. They take turns being on offense and defense by calling witnesses and giving evidence to the judge and jury.
The coaches are like the lawyers who help the players play the game, because they usually know how the game works better than the players do. They decide what plays to call, and the overall game strategy. Lawyers do the same thing by making a plan to present their client's case, and then calling witnesses and giving evidence to try to win the game.
The judge is like a referee. Part of the judge's job is to keep time and move the game along on schedule. He or she also calls fouls if one of the teams does something that is against the rules.
The Score keepers:
The score keepers watch the game and record every time each side scores a point. While there is no point system in a court, the judge (or jury, depending on the kind of trial) reviews the evidence presented and declares a winner.
Sportscasters are like court reporters. They are responsible for making sure everything that happens in the court room gets written down so people can go back and see what happened if they forget, or if they weren't there.
The Commissioner of the league:
The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court is like the commissioner. He or she has to make sure that all the games and stadiums and referees and everything works smoothly. He or she also decides on disputes that are too hard for the other courts, or ones where one side feels like the decision made by the court is wrong (the Chief has six other Justices who help him or her make decisions like that).