The superior court is the state’s general jurisdiction court. It is a single entity with locations in each county. Each county has at least one superior court judge. In counties with more than one superior court judge, the judges operate in numbered divisions.
Article VI § 14 of the Arizona Constitution provides the superior court with jurisdiction over:
- cases and proceedings in which exclusive jurisdiction is not vested by law in another court;
- equity cases that involve title to or possession of real property or the legality of any tax, assessment, toll or municipal ordinance;
- other cases in which the value of property in question is $1,000 or more, exclusive of interest and costs;
- criminal cases amounting to a felony, and misdemeanor cases not otherwise provided for by law;
- forcible entry and detainer actions (evictions of renters);
- proceedings in insolvency (however, bankruptcy is handled in federal court);
- actions to prevent or stop nuisances;
- matters of probate (wills, estates);
- dissolution or annulment of marriages (divorces);
- naturalization and the issuance of appropriate documents for these events; and,
- special cases and proceedings not otherwise provided for, and such other jurisdiction as may be provided by law.
Appellate Court Role of the Superior Court
The superior court acts as an appellate court for justice and municipal courts.
The superior court probation department supervises adults and juveniles on probation.
In the superior court system, each court is entitled to one superior court judge and one additional judge for every 30,000 county residents or majority fraction thereof.
Superior court judges serve four year terms. There are now more than 100 Arizona superior court judges, most of whom are in Maricopa and Pima Counties.
The Arizona Supreme Court designates a presiding judge for counties with two or more superior court judges. In single-judge counties, that judge holds the administrative authority.
A 1971 state law (A.R.S. § 12-141) authorized the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court to appoint judges pro tempore (temporary judges) for six month terms to assist with caseloads. These judges usually work part-time. A judge pro tempore must be at least 30 years of age, of good moral character, a resident of Arizona and admitted to the practice of law in Arizona for not less than five years immediately preceding the appointment. A judge pro tempore may be appointed to serve in the county where he or she lives, or another county.
Each county has a superior court clerk elected to a four year term. The clerk maintains court case files; certifies documents; collects fees; issues summonses, subpoenas, and marriage licenses; and performs other duties required by law, e.g., acts as an acceptance agency for passports. Some counties offer these services in more than one location.
In some counties, the clerk also serves as the jury commissioner. However, in larger counties, a separate jury commissioner may be appointed.
Larger Arizona counties also have court administrators to assist the presiding judge with case flow management, records management, financial management and other administrative projects.
A county’s superior court presiding judge may appoint court commissioners to perform limited judicial duties if the county has at least three judges. These commissioners hear cases where an uncontested charge has been entered. They may also conduct the initial appearance of a defendant charged with a crime.
Counties with more than one superior court judge also have a special juvenile court. One or more superior court judges are assigned to hear all juvenile cases involving delinquency, incorrigibility and dependency. Juvenile traffic cases may be heard by a court other than the juvenile court (if the presiding juvenile court judge allows it).
The Tax Court, established in 1988, has jurisdiction over all questions of law and fact relating to disputes involving the imposition, assessment or collection of Arizona taxes. Although the Tax Court is a department of the Superior Court in Maricopa County, it handles cases across the state.
A taxpayer may choose to use the small claims division of the Tax Court for certain cases. The small claims division hears disputes concerning the valuation or classification of class five property (your home), or where the full cash value of all real and personal property does not exceed $300,000. In addition, the small claims division judges hear all tax cases in which the amount of taxes, interest at the time of assessment, and penalties is less than $5,000. There is no right to appeal the decision of the Tax Court’s small claims division.
Arizona statutes require arbitration in most civil cases not exceeding $50,000. These cases are heard by one to three arbitrators who are attorneys appointed by the court. Hearings are conducted in an informal setting and manner that saves money and reduces the number of cases in trial courts. Arbitrators act as judges. They listen to both sides and make decisions based on the law. Arbitration decisions can be appealed, but usually are not. When a decision is appealed, the case is heard from the start (trial de novo) in superior court.
Superior Court Judge Qualifications
A superior court judge must be:
- At least 30 years old;
- Of good moral character; and,
- Admitted to the practice of law in Arizona and a resident of Arizona for the five years immediately before taking office.