Circuit Courts originated in the colonial period as County Courts. Appointed by the Governor, members of these courts were titled commissioner justices and justices of the peace. Those best qualified in legal matters were called justices of the quorum. These court members governed the County, handling all issues pertaining to civil and criminal cases, and administrative duties.

[photo, County Courts Building, 401 Bosley Ave. (view from Pennsylvania Ave.), Towson, Maryland] In 1775, just before the Revolutionary War, their functions were suspended. After Maryland adopted its first State Constitution in 1776, the County Courts reopened and justices were appointed for every county in April 1777.

For the counties, Circuit Courts were established to succeed the County Courts in 1851 (Constitution of 1851, Art. IV, secs. 8, 9).

County Courts Building, 401 Bosley Ave. (view from Pennsylvania Ave.), Towson, Maryland, March 2001. Photo by Diane F. Evartt.

Circuit Courts are trial courts of general jurisdiction. Their jurisdiction is very broad but generally covers major civil cases and more serious criminal matters. Circuit Courts also may decide appeals from the District Court of Maryland and certain administrative agencies.

Each Circuit Court judge is appointed by the Governor and then must stand for election. The judge's name is placed on the ballot in the first general election that occurs at least one year following the vacancy the judge was appointed to fill (Const., Art. IV, sec.5). The judge may be opposed formally by one or more qualified members of the bar, with the successful candidate being elected to a fifteen-year term (Const., Art. IV, secs. 3, 5, 11, 12, 19-26).

In Baltimore County, the Court Administrator oversees the Clerk of the Court, and the Sheriff, as well as Criminal Case Management, the Office of Jury Commissioner, and Family Support Services.

[photo, District Court, 120 East Chesapeake Ave., Towson, Maryland]


The District Court of Maryland began operating as a court of record in July 1971. It had been created by constitutional amendment in 1970 (Chapter 789, Acts of 1969, ratified Nov. 3, 1970; Const., Art. IV, secs. 41A through 41-I). In Baltimore County, the Court replaced the county trial magistrates, and the People's Court.

District Court, 120 East Chesapeake Ave., Towson, Maryland, May 2004. Photo by Diane F. Evartt.

In minor civil and criminal matters, and in virtually all violations of the Motor Vehicle Law, the District Court has jurisdiction. The exclusive jurisdiction of the District Court generally includes all landlord and tenant cases; replevin actions; motor vehicle violations; and criminal cases if the penalty is less than three years imprisonment or does not exceed a fine of $2,500, or both. The District Court has concurrent jurisdiction in misdemeanors and certain enumerated felonies, but has little equity jurisdiction.

Small claims (civil cases involving amounts not exceeding $5,000) also come under the jurisdiction of the District Court. In civil cases involving amounts over $5,000 (but not exceeding $30,000), the District Court has concurrent jurisdiction with the circuit courts.

Since the District Court provides no juries, a person entitled to and electing a jury trial must proceed to the Circuit Court (Code Courts & Judicial Proceedings Article, secs. 1-601 through 1-608, 2-601 through 2-607, 4-101 through 4-405, 6-403, 7-301, 7-302, 9-201, 11-402, 11-701 through 11-703, 12-401 through 12-404; Code Criminal Procedure Article, sec. 6-101; Code Family Law Article, secs. 4-501 through 4-510).

District Court judges are appointed to ten-year terms, by the Governor with Senate consent. They do not stand for election (Const., Art. IV, sec. 41D).

The District Court is located at three sites: Catonsville, Essex, and Towson.

On October 19, 2020, the old Catonsville District courthouse at 900 Walker Avenue, Catonsville, moved to its present location at 1 Rolling Cross Road in the Rolling Cross Road Professional Park, Catonsville. Owned by the Maryland Department of General Services, the Walker Avenue building will be closed permanently.

The Administrative Clerk in each district maintains and operates the clerical staff and work within the district, including dockets, records, and all necessary papers (Code Courts & Judicial Proceedings Article, secs. 2-603).

Upon recommendation of the District Administrative Judge, the Chief Judge of the District Court appoints the Administrative Clerk (Const., Art. IV, sec. 41F).

District commissioners issue arrest warrants, and set bail or collateral.

Commissioners in a district are appointed by and serve at the pleasure of the District Administrative Judge, with approval of the Chief Judge of the District Court (Const., Art. IV, sec. 41G (a)(2); Code Courts & Judicial Proceedings Article, secs. 2-602, 2-607).


[photo, County Courts Building, 401 Bosley Ave., Towson, Maryland] Functions of the Orphans' Court began in the colonial period under the Prerogative Court, headed by the Commissary General. For each county, a deputy commissary was appointed to handle matters relating to the administration of estates. In February 1777, an Orphans' Court was authorized in each county to serve as the County's probate court (Chapter 8, Acts of 1777).

The Orphans' Court supervises the handling of estates of people who have died (with or without a will) while owning property in their sole name. The Court also has jurisdiction over guardianships of minors

County Courts Building, 401 Bosley Ave., Towson, Maryland, March 2001. Photo by Diane F. Evartt.

Orphans' Court judges are responsible for approving administration accounts, and making sure that only appropriate payments are made from estate assets and that distributions are made to the proper beneficiaries or heirs. Generally, payment of attorney's fees or personal representative's commissions made from estate assets also must be approved by the Court.

Elected by the voters to four-year terms, three judges comprise the Orphans' Court. To be eligible for the office of Orphans' Court Judge, a person must have been a citizen of the State and County resident for at least one year immediately preceding election (Const., Art. IV, sec. 40; Code Estates & Trusts Article, secs. 2-101 through 2-109). The Chief Judge is designated by the Governor (Code Estates & Trusts Article, sec. 2-107).

In 1776, the office of Register of Wills was authorized for each county by Maryland's first Constitution (Constitution of 1776, sec. 41). Originally, the Register of Wills was appointed by the Governor upon joint recommendation of the Senate and House of Delegates. With the Constitution of 1851, however, the voters began to directly elect the Register to a six-year term (Constitution of 1851, Art. IV, sec. 18; Constitution of 1864, Art. IV, sec. 46; Constitution of 1867, Art. IV, sec. 41). In 1922, quadrennial elections were authorized for registers of wills, and instituted in 1926. Since that time, registers have been elected to four-year terms (Chapter 227, Acts of 1922, ratified 1924; Const., Art. XVII, sec. 7).

The Register of Wills serves as clerk to the Orphans' Court, oversees the administration of the estates of those who have died, and provides assistance to individuals administering those estates. In addition, the Register of Wills collects inheritance taxes and other fees (as provided by law), which fund operations of the office. Inheritance tax collections (less the commissions earned on those collections) are remitted to the State's General Fund.

Certain support services, such as payroll, maintenance of accounting records, and related fiscal functions, are provided to the Register of Wills by the Comptroller of Maryland.

Elected by the voters, the Register serves a four-year term (Const., Art. IV, sec. 41; Code Estates & Trusts Article, secs. 2-201 through 2-212).

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