As Arizona’s general jurisdiction trial court, the superior court hears civil, criminal, family, and probate cases. In counties with less than 250,000 persons, superior court judges are elected to serve a four-year term in a non-partisan race during the general election. In the event a superior court judge for such a county leaves office before the end of their term, the governor appoints a replacement to serve until the next general election, at which time a successor will be elected to serve the remainder of the term if applicable. Superior court judges must be at least thirty years old, have “good moral character,” and be both a resident of Arizona and admitted to the practice of law in Arizona for the five years immediately before taking office.
Justice courts are presided over by “justices of the peace,” and enjoy jurisdiction over a wide range of civil and criminal matters including lawsuits for $10,000 or less, misdemeanor offenses, and traffic violations. Justices of the peace are elected to serve a four-year term in a partisan race during the general election. To qualify to serve as a justice of the peace, one need only be a registered voter in a court’s precinct and proficient in English. Justices of the peace are not required to be an attorney or have any prior legal training. The number of justice courts in each county is determined by the county’s population.
Also called city courts or magistrate courts, municipal courts have criminal jurisdiction over misdemeanor or petty offenses, such as civil traffic cases, committed in their city or town. That includes violations of municipal ordinances, and violations of state law committed in the relevant city or town. They do not hear lawsuits between citizens. With the exception of Yuma, where municipal court judges are elected, city or town councils appoint municipal court judges to serve a minimum two-year term. Qualifications for serving as a municipal court judge vary between cities, with many larger cities requiring judges to have experience as an attorney.