California’s court system is the largest in the world and serves a population of more than 38 million people—about 12 percent of the total U.S. population—and more than 2,000 judicial officers and approximately 19,000 court employees statewide address the full range of cases heard each year.
The vast majority of cases in the California courts begin in one of the 58 superior, or trial, courts, which reside in each of the state’s 58 counties. With more than 500 court buildings throughout the state, these courts hear both civil and criminal cases as well as family, probate, mental health, juvenile, and traffic cases.
The next level of judicial authority resides with the Courts of Appeal. Most cases before the Courts of Appeal involve the review of a superior court decision being contested by a party to the case. The Legislature divided the state geographically into six appellate districts.
The state Supreme Court serves as the highest court in the state and has discretion to review decisions of the Courts of Appeal in order to settle important questions of law and to resolve conflicts among the Courts of Appeal. The court also must review the appeal in any case in which a trial court has imposed a judgment of death.
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