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How Do the Hawaii District Courts Work?

The Hawaii District Courts are courts of limited jurisdiction. These courts have the authority to hear some types of criminal and civil cases, with certain restrictions. The Hawaii court system does not grant District Courts the authority to hold trials. The District Court shall transfer any case that requires a jury trial to a Circuit Court in the state.

For civil cases, District Courts may hear all matters with a maximum of $40,000 in dispute, excluding fees and other costs. This financial requirement includes the value of any debts, damages, or the entire value of a property in dispute. Matters between landlords and tenants, including claims and counterclaims for money damages, also fall under the purview of Hawaii District Courts. However, the financial limit may not apply in all cases. 

While District Courts may hear a wide range of civil cases, these courts may not exercise jurisdiction over any of the following:

  • Malicious prosecution
  • Libel
  • Slander
  • Defamation of character
  • Seduction
  • Breach of promise of marriage
  • False imprisonment.

District Courts also have jurisdiction over traffic violations and infractions, as well as other general offenses that violate a county ordinance or state law. The courts may hear ejectment proceedings only if the property’s real estate title is not in dispute. Furthermore, the courts’ jurisdiction also covers temporary restraining orders (TROs) and all injunctions against harassment. These injunctions are applicable for persons who were never in a dating relationship and are not related.

Several criminal cases also fall under the District Court’s jurisdiction. These may also include traffic infractions and other ordinance violations. District Courts also hear certain criminal offenses classified as misdemeanors. However, note that criminal cases heard by District Courts are restricted to offenses punishable by a maximum of one year in prison. The courts also have the authority to issue restraining orders in harassment cases.

Each Hawaii District Court has a Small Claims division that handles civil cases with a maximum of $5,000 in dispute. The Small Claims division can also hear cases involving disputes about landlord security deposits and return of some leased or rented property. The division may also help businesses recover damaged or stolen items. 

Regardless of the financial limit of cases the Small Claims division may initially hear, note that a defendant may file a counterclaim for up to $25,000. In such cases, the Hawaii court system allows the Small Claims division to retain jurisdiction.

Proceedings in the Small Claims division are informal and not always bound by the rules of procedure applicable in the District Court. However, while aggrieved parties may appeal decisions made by the District Court, there is no right to appeal for rulings passed in the Small Claims division.

District Courts also have Family Court divisions with jurisdiction over family matters. The Family Court’s exclusive jurisdiction covers the following cases:

  • Adoption
  • Truancy
  • Juvenile delinquency
  • Child neglect
  • Juvenile curfew offenses
  • Child custody
  • Guardianship of a child
  • Judicial consent to enlistment, employment, or marriage

Also, the Family Court hears cases involving guardianship of an adult, paternity, divorce, civil commitment, child support, and any other matters the Hawaii law may authorize. The Family Court’s jurisdiction may also extend to criminal cases. These include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Desertion
  • Failure to provide support
  • Any violation of a Domestic Abuse Protective Order
  • Abandonment
  • Non-felony cases brought against a spouse
  • Any offense committed against a child by the legal custodian or parent

All District Court judges are first nominated by the Hawaii Judicial Selection Commission. When there is a vacancy, the Commission must advertise the vacancy and receive applications from all interested persons. The Commission then goes through all the applications and uses a secret ballot to vote for the most qualified candidates. After the voting, the Commission creates a list of not more than six and not less than four eligible persons and submits this list to the Hawaii Supreme Court’s Chief Justice. Following confirmation from the Hawaii State Senate, the Chief Justice’s nominee resumes as a District Court judge.

The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court has a maximum of thirty days to choose a person from the Judicial Selection Commission’s list. If the Senate rejects the choice, the Chief Justice has ten days to make another choice and submit to the Senate. Suppose the Chief Justice does not honor the time frame either for the initial appointment or for choosing a replacement after the Senate’s rejection. In that case, the Commission may appoint a person from the list after the Senate’s consent. 

In either case, the Senate shall hold a public hearing and vote a person from the Commission’s list. The Senate has a maximum of thirty days to accept or reject the Chief Justice or the Judicial Selection Commission’s appointment. If the Senate cannot choose within thirty days, the Commission has the authority to appoint a qualified person from the shortlist without the Senate’s consent.

District Court judges serve six-year terms. Judges who wish to retain the position after the period must notify the Judicial Section Commission of this intention. The judge must petition the Commission not later than six months before the end of the current tenure. After receiving the petition, the Commission must investigate to determine that the facts of the judge’s tenure allow for retention. Persons who qualify may be retained for a subsequent term.

A Hawaii District Court judge must be a citizen of the United States and be resident in Hawaii. The person must have received a license to practice law for a minimum of ten years before the application. The judge must also be younger than 70 years old at the time of appointment.

Through the Commission on Judicial Conduct, the Hawaii State Judiciary addresses and disciplines erring judges. This Commission receives complaints of misconduct or incapacity and investigates the complaints for any merit or validity. Generally, any violation of one or more parts of the Revised Code of Judicial Conduct qualifies as misconduct. The Commission may then hold a hearing and subsequently recommend to the Supreme Court that no action be taken, or that the judge be suspended, retired, removed, or reprimanded.

District Court records are available online via the Hawaii State Judiciary’s eCourt Kokua platform. Anyone interested in these records may conduct a search using the following:

  • Case type
  • Case ID
  • Citation number
  • Party ID
  • Person’s name
  • Case filing date range
  • Business/government agency name

Note that certified court records may be available at the District Court locations. Use the following information to visit or contact a Hawaii District Court for a hearing or a certified record:

First Circuit

Oahu First Circuit District Court - Kauikeaouli Hale

1111 Alakea Street

Honolulu, HI 96813

Phone: (808) 538–5767

Oahu First Circuit District Court - Ewa/Pearl City

870 Fourth Street

Pearl City, HI 96782

Phone: (808) 534–6900

Oahu First Circuit District Court - Kaneohe - Abner Paki Hale

45–939 Pookela Street

Kaneohe, HI 96744

Phone: (808) 534–6300

Oahu First Circuit District Court - Wahiawa

1034 Kilani Avenue

Wahiawa, HI 96786

Phone: (808) 534–6200

Oahu First Circuit District Court—Waianae

4675 Kapolei Parkway

Kapolei, HI 96707

Phone: (808) 954–8575

Second Circuit

Maui Second Circuit District Court - Hoapili Hale

2145 Main Street

Wailuku, HI 96793

Phone: (808) 244–2846

Maui Second Circuit District Court - Lahaina

1870 Honoapiilani Highway

Lahaina, Maui, HI 96761

Phone: (808) 661–0970

Maui Second Circuit District Court - Lanai

730 Lanai Avenue, #131

Lanai City, HI 96763

Phone: (808) 565–6447

Maui Second Circuit District Court - Molokai

55 Makaena Street, PO Box 284

Kaunakakai, Molokai, HI 96748

Phone: (808) 553–1100

Third Circuit

Hawaii Third Circuit District Court - Hale Kaulike

777 Kilauea Avenue

Hilo, HI 96720

Phone: (808) 961–7470

Hawaii Third Circuit District Court—Kona

Keakealani Building

79–1020 Haukapila Street

Kealakekua, HI 96750

Phone: (808) 322–8700

Hawaii Third Circuit District Court - Waimea

Waimea Civic Center at Kamuela

67–5187 Kamamalu Street

Kamuela, HI 96743

Phone: (808) 443–2030

Fifth Circuit

Kauai Fifth Circuit District Court

Pu’uhonua Kaulike Building

3970 Ka’ana Street

Lihu’e, HI 96766

Phone: (808) 482–2645

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