Pennsylvania’s Unified Judicial System is one of North America’s oldest, growing from a collection of part-time, local courts prior to 1700 to today’s statewide, automated court system.
The judiciary’s entry-level courts are located in more than 500 magisterial districts and in municipal courts in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. The next level, the state’s trial courts or Courts of Common Pleas, are in judicial districts which mostly follow county boundaries. The statewide intermediate appellate courts — Superior and Commonwealth — hear criminal and civil appeals from the trial courts and some original cases brought against the state and its agencies.
The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania is the highest arbiter of cases in the judicial system, and has administrative authority over the entire court system. The Pennsylvania court system is structured like a pyramid with the Supreme Court at the top.
An overview of court management
- Pennsylvania’s court system docketed 2.6 million cases in 2016.
- The state court system — a core function of government — receives one-half of 1 percent of the state’s total budget.
- The judiciary collects far more in fines and fees that it receives. Over the past 10 years, the court system has collected nearly $4.6 billion. These dollars, for the most part, do not flow back to the judiciary. They are distributed to state and local governments, which include airport and parking authorities, and programs that support victims.
- The court system maintains automated statewide court case and financial management systems that provide enhanced court access and accountability to the courts, criminal justice agencies and a host of others including the Commonwealth’s citizens.
A guide to Pennsylvania's disciplinary process
The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has an extensive disciplinary system — endorsed by its citizens through Constitutional amendment — to address improper conduct by lawyers and judges both in and outside the courtroom. And the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, in its role as overseer of the practice of law in the state, has adopted added standards and rules governing conduct.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do you have a complaint about a judge?
The Judicial Conduct Board receives and investigates complaints of misconduct concerning Pennsylvania’s jurists. If the board determines that probable cause exists, the board then files formal charges against a jurist with the Court of Judicial Discipline. The Court of Judicial Discipline has the authority to impose sanctions ranging from a reprimand to removal from office if the charges are sustained.
Do you have a complaint about a lawyer?
The Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court investigates complaints regarding the conduct of Pennsylvania’s practicing attorneys.
Do you believe a lawyer improperly took money?
The Pennsylvania Lawyers Fund for Client Security helps to recover money improperly retained by an attorney.