Out of order: Why 2 of RI’s district courts disappeared

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Most people usually prefer to avoid courtrooms, but if you’ve ever familiarized yourself with Rhode Island’s district court system, you may have noticed that it’s out of order.

The state’s 2nd Division District Court represents Newport County, the 3rd Division District Court represents Kent County, the 4th Division District Court represents Washington County and the 6th Division District Court represents both Providence and Bristol Counties.

Four courts in total – but what happened to the 1st and 5th divisions?

After a survey of the newsroom, a quick Google search, and a few clicks around the Rhode Island Judiciary site returned no results, Eyewitness News turned to the judiciary’s spokesman, Craig Berke.

Berke explained that District Court sessions used to be held all around the state, in courthouses and also in police stations. At the time, there were a total of 12 districts.

But that changed about three decades ago, after the late Chief Judge Albert DeRobbio took office in the 1980s.

DeRobbio opted to consolidate the courthouses by county, but let them retain their original numerical division numbers.

At the time there was one judge for each division. According to the Rhode Island Judiciary website, there are currently a total of 13 judges serving the district courts: one chief judge, one administrative judge, and 11 associate judges.

The District Court handles arraignments for felony and misdemeanor cases. Misdemeanor cases are punishable for up to one year in prison and fines are not to exceed $1,000.

There are no jury trials heard in District Court.