The district courts were state trial courts with limited jurisdiction. They heard civil cases with claims of up to $10,000 and misdemeanor criminal cases, including traffic offenses, for which conviction is punishable by a fine of up to $3,000, imprisonment of one year or less, or both. District courts could conduct preliminary hearings in felony matters, but could not try cases involving title to real property. Before being dissolved in 1998 district court small claims departments had jurisdiction for recovery of money or damages in cases in which the amount claimed did not exceed $2,500.
In 1913 the Legislative Assembly provided for the establishment of district courts in every county with a population of 100,000 or more. Multnomah County met the population standard and its four elected district judges won office in November 1914. The new law also required the abolition of all justice courts in Multnomah County, with the exception of the Multnomah (Gresham) District. Jurisdiction formerly held by the justice courts was assumed by the district courts. When a jury trial was demanded, a jury composed of 6 members was selected from the circuit court jury panel. A 1915 law required the establishment of a small claims department in the district courts. Between 1956 and 1970 district courts in several counties held probate jurisdiction.
By the late 1940s a statutory change in the population requirements led to the replacement of justice courts by district courts in other counties. In 1997, 30 of Oregon's 36 counties were served by 63 district courts. Multnomah County had 14 district judges; Lane and Marion, and Washington, five; Clackamas and Jackson, 3; Coos, Deschutes, Douglas, Josephine, Klamath, and Linn, 2; Benton, Clatsop, Columbia, Curry, Hood River, Lake, Lincoln, Malheur, Polk, Tillamook, Wasco, and Yamhill, one each. Four judges served in two-county district courts (Union-Wallowa, Crook-Jefferson, and Morrow-Umatilla).
District judges were elected on a nonpartisan ballot in the individual county for a term of 6 years. They had to be 18 to 75 years old, citizens of the United States, residents of the county in which the court was located prior to their election, and active members of the Oregon State Bar. District court judges could be assigned by the Supreme Court to serve other district courts and could be assigned to serve temporarily as circuit court judges.
All records of abolished justice courts were legally transferred to the custody of the appropriate district court upon its creation. Supervision of the district courts was transferred to the office of the state court administrator in 1971. Since 1983 the county clerk has no longer been legally responsible for keeping district court records although some early records may continue to be in their custody.
On Jan. 15, 1998 the Legislative Assembly transferred all district court jurisdiction, authority, powers, functions and duties to the circuit court.
The state district courts were not related to the U.S. district courts which operated during the Oregon territorial period.