Puerto Rico: Limited Jurisdiction Courts

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Introduction Puerto Rico has already developed a system of courts that is very similar to that of most states in the U.S., including municipal courts that have been merged with the court of first instance, an intermediate appellate court and a supreme court. Almost every state now has these four levels of courts, and the recent trend has included merging the municipal or limited jurisdiction courts with the general jurisdiction courts, and requiring their judges to be trained lawyers. Unlike most states, however, judges in Puerto Rico are appointed rather than elected and serve with lifetime tenure, as do those in the federal courts. There are no partisan or nonpartisan elections, retention elections or recall votes of the type that are so common in the fifty states. In addition, for four centuries the Puerto Rican legal system was based on the European or civil law model rather than the English common law, although over the decades it has become increasingly 'Americanized'. Initially, the U.S. legal system was widely regarded as a tool of imperial or colonial domination, especially since Puerto Rico never had any chance for independent development but went directly from being a Spanish colony to a U.S. one in 1898. Over time, however, Puerto Ricans of all classes gradually adopted this system and made it their own, particularly as the island began to urbanize and industrialize in the 1950s and 1960s and the demands on the court system increased greatly. Puerto Rico's
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