The most common question I am asked is “What is a Magistrate Judge, anyway?”
Magistrates handle a variety of issues that come before the court that include, but are not limited to, search warrants, arrest warrants, all first appearance hearings, and setting of bonds or bond conditions for those arrested within the jurisdiction of the Magistrate Court. This includes preliminary hearings.
Magistrates also preside over bond revocation hearings; county ordinance cases, which include animals at large, and other animal control issues; disorderly conduct citations; conduct mediation hearings; dispossessory cases, usually involving landlord/tenant issues; wage garnishment issues; and extradition hearings.
Finally, the Magistrate Court serves as a small claims court, handling monetary claims up $15,000 (higher amounts are in the jurisdiction of the Superior Court).
Sometimes a Magistrate may also be required to testify in a criminal trial that he or she has interacted with.
The Magistrate Court is often referred to as the “People’s Court,” because citizens can come into the court and represent themselves with or without legal representation. Because of that, we often do not wear traditional judicial robes. While courtroom decorum is maintained, and all court procedures followed, we also try to keep the courtroom atmosphere as relaxed as possible.
Coming to court for the first time can be intimidating. By conducting the hearing in a conference room environment, the citizens are more at ease and comfortable, allowing for better communication.
Magistrate Judges do not work a typical 40-hour week. As crimes occur 24 hours a day, the criminal justice system functions on a 24-hour schedule, including the magistrates serving them. This means being available late nights, weekends, and holidays.
In fact, the most common robe that I wear as a Magistrate is the bathrobe, since that’s what I have on at 2:00AM while approving a search warrant.
I hope this sheds some light on the function of the Magistrate Judge. If you have any further questions, I am always available.
Email me at email@example.com.