United States Magistrates in the Federal Courts: Subordinate Judges

By Christopher E. Smith | Go to book overview

6
District B: Acknowledged "Judges" and the Incongruity of High Status and Limited Actual Authority

District B has three full-time magistrates and four judges working in two courthouses in medium-sized cities (populations of 100,000 and 180,000). The main courthouse contains the offices of three judges and two magistrates, while the smaller court has one judge and one magistrate. Both of the courthouses are relatively small and facilitate personal contact between the judges and the magistrates. It is not uncommon for a magistrate or judge to walk down the hall to speak with another judicial officer personally about a pending motion or other aspects of cases before the district court. Although such contacts do not necessarily occur daily or even weekly, the magistrates and judges in the district know each other with sufficient familiarity that each claims to feel free to pick up the phone or walk down the hall to contact the others. In the larger courthouse, the judges' and magistrates' chambers and courtrooms are located on three consecutive floors in a federal building. In the smaller courthouse, the judge and magistrate are both on the ground floor of a small building containing only a post office, district court, and a few federal agencies' offices.

Tasks are assigned to magistrates through a paired system in which each magistrate in the larger courthouse is paired with one of the judges in the same courthouse and the magistrate in the smaller court is paired with the judge in the same location. In addition, the magistrate in the small courthouse must spend one to two days each week at the larger court to handle matters for the fourth judge, who assumed senior status but maintained a productive schedule for handling cases.

For a district its size, District B receives a relatively high number of both prisoner and Social Security case filings. There is no separate office to process prisoner cases, as in larger districts that have staff attorneys or pro se law clerks, so magistrates assume responsibility for handling habeas corpus and civil rights cases. Magistrates also review the Social Security cases. The magistrates each have one law clerk to assist in writing reports and recommendations. The caseload.

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