A clerk magistrate is a court official in the United States who assists in the administration of the court and preside over some preliminary matters. This position is frequently sandwiched between that of a support worker and that of a judge. Professionals in this position deal with court filings, hearing dates, and trial schedules, as well as adjudicating minor disputes like traffic infractions and preliminary criminal trial processes. A clerk magistrate accepts pleas and makes recommendations that can influence the outcome of a case.
Clerk magistrates are found in only a few states, and the job description varies depending on local law and custom. All clerk magistrate positions are appointed, which means that candidates are chosen a government official — usually a state governor. The majority of the positions are for life. They are usually assigned to U.S. District Courts, but they may also be assigned to special family courts, traffic courts, or administrative hearings offices if such facilities exist and are in need of assistance.
The clerk magistrate’s primary responsibility is to provide assistance. He or she usually manages the court’s caseload, assisting with high-level tasks such as preparing and entering orders, extracting relevant information from filings, and resolving paper-based matters such as estate settlement, will execution, and court-ordered property sales. Clerks do not take the place of regular administrative staff; rather, they relieve full-time judges of some of their responsibilities.
A clerk magistrate is similar to a junior judge in many ways. The job isn’t meant to be a stepping stone to full-time judging; rather, it’s meant to free up the judge’s time. In the face of rising costs and caseloads, most states that have clerk magistrates created the positions as a way to make courts more efficient. It is frequently far less expensive to assign clerk magistrates to courts than to expand the core judicial base.
Minor matters, such as traffic infractions and basic child custody hearings, are usually heard clerk magistrates. They might also be allowed to preside over show cause hearings, which are the first step in any criminal case. The parties present their preliminary arguments at a show cause hearing, and the judge — or clerk magistrate, as the case may be — decides whether there is enough evidence to warrant a full-fledged prosecution and trial.
The clerk magistrates who preside over these hearings play a crucial role in determining whether or not a case will proceed. Criminal defendants who are astute often seek to have their cases dismissed the clerk magistrate, preventing the case from moving forward. The defendant will not have a criminal record as a result of this.
A clerk magistrate is not to be confused with a magistrate clerk, who works in the English magistrate court system as an advisor. In the United Kingdom, magistrate courts are supervised lay or professional magistrates who serve as judges. In this context, clerks are professional advisers to magistrates who oversee the administrative aspects of court proceedings.