To help readers who may have trouble with the legal jargon in court stories, Evening Sun reporter Mark Walters will be putting together a terms-you-need-to-know list. Every week, he’ll add a new word to the list, using articles to show how the word is used in a sentence.
Magisterial district justice (judge): A magisterial district justice, also known as a judge, presides over civil and criminal matters at the lowest level of the Pennsylvania court system, according to the Pennsylvania Courts communications office.
The elected public official was always known as “magisterial district justice” until 2004, when the court changed it to “magisterial district judge,” said Art Heinz, spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Courts.
Typically, these judges preside over misdemeanor criminal cases and civil claims involving $12,000 or less, Heinz said. Their designated territories are based on population, geography and caseload inventory. The state Supreme Court establishes the judges’ boundaries.
Magistrates, as they are known colloquially, can set bail in non-capital cases, Heinz said, noting that most people come into contact with magisterial judges when they are facing traffic-related charges.
Unlike other judges in Pennsylvania, magistrates are not required to be attorneys, Heinz said. They are elected to six-year terms and are permitted to run for re-election when their terms expire. Other judges, such as those on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, serve 10-year terms and run in retention elections, which are simply “yes” or “no” votes on ballots, Heinz said.
There are approximately 530 magisterial district judges in Pennsylvania, Heinz said. There are four in Adams County and 19 serving York County.
And while magistrates serve all over the state, Heinz noted they do not serve Philadelphia. The City of Brotherly Love is served by municipal courts, which act the same as magistrates.
Heinz said westward migration of Pennsylvania’s growth created the difference in court systems.
“It’s just kind of the way the state evolved,” he said. “It created some differences you won’t find elsewhere in the state. But the functions are the same.”
Magisterial district judges have to be 21 years old to run for office and they must reside in the area they represent.
And all magistrates earn $86,899, regardless of tenure or location, Heinz said.
Check out the latest court cases filed in District Magistrate Judge Tony Little’s office in Reading Township in the Evening Sun’s district justice records.
See the full list of legal jargon here.
Have a piece of legal jargon you want Mark to address? Email him at email@example.com.