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Panels Focus on Merit in Selection of Magistrate Judges

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Magistrate judges play a critical role in the federal Judiciary, fulfilling a broad range of responsibilities and easing heavy caseloads in district courts. A new video by the U.S. courts explains the merit selection process for these judges.

When there is an opening for a magistrate judgeship, a merit selection panel is formed. This panel consists of five practicing lawyers and two non-lawyer community leaders. The panel’s job is to narrow the applications—typically 60 to 100—down to five candidates, who are then recommended to the district judges.

The panel considers many factors, such as the candidate’s standing with the bar of the highest court of a state, commonwealth or territory; and the candidate’s moral character, and emotional and physical health.

“Intelligence, hard work, honesty…those are probably the biggest qualities that I would look for in a magistrate judge,” says Magistrate Judge Gordon Gallagher, of the District of Colorado. 

The balance of lawyers and non-lawyers in the panel ensures that candidates will be well-rounded. While lawyers focus on the legal aspects of the candidates’ qualifications, lay members evaluate the candidate based on the community’s interests.

“Our communities are diverse…and when the court reflects that, the community has confidence that the court is a sound court,” says Magistrate Judge Ramon Reyes, Jr., of the Eastern District of New York.

Learn more about magistrate judges and other types of federal judges.

Related Topics: Judges & Judgeships

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