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Administrative Office of the United States Courts

Federal Magistrates

Under the Federal Magistrates Act as amended in 1979 (28 U.S.C.A. § 631), the director of the Administrative Office must answer to Congress and the Judicial Conference on the affairs of federal magistrates. Federal magistrates are appointed by federal district court judges, and their job is to whittle each case to its essence before it reaches the district courts. Federal proceedings are expensive; by ruling on pretrial motions and issuing various orders at the pretrial stage, federal magistrates help preserve judicial resources.

Federal magistrates do not have the full range of judicial powers available to other federal judges. For example, they cannot preside over felony trials. Federal magistrates may conduct civil or misdemeanor criminal trials, but they normally conduct pretrial proceedings in both criminal and civil cases. Owing to their special function, federal magistrates operate separately from the district courts and maintain a separate budget.

With the guidance of the Judicial Conference, the director supervises the administrative matters of federal magistrates through the Magistrate Division of the Administrative Office. The director prepares legal and administrative manuals for the use of the magistrates. In addition, the Administrative Office must conduct surveys of the federal judiciary to ask questions on court conditions. With these surveys, the director makes recommendations as to the number, location, and salaries of magistrates. The expansion of magistrate offices depends significantly on the availability of funds appropriated by Congress.

The director of the Administrative Office compiles and evaluates information on the magistrate offices and reports the findings to the Judicial Conference. The director must also report to Congress every year on the general affairs of federal magistrates.

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