Magistrates lighten caseloads for judges, give litigants faster access to courts

The most important resource a court has is hearing time with a judge. However, the judge is only one person in a division that has hundreds of cases. How does a court keep cases moving efficiently through the legal system when hearing time with the judge is limited? They do it with the help of magistrates and hearing officers. These quasi-judicial officers provide faster access to the court for family and civil disputes.

A quasi-what?

All magistrates and hearing officers are quasi-judicial officers. They may wear the familiar black robe during court proceedings, but they are not elected or appointed to their positions. Instead, they are at-will court employees assigned to support judges in certain divisions.

Litigants must agree to have a hearing with a magistrate, and once the hearing has concluded, the magistrate submits recommendations to the division judge who reviews then signs the recommended order. Litigants have 10 days to enter objections to the recommendations of the magistrate. If a litigant enters an objection, the division judge may have a hearing before issuing the final order.

Here in the Twelfth Judicial Circuit, magistrates and hearing officers support judges in the family division, probate/guardianship division and civil division.

“The terminology used (magistrate or hearing officer) has to do with the applicable statutory scheme,” said Ed Wilson, a part-time magistrate in Sarasota County assigned to preside over Marchman and Baker Act hearings.

“The statutes governing Marchman and Baker Act hearings include authority for the court to appoint magistrates to hear those cases. The statute governing the Child Support Enforcement program uses the ‘hearing officer’ terminology. Also, the rules of civil procedure authorize the court to refer certain matters to a magistrate,” Wilson said.

The circuit has five full time magistrates that assist the family divisions in DeSoto, Manatee and Sarasota counties, hearing cases that include (but are not limited to) paternity, child custody, child support enforcement and divorce. One magistrate assists the Sarasota County civil division. In both Manatee and Sarasota, court counsel staff who are sworn in as general magistrates, also take turns handling the weekly Baker and Marchman Act hearings.

This is a composite of seven of the 12th Judicial Circuit magistrates

Meet the Team

Pictured above, from left to right, are the magistrates and hearing officers of the Twelfth Judicial Circuit Court:

  • Deborah Bailey (Sarasota County civil division magistrate)
  • David Caskey (Manatee County family and civil magistrate)
  • Charles Denton (Manatee County child support hearing officer)
  • Mary Ann Floyd (Sarasota County family and Baker/Marchman Act magistrate)
  • Laura Hale (Sarasota County child support hearing officer)
  • Paul Hudson (Manatee County family magistrate, also presides over Manatee County Baker and Marchman Acts)
  • Rebecca Hunt (Sarasota County family magistrate)
  • Mary McEwen (Manatee County Baker and Marchman Act magistrate)
  • Edward Wilson (Sarasota County Baker and Marchman Act magistrate)