RD347 - Report on the Virginia Magistrate System
In 2006, the General Assembly directed the Executive Secretary of the Supreme Court of Virginia to submit a report to the Chairmen of the House Appropriations and Senate Finance Committees regarding the selection, training, oversight, accountability, and scheduling of magistrates, and the use of videoconferencing technology. Appropriations Act – Item 30 (G) (Special Session I, 2006). In response, Chief Justice Leroy R. Hassell, Sr., established a Magistrate Study Group, which included judges, a circuit court clerk, magistrates,
Commonwealth’s Attorneys, a public defender, and private attorneys, to evaluate the Virginia magistrate system.
The Magistrate Study Group, through a number of its committees and subcommittees, reviewed the pertinent areas of magistrate operations. It presented conclusions and proposals to the Chief Justice and the Executive Secretary of the Supreme Court of Virginia. The Justices of the Supreme Court and the Committee on District Courts also discussed the Magistrate Study Group’s recommendations. This report represents the Supreme Court of Virginia’s assessment of the magistrate system, as well as its recommendations to improve the services the magistrate system provides to the people of the Commonwealth of Virginia.
1. Section 19.2-35 of the Code of Virginia should be amended to transfer supervisory authority over magistrates from the chief circuit court judges to the Executive Secretary.
2. Sections 19.2-35 and 19.2-44 of the Code of Virginia should be modified to provide magistrates with regional authority to make the most efficient use of technology and personnel resources.
3. Section 19.2-43 of the Code of Virginia should be amended to provide the Executive Secretary with authority to appoint personnel needed to manage and administer the realigned magistrate system.
4. Section 19.2-38 of the Code of Virginia should be amended to eliminate four-year terms of office for magistrates.
5. A standardized process should be developed and implemented for receiving and responding to complaints from users of magistrate services and the public.
6. Sections 19.2-35 and 19.2-38 should be amended to transfer the power to select, appoint and terminate magistrates from the chief circuit court judges to the Executive Secretary.
7. Sections 19.2-36, 19.2-37 and 19.2-38.1 of the Code of Virginia should be amended to enhance the qualifications required for magistrates and chief magistrates by: a) requiring a minimum educational requirement of a bachelor’s degree for magistrates and discontinuing “equivalent experience” as an alternative to this educational requirement; and b) requiring that any new chief magistrate be a member in good standing of the Virginia State Bar.
8. Application of the enhanced educational requirement to incumbent magistrates and chief magistrates who have not already earned a bachelor’s degree should be delayed for ten years to allow the incumbent magistrates and chief magistrates to retain their positions while making satisfactory progress towards attaining a degree. The requirement that chief magistrates be members in good standing of the Virginia State
Bar would not apply to incumbent chief magistrates.
9. Compensation should be increased to attract and retain qualified applicants for magistrate and chief magistrate positions.
10. The professional training provided by the Office of the Executive Secretary to magistrates should be expanded and the criteria for a magistrate to become certified should be uniformly applied.
11. Section 19.2-38.1 of the Code of Virginia should be amended to expand the magistrate probation period from six to nine months to allow for additional on-the-job training prior to the certification course.
12. All incumbent magistrates should be required to attend a mandatory training course and be re-certified by January 1, 2010. To maintain certification, magistrates should be required to complete a minimum of 24 hours of CLE every two years and have satisfactory annual performance evaluations.
13. The Office of the Executive Secretary should provide a mandatory management training program exclusively designed for chief magistrates, who should receive this training within one month of appointment.
14. Section 19.2-37 of the Code of Virginia should be amended to extend the familial relationships that would prohibit a person from serving as a magistrate and to restrict the outside employment in which a magistrate can engage.
15. The Office of the Executive Secretary will promulgate Rules of Professional Conduct for magistrates and such rules will be approved by the Supreme Court.
16. The Office of the Executive Secretary should discontinue the use of on-call magistrates.
17. The Office of the Executive Secretary should transition to the exclusive use of full-time magistrates by replacing part-time magistrates with full-time magistrates.
18. Magistrate staffing should be increased by 20 FTE magistrate positions.
19. Magistrate schedules should be standardized and formalized, so as to be predictable, regular, efficient and fair. To accomplish this, magistrate schedules should be based upon a 40-hour workweek and, generally, eight-hour shifts.
20. The Office of the Executive Secretary should provide magistrates, on a statewide basis, with up-to-date videoconferencing technology that is compatible and easy to use.
21. The Office of the Executive Secretary should provide 24-hour, seven day a week technology support by adding to the staff supporting the magistrate system.