A Magistrate is a judicial officer who can resolve the limited types of disputes that are listed in the Colorado Rules for Magistrates. The most common function of Magistrates in family law cases in Colorado are Temporary Orders hearings in divorces, Allocation of Parental Responsibility proceedings and post-decree matters.
Magistrates can preside over types of proceedings that are not specifically permitted in the Colorado Rules for Magistrates, but only if the parties consent. Buyer beware though, as in at least one Denver Metropolitan County, the judiciary has issued a policy that you have consented to a Magistrate handling your matter if you don't object. In other words, the County is defining "consent" as "failing to object" within 14 days of the proceeding commencing.
Most attorneys feel that there is a difference between "consent" and failing to object, but thus far, this practice remains in place and will likely continue until successfully challenged. Make sure you read all of the documents you get from your judge or Magistrate very carefully so that you know whether you are required to "speak up or forever hold your peace" with respect to whether a Magistrate will hear you matter.
The primary difference between Magistrates and Judges is how a party appeals or seeks a review of an Order issued. If a Judge issues a decision that a party wishes to challenge, the party must appeal that decision before the Court of Appeals. If a Magistrate issues a decision that a party wishes to challenge, the party must file a Petition For Review of that decision, and the decision will be reviewed by a District Court Judge. A Petition for Review of a Magistrate's decision must be filed in order to be able to take the issue up to the Court of Appeals.
Another practical difference between Magistrates and District Court Judges is often the availability of Court dates. Often, a Magistrate can offer a hearing sooner than a District Court Judge. This can be particularly important if the matter concerns issues like parental responsibilities, when there might be a sense of urgency. Other post-decree matters can also be deemed urgent enough that considering using a Magistrate may be a priority. Any parties who wish to expedite the resolution of their disputes may want to consider consenting to a Magistrate handling their final orders.
A less practical difference between Magistrates and Judges is that Magistrates are hired by the counties, whereas District Court Judges are appointed by the Governor and the public is asked to confirm their continued appointments in general elections. District Court Judges are also subject to extensive vetting by multiple organizations and the Governor's office; as such, more confidence is distilled in District Court Judges than Magistrates by many.
Prior to consenting to a Magistrate handling your matter, it is good idea to attempt to seek the opinion of an attorney or attorneys who frequently appear before the particular Magistrate who may hear your case.
It is also a good idea to consult with an attorney or attorneys to get a feel for the judicial officer who will be handling your matter--Magistrate or Judge--as these insights can offer guidance as to how he or she may resolve your dispute. Attorneys may have existing knowledge as to how the Magistrate or Judge generally rules, and whether there are some specific areas that might be served better by being heard by one or the other. Attorneys can then help guide your decision as to how to best proceed in order to have the most ideal outcome for your particular situation.
If you have any questions about magistrates and judges, please contact The Law Office of Alexandra White at (303) 647-4245.