A municipal court judge, also commonly called a magistrate, presides over pre-trial hearings, small claims proceedings and misdemeanor cases. Her job is part of the largest group of state judges. The authority of a municipal court judge is limited to the aforementioned areas of law and never includes overseeing trials, appeals or administrative hearings. This position may be elected or appointed, depending on the jurisdiction and state in which the judge works.
Being well-organized is necessary for this job. A municipal court judge normally hears many cases during each of his sessions, so his files must be in order and have all necessary addenda attached. He has to have patience and good communication skills to effectively deal with a wide range of personality types. The job requires him to be fair and equitable in his rulings.
In addition to presiding over her courtroom, a municipal court judge spends a considerable amount of time studying cases of similar courts to remain aware of precedents being set and considerations of unusual facts and circumstances that have been judged by her peers. She may also write papers and opinions for review and publication. Her job requires interaction with other judges, as well as the supervision of court clerks and bailiffs. A municipal court judge typically has minimal contact with lawyers, as small claims and misdemeanor cases are normally presented by the people initiating and defending themselves in the proceedings.
This position usually requires a 40- to 50-hour work week, with some evening work in night court. He may be called on to replace other judges who are indisposed. Most of a municipal court judge's work is in the courtroom, with the remainder being spent in the private chambers reading and conducting research. Judges are typically required to wear formal robes during courtroom proceedings.
Most municipal court judges are required to have law degrees. Several years of experience as a practicing attorney are preferred by most jurisdictions. Keeping informed of new laws and statutes in the district is generally required for this position.
Salary and Advancement Opportunities
Judges in charge of municipal court proceedings can normally advance to higher courts based on their performance and desire to explore other venues. In smaller municipalities, opportunities are more limited and may be based largely on the retirement rate of existing judges. According to SalaryExpert.com, the salary range in 2010 for a municipal court judge in the United States was $55,383 to $128,578, depending on experience and the financial conditions of the local or regional government for which the judge works.