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Massachusetts has 85 statutorily created clerk magistrate positions throughout the District Court, Housing Court, Juvenile Court and Boston Municipal Court. Clerk magistrates are appointed by the governor and serve for life or until they retire. Clerk magistrates are not required to have law degrees or to attorneys, but most clerk magistrates have practiced law. Clerk magistrates are essentially the top administrator for the court where they are employed, but their duties vary.
Clerk magistrates' chief responsibility is the management and administration of court business. They hire staff, establish administrative procedures and delegate duties to employees of the court to ensure a smooth flow of operation. They ensure that court dates are scheduled and that individuals are afforded opportunities to have cases heard when entitled to. Clerk magistrates also maintain access to public records and protect records not available for public viewing
Clerk magistrates hold some powers and responsibilities that were traditionally reserved for judges. Legislative action taken in the past 20 years has expanded those powers. Clerk magistrates may hold hearings and make rulings for small claims cases and motor vehicle violations. Additionally, clerk magistrates may issue search warrants and arrest warrants, set bail for criminal defendants, handle arraignments for misdemeanors and rule on uncontested motions.
Impartiality and Disqualification
Clerk magistrates must behave impartially when acting in an official capacity in order to maintain the integrity of courts. Clerk magistrates cannot give special considerations to individuals for any reason. This applies to individuals working for the court and appearing before the court. In instances where a clerk magistrate's impartiality may be questioned, she should disclose the conflict of interest and withdraw from proceedings.
In order to maintain the appearance of impartiality, clerk magistrates are restricted from performing certain activities in their personal lives. A clerk magistrate should not engage in charitable activities with organizations that may appear in the court where she works. She should also not use her position to solicit funds for that organization. Clerk magistrates cannot enter into business activities that may reflect negatively on the court or with partners that may appear before the court. Clerk magistrates are not allowed to hold positions within political organizations or to publicly support political candidates.