The framework for justices of the peace has existed in Pennsylvania since Pennsylvania's first constitution was adopted in September of 1776, and there have been few changes since. The most notable change has been that justices of the peace are now called district judges or magisterial district judges. District judges in Pennsylvania can hear small claims cases, summary criminal cases, some misdemeanors, and some actions involving Pennsylvania's Landlord-Tenant Act.
Win an Election
Magisterial district judges in Pennsylvania do not need to be lawyers; however, they do need to win an election. To be eligible for election, a candidate must be a citizen of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania who has lived in the district in which he or she will be a district judge for at least one full year prior to the election. The candidate must also be at least 21 years old.
All elected magisterial district judges must be certified by Minor Judiciary Education Board (MJEB) prior to taking his or her seat as a judge. The MJEB administers a month-long education program that culminates with an exam, which the magisterial district judge must pass in order to be certified. The education program consists of courses on the Pennsylvania rules of evidence, criminal law, criminal procedure, civil procedure, ethics, the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution, and Article I, Section 8 of the Pennsylvania Constitution.
Continuing Legal Education
Every magisterial district judge must complete 32 credit hours of Continuing Legal Education (CLE) each year. These CLE requirements serve to update the judges on the rules of evidence, new case law, statutory law updates, legal research methods, ethical concerns, and other updates from the Minor Judiciary Board. CLE courses are administered by the MJEB.