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New Magistrates Welcome Shared Learning Experience

Dozens of new judicial officers recently immersed themselves in days of training at the Ohio Supreme Court’s magistrates orientation.

The 45 participants attended the three-day conference virtually due to the global pandemic.

The 851 magistrates in Ohio’s appellate and trial courts outnumber the state’s 723 judgeships, providing substantial support within the judiciary. The frontline role magistrates serve with the public is vital, especially as courts work to ensure all are treated fairly.

“Disparate treatment happens in our justice system. It is a problem we need to address,” Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, a former magistrate, told the group.

“How you treat people in your hearings, how you opine, and how well you listen and engage with litigants can make a positive difference,” she said.

Organized by the Court’s Judicial College, the orientation helps magistrates make the transition from the typical advocacy role lawyers play to the impartiality required on the bench.

Throughout the curriculum, there’s an emphasis on how to think and behave as a judicial officer, specifically with decision-making.

“You learn so many things you truly aren't going to get elsewhere,” said Lucas County Juvenile Court Magistrate Rochelle Abou-Arraj. “There are so many situations that can pop up.”

Abou-Arraj began her time on the bench a month ago and is still adjusting to the technical skills required of the judiciary, such as case management and judicial writing. Her understanding of these elements were enhanced by the intensive programming of the orientation.

“We want to make sure what we’re writing is appropriate and professional, but also meaningful,” she said. “We want those people involved to understand what happened and that they were heard.”

Unlike judges, magistrates are not elected. Instead, they’re appointed by a judge and operate under the supervision of that elected judge, often handling specific types of cases for the court. Magistrate rulings can be appealed to the trial court judge.

The reasons magistrates accept the positions can vary from a needed professional change to a situation that allows them to interpret the law as opposed to being advocates for their clients.

Magistrate Robert Gurry was appointed by Montgomery County Probate Judge David Brannon, whom he’s known since their time as students at the University of Dayton School of Law.

Gurry welcomed the opportunity in part because of how well he knew Judge Brannon and “his vision for the court,” but also as a chance to pursue a personal interest by assisting with the court’s mental health docket.

As Gurry’s responsibilities have grown during his six months on the job, so has his need to better understand its nuances. Those specifics include a magistrate’s authority and conduct.

“So much can be accomplished or lost in the way you greet people,” Gurry said.

A common takeaway from the magistrates orientation is the camaraderie created among peers and mentors. The support establishes a community of sharing ideas and opening minds among many on similar journeys.

“It was extremely valuable to get to meet and interact with other magistrates and judges,” said Gurry. “It’s good to know that you've got these other people out here doing the same thing.”

The orientation is part of the required 40 hours of continuing legal education Ohio magistrates must complete every two years. Ten of those hours must be offered by the Judicial College.