About Magisterial District Judges
Magisterial District Judges hear a large number of cases and have a diverse jurisdiction:
- Court of Initial Jurisdiction for all criminal matters
- Issue Arrest Warrants and Summonses
- Conduct Preliminary Arraignments for all arrested with or without a warrant
- Serve as Bail Commissioners to set and accept bail
- Conduct Preliminary Hearings to determine whether the defendant should be bound over for trial on offenses alleged in the criminal complaint
- Conduct Trials on all Summary cases – both Traffic and Non-Traffic offenses as well as violations of local ordinances, truancy violations and other statutory violations that provide for violations as a summary offense, i.e. unemployment compensation, sales tax and liquor code offenses.
- Issue Search Warrants and Subpoenas
- Issue Emergency Protection-from-Abuse Orders and Emergency Protection-of-Victims-from-Sexual-Violence-or-Intimidation Orders and arraign those who violate such orders
- Jurisdiction for civil actions up to $12,000 including tort and contract actions, and ordinances / civil fines
- Landlord/Tenant actions up to $12,000 and determination of Return of Possession
- Responsible for full accounting of monies collected and distributed by the court, as well as compliance with office procedural standards
- Officiate for weddings / marriages
- Swear in officials for Oaths of Office
Every community within the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has a Magisterial District Court within close proximity to its residents. This court, known locally as the District Court, the Community Court, or the People’s Court, is where community residents go to resolve disputes, seek financial restitution, or to defend against actions filed against them. Community residents have the option to represent themselves in any hearing before the court at this level or to hire an attorney to represent them. Most people, throughout the course of their lives, will only ever have contact with a Magisterial District Court.
The minor judiciary plays a major role within the criminal justice system. Most criminal cases, including cases of homicide, are initiated in Magisterial District Courts and proceed in these courts through to the Preliminary Hearing. At the Preliminary Hearing, the Magisterial District Judge (MDJ) determines if sufficient evidence has been presented to send the criminal case to the court of common pleas for trial.
MDJs are elected in a magisterial district made up of one or more communities or municipalities. They must reside in the magisterial district. It is their connection to their communities, their reputation for impartiality and fairness, and their understanding of the culture and unique characteristics of their respective communities that makes them the best qualified to arbitrate the issues facing the community residents in their jurisdiction in accordance with the law. Because MDJs play a very important role within their communities, it is not uncommon to find them speaking to school students, boy scouts, girl scouts, civic groups, volunteering in their communities, attending local sporting events, or even officiating such events. MDJ’s are elected to serve their district for a six-year term. There are non-attorneys and attorneys who serve as MDJs. Non-attorneys must undergo an extensive legal training course and pass a certification test in order to be certified as a Magisterial District Judge. All MDJs must attend an annual 32 hours of continuing legal education. The number of Magisterial District Judges and the district boundaries in each county are determined by a Reestablishment process every ten years based on the Census. The magisterial districts are not only based on population, but also workload and caseload are analyzed by each county which files a plan to be approved by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.