Potential Benefits of Federal Magistrates System Can Be Better Realized

GGD-83-46: Published: Jul 8, 1983. Publicly Released: Jul 8, 1983.

Additional Materials:

Contact:

Arnold P. Jones
(202) 512-7797
contact@gao.gov

 

Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800
youngc1@gao.gov

GAO discussed action necessary to enhance the effectiveness of the federal magistrate system.

GAO found that the magistrate system has evolved differently in individual districts causing the duties and roles of individual magistrates to vary among and within districts. The magistrate system could help alleviate the burden of an increased workload in district courts if more information were disseminated among district courts on the uses being made of magistrates, if districts planned better for the use of magistrates, and if district courts understood the criteria for approving magistrate positions. GAO also found that: (1) magistrates can effectively and efficiently perform all duties authorized by law; (2) plans for use of magistrates do not exist in all districts, as envisioned by Congress; and (3) the current system for approving new magistrates' positions is based upon sound criteria. Existing law provides that, upon the consent of the litigants, magistrates who have been designated by the district court can conduct and enter judgments in civil matters. This was intended to lighten the judges' burdens while improving the public's access to the court. However, GAO believes that the Federal Magistrates Act needs to be clarified so that the designation of a magistrate does not preclude a judge's jurisdiction over a case.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we determine what steps the Congress has taken, we will provide updated information.

    Matter: Congress should amend 28 U.S.C. 636(c)(2) by adding the following: "The designation of a magistrate to conduct proceedings in a jury or nonjury civil matter under this section shall not preclude the district court from exercising jurisdiction over any case on its own motion. The district judge shall, however, advise consenting litigants of the reason their matter is not being referred to a magistrate."

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Judicial Conference should more formally disseminate to all district courts the criteria used in evaluating and approving applications for new full-time magistrate positions. Further, the Conference and the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts should rely less exclusively on court-initiated requests and should identify those courts that should be encouraged to request additional positions.

    Agency Affected: Judicial Conference of the United States

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The Administrative Office told GAO in January 1984 that neither it nor the Conference plans to act.

    Recommendation: The Judicial Conference should explain the roles for district judges in advising litigants of the opportunity to consent and should identify ways for district clerks to more effectively execute their notification responsibilities, including the use of followup procedures.

    Agency Affected: Judicial Conference of the United States

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Judicial Conference should encourage district courts and judges who are restricting the use of magistrates to explore methods to increase the use of their magistrates. In this regard, the Conference should improve the system for disseminating information regarding the experience of judges and courts who have been using magistrates extensively to substantially relieve the courts' workloads. This system should more formally and routinely transmit information to the district courts.

    Agency Affected: Judicial Conference of the United States

  4. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The Administrative Office told GAO in January 1984 that the Magistrates Committee refrained from endorsing a proposal to encourage courts to develop districtwide plans for use of magistrates.

    Recommendation: The Judicial Conference should encourage, through the issuance of a policy statement, all district courts to analyze their current use of magistrates and develop within their respective districts a comprehensive plan for using magistrates in the most effective and efficient manner.

    Agency Affected: Judicial Conference of the United States

 

Explore the full database of GAO's Open Recommendations »

Sep 21, 2016

Aug 3, 2016

Aug 1, 2016

Jul 14, 2016

Jul 5, 2016

Jun 30, 2016

Jun 28, 2016

Jun 23, 2016

Jun 22, 2016

Looking for more? Browse all our products here