Government, Human Resources, and Law

State gives magistrates more flexibility

February 2, 2015
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Two bills recently signed by Gov. Rick Snyder will improve efficiency for district courts by giving magistrates greater flexibility.

Senate Bill 931, sponsored by Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, allows court magistrates to electronically authorize search warrants for their district from any location in the state. The bill also calls for a police officer to file search warrant documentation directly with district judges or magistrates rather than through the court.

“These bills help modernize our district court system to enable our magistrates to be more efficient and better serve Michiganders,” Snyder said.

Kevin McKay, court administrator with the 63rd District Court, said the bill helped clear up confusion related to the language of the original law and aligns better with today’s technology.

He said previously some interpreted the law to mean that a magistrate had to be standing within his or her jurisdiction when authorizing a search warrant. Because magistrates are often on call, especially those from smaller areas, that rule was severely limiting.

“We had an example of a magistrate from a smaller court. She would be on call and on the weekends she lived on a lake located on a county line,” he said. “If she was on one side of the lake she was in her jurisdiction. If she was on the other she wasn’t, so she’d have to drive her boat to the other side.”

Snyder also signed Senate Bill 932, also sponsored by Jones, which grants magistrates the authority to hear, preside over and decide certain motions for civil cases.

McKay said the bill gives magistrates the authority to set aside defaults and admissions.

“Let’s say you get a traffic ticket and it’s a civil infraction. If you don’t take care of it, you get defaulted,” he explained. “The court rules say they have to file a motion to set aside the default. If that is granted, they have the right to a hearing.

“The magistrates would do the hearing, but they didn’t have the authority to decide those motions, so the traffic ticket comes in, it’s the magistrate’s authority, but then they are defaulted. The person fills out the form that would have to go to a judge, then back to the magistrate. That didn’t make sense.”

Under the new law, magistrates can now decide motions to set aside defaults and withdraw admissions.

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