In Judicature International’s Postcard Series, judges from around the world answer a series of questions about the structure of their court, challenges they face, unique experiences, and interactions on the bench. This postcard was sent from Magistrate Judge Stephanie K. Bowman of the Potter Stewart United States Courthouse in Cincinnati, Ohio.
How is your country’s court system structured? Where does your court fit into that structure, and where does a case go if your decision is appealed?
The United States is comprised of 94 federal judicial districts. Cincinnati is located in the Southern District of Ohio, one of only two federal judicial districts in Ohio. Appeals from cases out of the Southern District of Ohio go to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, which also sits in the Potter Stewart United States Courthouse. The Sixth Circuit hears appeals from the federal judicial districts in Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee.
How are judges selected for your court? Is there a process for determining a judge’s level of qualification? Is a certain type or level of education required?
District Judges, who have lifetime appointments, are appointed by the president of the United States and confirmed by the U.S. Senate. The selection process varies throughout the country and can change depending on the preferences of the senators from each state. Historically, in Ohio, the two U.S. senators have assembled a bi-partisan commission to screen and interview applicants. The chair of the commission then recommended the top candidates to the senators for further consideration. The senators then made a recommendation to the president for his consideration. The district judges of the district interview and ultimately appoint magistrate judges after a committee screens and recommends the top applicants. Magistrate judges serve eight-year terms and are eligible for reappointment.
What is your court’s process for handling cases? How many judges are there, how are cases assigned, how is a judge’s workload determined, and who is available to assist the judge?
Like most federal courts, the Southern District of Ohio uses an electronic filing system that randomly assigns cases to the judges in the seat of the court where the case is filed. The three seats of the Court in the Southern District of Ohio are Columbus, Cincinnati, and Dayton. In Cincinnati, there are currently three active district judges, three senior district judges, and two magistrate judges. The senior district judges currently take a reduced number of cases, though the amount of reduction varies by senior judge. The active judges maintain a balanced caseload. Magistrate judges are referred certain types of cases by general order. Magistrate judges often serve as mediators. Parties may also consent to the magistrate judge’s jurisdiction for final disposition of their case. Each district judge may have up to three law clerks who assist the judge, and each magistrate judge may have up to two law clerks.
How is judicial compensation handled? Does a judge’s salary depend on many cases a judge hears or how fast he or she works?
Federal judicial compensation is determined by the U.S. Congress and is not affected by locality or caseloads.
Does your court or judicial system have rules for recusal? What happens if a judge is asked to recuse because of bias? Who decides whether a judge is biased?
There are rules regarding recusals. Although financial conflicts are automatically screened, every case also is reviewed by the judicial officer to ensure no conflicts exist. If a motion to recuse is filed, that motion is typically reviewed by the presiding judge.
What kinds of interactions do you have with lawyers? With litigants?
As a magistrate judge, I interact with civil lawyers during discovery disputes, scheduling conferences, and mediations. My interaction with litigants is more limited, typically just during mediations. However, in civil cases in which the parties have consented to the magistrate judge for final disposition, I interact with litigants during the final pretrial conference and at trial. In criminal cases, I often interact with both lawyers and defendants at initial court appearances.
How would you describe the general public understanding in your community of your role as a judge and your day-to-day work? Do you feel that people have a high level of trust in the judiciary?
Many community members, including many lawyers, do not have a good understanding of the role of a magistrate judge in federal court. In addition, the general public does not understand the difference between the types of cases that are litigated in the federal courts versus our state courts. Locally, the public has a high level of trust in the judiciary.
Is there anything else you would like to share about your court?
I am honored to serve as a Magistrate Judge in the Southern District of Ohio. My colleagues are wonderful, and everyone who works for our court strives to ensure justice is administered every day.