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Tuesday, October 6, 2015

“Magistrate Judges and the Transformation of the Federal Judiciary” – A Conference at the Boyd School of Law

On Sept. 25 and 26, 2015, the William S. Boyd School of Law, in cooperation with the Duke University School of Law and the Saltman Center for Conflict Resolution, hosted a conference at Boyd entitled “Magistrate Judges and the Transformation of the Federal Judiciary.” The conference organizers, Professor Thom Main of the Boyd School of Law, and Professor Mitu Gulati of Duke Law School, assembled a distinguished group of speakers who discussed the important members of the federal judiciary who are often neglected by researchers – magistrate judges. Although magistrate judges are responsible for a significant portion of the federal district court workload – as the statistics presented at the conference demonstrated – researchers have typically bypassed magistrate judges and their essential role in the functioning of the federal judicial system.

The conference combined the contributions of both academics and judges, with the academics presenting their research and the judges providing commentary. The conference began with the roles reversed, however, as Judge Philip Pro, Judge of the U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada, presented his research on magistrate judges that he conducted as a graduate student in the inaugural class of Duke Law School’s master’s program in judicial studies. His research inspired the organization of the conference, and so the conference opened, appropriately, with his presentation. His research project and the other research projects presented at the conference explored the roles of magistrate judges from various perspectives and through different methods, including empirical qualitative and quantitative methods. Discussion of the papers benefitted from an audience that was as experienced and expert as the panelists; local and out-of-state judges, law professors, and practitioners added perspective and depth. The debate often revolved around issues concerning the accessibility of data, with academics, judges, and representatives of the Judiciary’s Administrative Office discussing the desirability, availability, and feasibility of data collection regarding various indicators of common interest.

The conference presenters and attendees included nationally renowned judges, academics, and legal practitioners from across the United States who are interested in the work of magistrate judges. Among the participants were Judge Johnnie B. Rawlinson of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, federal district court judges, current and former magistrate judges, judges who at some point were unsuccessful candidates for magistrate judgeships, state court judges, public defenders, and representatives of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. The panels were moderated by Boyd Dean Daniel W. Hamilton and Boyd professors Ann C. McGinley, Jean Sternlight, and Jeffrey W. Stempel. The contributions presented at the conference will be published in a forthcoming special symposium issue of the Nevada Law Journal.