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Judge, Hearing Officer, General Magistrate, what’s the difference?

What is a General Magistrate and Hearing Officer? 

In Florida, Chief Judges of each circuit may appoint General Magistrates and Hearing Officers to help manage the large caseloads of the circuit judges. To the litigants, the General Magistrate or Hearing Officer will behave like a judge. However, instead of rendering an order, they will render a written report and recommendation. Their reports are usually accepted and adopted and signed by the judge. This part of the process is done in chambers, and no one is present.

Objections to a General Magistrate 

When a case is appointed to a General Magistrate, either side may object and have the case heard by a judge instead. Such objection must be made in a timely manner. If the matter concerns child support only, such as a contempt and enforcement matter, the matter may be referred to a Child Support Hearing officer, and this referral may NOT be objected to.

Difference between General Magistrate and Judge 

The big difference between a hearing officer, general magistrate and judge concerns the appellate process if, after the hearing, either side wishes to appeal the decision. In some ways, an appeal from a Hearing Officer or General Magistrate is easier, as everything takes place within the Circuit Court, as opposed to a district court of appeal.

Contact our Law Firm for Advice 

Important strategic decisions are often made when deciding which process to use when appealing the decision of a General Magistrate or Hearing Officer, with time and finances driving most decisions. If you are in a position to decide whether or not to object to a General Magistrate, or how to appeal a decision, consult an attorney for the locality in which your case is heard. Many attorneys have strong opinions about which person and process to favor depending on the circumstance of your case.