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

In Florida, Chief Judges of each circuit may appoint General Magistrates and Hearing Officers to help manage the overwhelmingly large case loads of the circuit judges. 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. To the litigants, the General Magistrate or Hearing Officer will look and act like a judge. Instead of rendering an order, the General Magistrate or Hearing Officer 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. 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. 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.
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