June 27, 2008
SMALL CLAIMS COURT MAGISTRATES
By: George Coppolo, Chief Attorney
You asked (1) about the process for choosing magistrates to handle small claims court cases, (2) how are they appointed, (3) what qualifications are required, (4) what training do they receive, and (5) how someone makes a complaint against a magistrate.
The chief court administrator appoints magistrates to handle certain types of cases including small claims cases. Attorneys seeking appointment as a small claims magistrate must send a letter of interest and resume to the chief court administrator. Candidates must have been licensed to practice law in Connecticut for at least five years.
If the chief court administrator approves the applicant, she forwards the applicant's letter and resume to the chief clerk of the small claims court, who checks to see if any grievances have been filed against them. If no problems are found, the chief clerk contacts the applicant to confirm the locations where he or she will hear cases.
Magistrates are appointed for a three year term. They may not serve in any court location where the attorney, or his or her firm, has an appearance on file in any case. The consent of the parties is not required for a magistrate to hear a case. Magistrates are paid $150 for each day he or she is engaged as a magistrate.
The chief clerk sets up a training session for each appointee. She provides training materials and other related information to each appointee. One component of the training is having a new magistrate observe and sit with a more seasoned magistrate before presiding over cases.
Complaints concerning magistrates may be sent to the chief clerk or directly to the chief court administrator. The chief court administrator may remove a magistrate.
We are waiting for more detailed information from the chief clerk concerning the training and the complaint process. We will forward it to you as soon as we receive it.
The law also allows attorneys to serve as a small claims commissioner to hear small claims cases. To be appointed, an attorney must be member of the bar for at least two years. The applicant submits his or her name to the clerk of G.A. court he or she wishes to serve in and completes a questionnaire. To be appointed an applicant must be recommended by an administrative judge. The chief court administrator makes the appointment for a three year term. Commissioners serve on an unpaid volunteer basis. The parties must agree to have their case heard by a small claims commissioner.
SMALL CLAIMS MAGISTRATES
Appointment of Small Claims Magistrates (CGS § 51-193l)
The law directs the chief court administrator to make whatever orders and rules she deems necessary to provide for the appointment of magistrates to hear and decide certain cases including small claims cases. Any attorney, licensed to practice in Connecticut for at least five years, who is able and willing to hear such cases may be appointed as a magistrate.
Hearing of Small Claims Matters by Magistrate (CGS § 51-193t)
Magistrates may handle all aspects of small claims cases including, but not limited to, the determination of all uncontested and contested matters, motions to open judgment, motions to transfer to the regular civil docket, and any motions concerning any post-judgment remedy resulting from a small claims judgment.
A magistrate appointed to hear a small claims matter is not bound by the rules regarding the admissibility of evidence. All testimony must be given under oath or affirmation. Either party may be represented by counsel but there is no requirement that a record of the proceeding be kept.
SMALL CLAIMS COMMISSIONERS
Any attorney licensed to practice in Connecticut for at least two years who is able and willing to hear small claims may submit his or her name to the clerk of the superior court for any small claims area in which he or she has a law office, which is convenient and available to the litigants and counsel of the small claims area.
The name must be submitted to the chief court administrator for approval to be placed on a list of available commissioners in any small claims area for hearing small claims. Once the chief court administrator approves the attorney, his or her name is returned to the clerk who must maintain a list of all approved names.
In any small claims action, the parties may agree to submit the case to an attorney chosen on a rotating basis by the clerk of the court in which the case is filed from a list of attorneys approved by the chief court administrator and given to the parties by the clerk. If the parties do not agree on the first commissioner the clerk chooses, the clerk must choose another on a rotating basis (CGS § 52-549a).
If the parties agree to a hearing before an attorney, they must sign a statement and file it with the court clerk. It must contain the following:
1. consent to the hearing before the attorney agreed upon including the attorney's name,
2. a brief recital of the nature of the controversy to be determined, and
3. an agreement to abide by the attorney's decision.