ransitioning from the bar to the bench can be challenging, which is why nearly 40 new magistrates attended a three-day orientation course put on by the Ohio Supreme Court’s Judicial College.
Held once a year in spring, the New Magistrate Orientation helps attorneys with the switch and teaches them what they need to know about becoming the best magistrates possible.
Troy Sitzmann became the newest Fairfield County magistrate in January. As a non-elected judicial officer, Sitzmann attended the course to learn from the veterans and engage with other new magistrates.
“It’s been a good mix of seasoned, more experienced magistrates who have had a lot to share with us, and it’s also been excellent just to be able to share experiences and ideas with people who are also new to the position and learn from them as well,” Sitzmann said.
The attendees evaluated and learned how to improve their decision-making and writing skills. They also discussed ethical issues that may come up in the courtroom.
Cuyahoga County Domestic Relations Court Judge Diane Palos has volunteered as a Judicial College faculty member since the late 1980s. A former magistrate with more than 20 years’ experience, Judge Palos said it’s essential new magistrates know what is expected of them.
“I just think it’s really important that we commit to our people, continue to educate them,” Judge Palos said. “They need to understand about judicial ethics, they need to learn about professionalism, they need to study some of the other skills that are going to help them every day because everything you do isn’t about just applying the law and it’s not necessarily about trying a case – it’s more of what magistrates do is hands-on dealing with individuals and people in civil crisis.”
Karen Falter was a dependency magistrate for nine years, then switched to work at a prosecutor’s office. Two months ago she returned to the bench to become a domestic relations magistrate in Hamilton County.
Dealing mainly with civil cases, Falter attended the new magistrate orientation as a refresher course. She said it can be a big change from preparing cases to listening to both sides of a dispute and making a fair decision.
“It’s very helpful to constantly remind those of us who are in these roles what our responsibility is and how to go about to be an effective member of the judiciary,” Falter said. “It’s very important to remember we affect people’s lives and that our decisions need to be well thought out and take all that into consideration.”
These magistrates will continue their education throughout their tenure on the bench. Ohio magistrates must complete 24 hours of continuing legal education, including 10 hours of instruction offered by the Judicial College, every two years.