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U.S. Magistrate Judges — Judicial Business 2020

Magistrate judges handle a broad range of duties in district courts, both on referral from district judges and on assignment as presiding judges. In 2020, magistrate judges disposed of 1,195,889 matters, a decrease of 14 percent since 2019. This reduction has been attributed mainly to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, which affected the workload of magistrate judges, although they conducted court proceedings using video and telephone conferencing technology.

Overall, civil matters handled by magistrate judges on referral from district judges remained stable, declining less than 1 percent to 352,889. Magistrate judges disposed of more non-dispositive motions (up 1 percent to 228,254) and issued fewer reports and recommendations on dispositive motions in non-prisoner civil cases (down 4 percent to 15,540). They conducted fewer settlement conferences (down 2 percent to 18,894) and evidentiary hearings (down 20 percent to 853). In Social Security cases, magistrate judges issued 3,478 reports and recommendations (down 21 percent).

Civil cases in which magistrate judges were the presiding judges for all proceedings on consent of the parties, including trials, fell 7 percent to 16,522. Of those cases, jury trials were held in 101 cases, and non-jury trials were held in 65 cases.

Magistrate judges handled 228,965 felony pretrial matters, a reduction of 6 percent. In felony cases, they ruled on 142,505 non-dispositive motions (up 1 percent) and issued reports and recommendations on 3,093 dispositive motions (down 16 percent). Magistrate judges conducted 28,584 felony guilty plea proceedings (down 18 percent).

The number of felony preliminary proceedings handled by magistrate judges dropped 16 percent to 452,502. Compared with 2019, magistrate judges handled fewer complaints (down 29 percent to 50,293), material witness proceedings (down 27 percent to 6,407), arraignments (down 24 percent to 48,598), preliminary examinations (down 21 percent to 21,567), detention hearings (down 20 percent to 46,483), initial appearances (down 19 percent to 94,237), and arrest warrants/summonses (down 11 percent to 54,226). The number of search warrant applications they handled declined 1 percent to 114,715.

Magistrate judges disposed of Class A misdemeanor cases with 3,276 defendants (down 30 percent) and disposed of petty offense cases with 55,495 defendants (down 54 percent).

In cases brought by prisoners, including cases involving habeas corpus petitions and civil rights claims, magistrate judges issued 25,118 reports and recommendations (down 1 percent) and conducted 183 evidentiary hearings (down 37 percent).

Since 2016, the total number of matters disposed of by magistrate judges has increased 10 percent. Magistrate judges have handled more felony pretrial matters (up 19 percent) and felony preliminary proceedings (up 25 percent), primarily because of increased search warrant applications (up 57 percent). The number of civil matters they have handled on referral from district judges has risen 1 percent, largely because magistrate judges have disposed of more non-dispositive motions (up 6 percent). Compared with 2016, magistrate judges have handled fewer Social Security appeal reports and recommendations (down 26 percent), Class A misdemeanor and petty offense cases (down 32 percent), and reports and recommendations in prisoner cases (down 3 percent), and they have concluded fewer civil cases by consent (down 1 percent).

For data on the work of magistrate judges, see Table S-17 and the M series of tables.