The Magistrate Department of the Cleveland Municipal Court dates back to the Municipal Court Act, passed by the Ohio General Assembly in 1953. At that time, Magistrates were known as Referees and the department was known as the Referee Department. In 1953, the Cleveland Municipal Court had one Referee to take testimony and evidence and to submit a Report and Recommendation to a referring judge.
Through the years, the majority of cases handled by the Referee Department were civil matters with the exception of traffic arraignments, which are quasi-criminal in nature. The types of cases heard by the early Referee Department were conciliation cases (Poor Man’s Court—a forerunner of our current Small Claims Court cases), default judgment cases, debtor’s exams, garnishment proceedings, and traffic arraignments.
On April 1, 1993, the Referee Department was expanded to include a Mediation Program for the Small Claims Division. The purpose of the Mediation Program was, and still is, to provide small claims litigants with an alternative means of resolving their disputes through voluntary mediation as opposed to a formal trial. The Mediation Program has also helped the court deal with an increasing caseload. In 1997, the Mediation Program was expanded to include civil cases assigned to individual judges’ regular dockets.
In 1995, Civil Rule 53 was amended, changing the title of “Referee” to “Magistrate.” The amendment also expanded the powers of the Magistrates by allowing them, with the court’s approval, to render Magistrate’s Decisions rather than Reports, as previously required. The amendment allowed Magistrates to preside at civil jury trials with the consent of the parties. In the same year, Criminal Rule 19 authorized Magistrates to handle criminal matters by assignment, except criminal jury trials.
During its 56 years of existence, the Magistrate Department has expanded from its humble beginnings of one Referee hearing conciliation and default cases to a staff of fourteen Magistrates who handle an impressive array of civil and criminal legal proceedings: small claims proceedings, garnishment and debtor exam hearings, default evidentiary hearings, pre- and post-judgment motions, cognovit notes, traffic arraignments, parking violations bureau appeals, bond forfeitures, BMV suspension appeals and petitions for limited driving privileges, judges’ personal docket civil pre-trials and trials, and judges’ criminal dockets.