Chapter 4 – Courts and Alternative Dispute Resolution


Should You Consent to Have Your Business Case Decided by a U.S. Magistrate Judge?


Tom Cruise has hired you away from the Washington Football Team and once again you work directly with Tom Cruise – this time as his personal attorney. Fortunately for him, he made this wise decision at the right moment. The 2020 Presidential Election is around the corner and a video parody of Tom Cruise is now on YouTube.

Tom Cruise takes exception to being accused of being a pimp in high school and wants to sue YouTube. Honoring the wishes of your client, you file a $10 million defamation lawsuit against YouTube on behalf of Tom Cruise. Because YouTube is based in California and for the moment Tom Cruise resides in Florida, you file a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Central District of California and find yourself in a Riverside court room.

As Tom Cruise’s attorney, you are doing everything in your power to allow Tom Cruise to have his “day in court.” Unfortunately due to COVID related restrictions, the case against YouTube may not be heard for several years—or even longer. With Tom Cruise calling you on a daily basis asking you to “show him the money” you realize you have one card up your sleeve. Provided that YouTube and Tom Cruise both agree, the case can be heard in just a few months if you consent to place it in the hands of a United States Magistrate Judge.


Magistrate Judge Sallie Kim of the US District Court for the Northern District of California

Congress authorized the creation of a new federal judicial officer, the U.S. magistrate, in 1968 to help reduce delays in the U.S. District Courts. These “inferior” federal officers were to conduct a wide range of judicial proceedings as set out by statute and as assigned by the District Court Judges under whom they served. In 1979, Congress gave U.S. Magistrate Judges consent jurisdiction, which authorized them to conduct all civil trials as long as the parties consented. Currently, magistrate judges dispose of over one million civil and criminal district court matters, which include motions and hearings.

Magistrate (now Federal) Judge Sanket Bulsara


Federal District Court Judges are nominated by the president, confirmed by the Senate, and appointed for life. In contrast, U.S. Magistrate Judges are selected by Federal District Court Judges in the district based on the recommendations of a screening committee. Magistrate Judges serve an eight-year term (which can be renewed).

By statute, Magistrate Judges must be chosen through a merit selection process. Applicants are interviewed by a screening committee of lawyers and others from the district in which the position will be filled. The committee is not allowed to consider an applicant’s political party affiliation.

A variety of experienced attorneys, administrative law judges, state court judges, and others apply for magistrate judge positions. A typical opening receives about a hundred applicants (and is increasing). The merit selection panel selects the five most qualified, who are then voted on by the District Court Judges.

Because the selection process for a Magistrate Judge is not the same as for a District Judge, some critics have expressed concerns about the quality of Magistrate Judges. Some groups, such as People for the American Way, are not in favor of allowing Magistrate Judges the power to decide cases. These critics believe that because of their limited terms, they are not completely immune from outside pressure.


  1. Since you are representing Tom Cruise in this important legal action, do you recommend to Tom Cruise that he consent to the use of a Magistrate Judge to preside over the case against YouTube? Why or why not?
  2. Assume for the moment that you want to recommend to Tom Cruise to consent to the use of a Magistrate Judge, what kind of information would you want to research regarding the Magistrate Judge before discussing the matter with Tom Cruise?
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