By Ben Lawson
Although they may not be well known, the county magistrates are the first rung on the ladder up the judicial system in Sevier County.
The technical term for the position is Judicial Commissioner, though Chief Magistrate Albert Snyder indicated that the term “magistrate” had become the norm through repeated use.
“They’ve used the word for so long, we’ve just kept it,” he said.
The magistrate office located in the Sevier County Jail serves as a liaison between the judicial system and the public, with the power to issue warrants or criminal summons at the request of both law enforcement personnel and the public. Not that the process is an easy one.
“Each case is different,” Snyder said. “What we have to do is determine if there is enough probable cause to proceed (with a case).”
Their job is not to try the case, but to establish the veracity of claims made against an individual. The process varies per situation, but involves reviewing the incident report, speaking with police officers involved and interviewing witnesses.
For accusations brought by members of the public, the judicial commissioners must also decide whether the case would be civil or criminal.
Snyder said that they see a good number of civilian complaints and people aren’t above using the law to be vindictive.
“Most of us have been around for a while, so we can weed through that,” Snyder said.
To stay on top of current laws and procedures, magistrates go through a minimum of 12 hours of training each year. Having a background in law enforcement or the judicial system is preferred, but not required.
Snyder, who moved to the position from a job with the Sheriff’s Department, indicated that the nine current Sevier County magistrates have an eclectic variety of backgrounds. This, and a lot of patience, helps them deal with the variety of complaints brought to them.
“You hear a wide array of stories,” Snyder said.
The magistrates are also responsible for determining bail and bond amounts for inmates both before and during the arraignment process. This includes reviewing options with people in court, plus during the booking process.
Magistrates are also accustomed to dealing with inmates’ families, helping explain the legal system or offering assistance however they can. Sometimes they are able to help; in other cases, people choose to blame the magistrates.
“That’s just part of the job,” Snyder said.
Magistrates First in Judicial System
By Ben Lawson