Judicial officers who assist U.S. district judges in getting cases ready for trial, who may decide some criminal and civil trials when both parties agree to have the case heard by a magistrate judge instead of a judge.
Congress created the judicial office of federal magistrate in 1968. In 1990, the position title was changed to magistrate judge. The judges of each district appoint one or more magistrate judges, who discharge many of the ancillary duties of district judges so that the judges can handle more trials. There are both full-time and part-time magistrate judge positions, and these positions are assigned to the district courts according to caseload criteria (subject to funding by Congress). A full-time magistrate judge serves a term of eight years; a part-time magistrate judge's term of office is four years.
Magistrate judges disposed of 500,897 matters in 1992. In 1994 there were 369 full-time and 110 part-time magistrate judges.