Bench Officer: Any officer who sits on the bench, whether a commissioner, judge or judge pro tem, is sometimes referred to as a “bench officer.” The officer may be appointed, elected or borrowed. The officer is one of the following:
- Commissioner - An administrator appointed by the government or the courts to administer the laws relating to a government agency or court. A commissioner is a part of a government or court commission. May also be appointed by a presiding judge of the court.
- Judge - Judge, Justice and Court are commonly used synonymously or interchangeably.
- Judge 1 is a public officer appointed to oversee and to administer the law in a court of justice; in some courts is called a magistrate or justice; the chief member of a court who has control of the proceedings and the decisions about questions of law or discretion.
- Judge 2 is a public official endowed with the authority to hear, preside over and decide legal matters brought in court. Judges are to be impartial, and are appointed or elected depending on the jurisdiction.
- Judge 3 is elected or appointed by the Governor. These judges work as judges until they retire or expire.
- Judge Pro Tem - Pro tem (“for the time”) judges are lawyers who have been in practice for at least five years. They volunteer their services in Small Claims court. They only have “judge authority” when presiding in the courtroom. They often depend on the clerk and/or bailiff to manage the courtroom procedures.
Some bench officers may be very helpful and talkative after court sessions end, but they are not the ones to approach about courtroom procedures.
The Bailiff: The Bailiff is a uniformed and armed sheriff’s deputy. He/she keeps order in the courtroom and often gives instructions to the litigants. If you need to ask a question or get information to the court, the bailiff will usually come to you if you can get his/her attention by raising your hand or approaching the “fence” unobtrusively. Any paperwork such as dismissal forms are best handed to the bailiff, as he/she is the one who moves around the room as needed.
The Clerk: The Clerk is dressed in street clothes and usually sits at a desk near the judge’s bench. The clerk is the one who “runs” the courtroom. He/she keeps track of the cases and their disposition. The clerk should be quite knowledgeable and may be willing to answer questions; however, during court proceedings, the bailiff is the one to approach. The clerk may be very helpful before and after court is in session.
As a new mediator in a courtroom, you should introduce yourself to the bailiff or the clerk (do not enter the “fence” unless invited) before court is actually in session. When the doors are unlocked to the courtroom, the bailiff usually is available to speak with you. Just walk up and introduce yourself. You should ask about the procedure for making your introductory speech in that courtroom and ask where you should sit. After your first time there, just be sure the clerk or bailiff is aware of your presence and your purpose before court is in session.