Documents and Papers from a Court : Objection to a Magistrate's Decision

What is Civil Rule 53?

Civil Rule 53 allows a judge to appoint a magistrate to handle your hearing, meeting or even your trial. A magistrate is an attorney licensed to practice in Ohio; magistrates used to be called referees. For hearings on motions and for trials that do not involve a jury, you may not be asked if you agree to this appointment. However, a magistrate can preside in a trial with a jury only if all parties agree to this in writing.

Is a magistrate different from a judge?
Although a magistrate is not a judge, you should treat him or her with the same respect that you would show a judge. Remember that a judge has appointed the magistrate to handle parts of your case, and the judge trusts the person’s abilities. The magistrate’s decisions are to be reviewed by the judge.

There is very little difference in how a hearing or trial takes place in front of a magistrate or a judge. Like a judge, the magistrate can issue subpoenas, rule on the admissibility of evidence, put witnesses under oath and examine them, call you or another party to testify and examine you under oath. The main difference is that a magistrate must put his or her decision in writing for the judge’s review and approval before a decision can be final.

Who writes a decision?
After a hearing or trial run by a magistrate, the magistrate writes the decision; the magistrate has no deadline for writing this decision. Like a judge, it is the job of the magistrate to decide, based on the evidence presented, what the facts are in the case and to apply the law to these facts to make a decision. These findings are not always set out separately in the decision. If you object to the decision, it is important to know exactly what the magistrate ruled the facts to be and what law was applied by the magistrate.

Example: If a magistrate made a finding in favor of one of the parties using a fact that was not part of any evidence – perhaps the magistrate assumed the light was green when everyone testified that the light was red – the decision can be objected to, but only if that mistaken fact was separately stated in the magistrate’s decision.

For this reason, Civil Rule 53 lets you ask the magistrate to include separate findings of fact and conclusions of law in the decision. This request must be made before the magistrate enters the written decision or no later than 7 days after the decision is filed. After this request is made, the magistrate may ask the parties to propose findings of fact and conclusions of law to be used in the decision.

Does a decision have to be in writing?
The Civil Rule says that a magistrate’s decision must be in writing, identified as the magistrate’s decision, be signed, filed with the Clerk of Courts and then served by the Clerk of Courts on the parties within 3 days. If the decision is served 3 days after it is filed, a party only has 4 more days to ask for separate “findings of fact” and “conclusions of law” if they are not already included in the written decision. After the magistrate files a decision that includes separately stated “findings of fact” and “conclusions of law,” you only have 14 days to object to that filed decision. Your objection must be in writing. If the other party objects to the magistrate’s decision, you only have 10 days to respond to the other party’s objection.

Are there guidelines for writing an objection?
The only guidelines for writing a Civil Rule 53 objection is that it must be in writing, specific and clearly state the grounds for the objection. It is not enough to state that you disagree with the magistrate’s decision, without adding more detail. Remember that the reason you file the objection is to point out to the judge what mistakes you think the magistrate made and the specific reasons you think something is wrong. The judge will then make the final decision.

Example: If the magistrate’s decision states that “the light was green” and you disagree, it is not enough to say that “the light was red.” You would have to point out what witnesses testified or what evidence showed that the light was red. Or you could state that no evidence was presented to show that the light was green.

When different witnesses have different views of the facts, the magistrate will consider all of the evidence presented and then decide what he or she believes to be true. If this is the case, the judge will not change what the magistrate has decided about the disputed fact, unless the decision was clearly in error.

If the trial was recorded, you should refer to the written transcript of the trial when you make an objection. If no transcript is available, Civil Rule 53 requires that an objection to a factual finding attach an affidavit related to the evidence.

What if I object to a decision?
If you object to the magistrate’s conclusions of law, you should specifically say why these conclusions are not correct. And if errors were made in running the trial or hearing, this can also be included in the objection to the magistrate’s decision.

If no party files any written objections to a magistrate’s decision, the judge overseeing the magistrate may adopt the magistrate’s decision unless there is an error of law or other defect that the judge can clearly see in the decision.

The judge will only review errors of law that a party points out in a magistrate’s written decision. The judge doesn’t have to go beyond the magistrate’s written decision and written objections to decide whether to adopt the magistrate’s decision in the case.

Remember that if you think there has been an error in the way the magistrate runs the hearing or trial, or if you think there is an error in the magistrate’s written decision, you must file a written objection by the deadline. Otherwise, you may not be allowed to raise these issues later in an appeal.

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This content was created by the Ohio State Bar Foundation's 2006 Fellows Class - Keys to the Courtroom Project.

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