A judge is perhaps the most visible of all courtroom staff but is only one member in a multi-person operation. Working together, the courtroom staff ensures that cases are conducted legally and fairly, are properly recorded, and that order is maintained. While the judge is in charge in the courtroom, not every staff member ultimately reports to the judge.
The Judge's Role
A judge holds authority over her courtroom and the case before the court. The judge's duties include ensuring that the case is conducted within the laws of the jurisdiction, and that the attorneys and witnesses keep their arguments and testimonies on point. In addition, the judge mediates disputes by ruling on objections and provides juries with instructions about legal points to keep in mind. Her power includes handing down sentences or overruling the jury's recommended penalties. "Judge" is a catch-all word that can mean anything from a municipal court judge to Supreme Court justices. Some positions are by election, while others are by appointment.
A law clerk works for the judge, usually as an entry-level courtroom staffer. Clerks help organize materials, including briefs, case files and other necessary documents. They maintain these files so the judge has easy access to the materials. During the decision or sentencing phase, law clerks help research legal precedents and provide the judge with this information. Clerks are sometimes unofficially a judge's sounding board and therefore may influence a case's outcome. For this reason, law clerks must maintain strict confidentiality and impartiality in every case.
Marshal or Bailiff
Courtroom marshals or bailiffs are responsible for maintaining order in the court under direction from the judge. Their service often is needed in contentious cases whenever commentary from the public gallery interrupts proceedings. Their duties also include helping control misbehaving defendants. Marshals and bailiffs are often responsible for jury security. For example, they escort jury members to and from the courtroom and ensure that they are not exposed to anything that could influence their judgment. Marshals are members of the U.S. Marshal Service and usually work with federal cases. With smaller-scale juries, sheriffs or police officers sometimes take care of courtroom security.
Court reporters are responsible for recording the trial, sometimes using stenotype machines to take down everything verbalized in the case. These machines allow the reporters to use shorthand, ensuring that no words are missed. This is important because the case records are employed for appeals and future legal research. Other court reporters use a voice recording system. They wear a mask containing a microphone, which muffles their voice, and repeat what's verbalized in the courtroom. The system, rather than the court reporter, transcribes these words into text. Court reporters must be able to find and read back any portion of the proceedings upon request and ensure that the transcripts are error-free.
The Role of Attorneys
Almost every case will have two sides argued by attorneys. The type of case dictates whether the sides are called prosecution and defense, appellant and respondent or some other legal term. Attorneys question witnesses and make arguments to the judge and jury. They are also responsible for counseling their clients about legal rights and ramifications and making recommendations about issues such as testifying and accepting plea deals. Attorneys may be privately hired, appointed or assigned by a judge to represent a client.
- Azcourts.gov: Courtroom Personnel
- Job Responsibilities: Law Clerk Job Responsibilities
- Superior Court of California, County of Los Angeles: Judicial Officers and Courtroom Staff
- StateUniversity.com: Court Reporter Job Description
- U.S. District Court: Northern District of Florida -- Role of the Judge and Other Courtroom Participants
- Photo Credit Jupiterimages/liquidlibrary/Getty Images
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