Magistrate judges are jurists who generally perform minor tasks, like presiding over a traffic court or handling misdemeanor arraignments. They also issue marriage licenses and often sign off on plea agreements on minor criminal actions. Magistrates perform an important function within the legal system, but the wide variety of services they render leads to wide gaps in salary across the country.
Magistrates earn between $35,690 and $82,570, according to PayScale, a national job database. Top average salaries fluctuate across the country and across years of experience, because different court jurisdictions expect their magistrates to perform different functions.
Most magistrates enjoy benefits packages; according to PayScale, 87 percent of them have medical benefits, 56 percent have dental benefits and 49 percent have vision benefits. These extras are not a part of salary but they are an important part of a magistrate's overall compensation package.
Magistrates must be members of the state bar, so almost all of them are experienced attorneys who seek appointment, election or employment as a local magistrate. PayScale data suggests that many magistrates take a pay cut to wield the gavel, but magistrates can earn more if their work earns them election or appointment as a higher-ranking judge within the state or federal court system.
It is difficult to arrive at a typical salary profile for a magistrate because of the diversity of practice across different court systems. Some jurisdictions use magistrates as part-time adjuncts to normal district judges, while others employ full-time magistrates to manage the initial intake of criminal defendants and small-claims suits. As a rule, the more responsibilities a magistrate must exercise, the more the magistrate will be paid.