Judges, mediators, and hearing officers apply the law to court cases and oversee the legal process in courts. They also resolve administrative disputes and facilitate negotiations between opposing parties.
Judges, mediators, and hearing officers typically do the following:
Judges commonly preside over trials or hearings of cases regarding nearly every aspect of society, from individual traffic offenses to issues concerning the rights of large corporations. Judges listen to arguments and determine whether the evidence presented deserves a trial. In criminal cases, judges may decide that people charged with crimes should be held in jail until the trial, or they may set conditions for their release. They also approve search and arrest warrants.
Judges interpret the law to determine how a trial will proceed, which is particularly important when unusual circumstances arise for which standard procedures have not been established. They ensure that hearings and trials are conducted fairly and the legal rights of all involved parties are protected.
In trials in which juries are selected to decide the case, judges instruct jurors on applicable laws and direct them to consider the facts from the evidence. For other trials, judges decide the case. A judge who determines guilt in criminal cases may impose a sentence or penalty on the guilty party. In civil cases, the judge may award relief, such as compensation for damages, to the parties who win the lawsuit.
Some judges, such as appellate court judges, review decisions and records made by lower courts, and make decisions based on lawyers’ written and oral arguments.
Judges use various forms of technology, such as electronic databases and software, to manage cases and prepare for trials. In some cases, a judge also may manage the court’s administrative and clerical staff.
The following are examples of types of judges, mediators, and hearing officers:
Judges, magistrate judges, and magistrates preside over trials or hearings. They typically work in local, state, and federal courts.
In local and state court systems, they have a variety of titles, such as municipal court judge, county court judge, magistrate, and justice of the peace. Traffic violations, misdemeanors, small-claims cases, and pretrial hearings make up the bulk of these judges' work.
In federal and state court systems, general trial court judges have authority over any case in their system. Appellate court judges rule on a small number of cases by reviewing decisions of the lower courts and lawyers’ written and oral arguments.
Hearing officers, also known as administrative law judges or adjudicators, usually work for government agencies. They decide many issues, such as if a person is eligible for workers' compensation benefits, or if employment discrimination occurred.
Arbitrators, mediators, or conciliators help opposing parties settle disputes outside of court. They hold private, confidential hearings, which are less formal than a court trial.
Arbitrators are usually attorneys or business people with expertise in a particular field. They hear and decide disputes between opposing parties as an impartial third party. When arbitration is required, if one side is not happy with the decision, they can still take the matter to court. Arbitration may also be voluntary, in which the opposing sides agree that whatever the arbitrator decides will be a final, binding decision.
Mediators are neutral parties who help people resolve their disputes. Mediators suggest solutions, but they do not make binding decisions. If the opposing sides cannot reach a settlement with the mediator's help, they are free to pursue other options.
Conciliators are similar to mediators. Their role is to help guide opposing sides to a settlement. The opposing sides must decide in advance if they will be bound by the conciliator's recommendations.
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition