Old-time justices of the peace often practiced justice by a wink and a nod. Outcomes often were rooted in local custom, backgrounds of the parties, relationships and politics among plaintiffs and defendants, police and the accused and a variety of factors only loosely connected with the law.
Pennsylvania has made major strides in professionalizing the “minor judiciary” over the last 25 years, members of which are now known as magisterial district judges. More of them have formal legal training. Most counties have central courts to remove preliminary criminal matters from what were, in effect, the closed doors of the neighborhood office. Pay has been increased to help produce more qualified candidates. There is a statewide disciplinary system.
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