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Birmingham Bar Associations Bulletin Summer 2015

Referral Update Tom Warburton, Bradley Arant Boult Cummings LLP AN UPDATE: Referral of Cases to U.S. Magistrate Judges in the Northern District Unless you have refused to recognize the import of the various emails, notices, speeches, and Orders of the Court, you are aware that regular civil actions fi led or removed to the Northern District are now subject to blind, random assignment to both United States District and United States Magistrate Judges. Th is article, written with input from the Chief Judge of the Northern District, lays out the basics of the Court’s General Order for Referral of Civil Matters to the United States Magistrate Judges of the Northern District of Alabama entered January 2, 2015, and will perhaps inform members of the Association regarding a few nuances of the way in which referral is administered. Th e Basics As an initial matter, all Magistrate Judges are included for purposes of civil case assignment “in the same manner as active district judges.” Th e “same manner” includes assignment within the divisions of the District. Of course, 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 73 require any such referral to be acted upon by the litigants – by either consenting to the referral for all matters including those that are potentially dispositive, or declining the referral. If all the parties give unanimous consent, the case proceeds before the originally-drawn Magistrate Judge. If any party declines referral, the civil case goes back “into the hopper” for random, blind assignment to one of the Article III district judges within the division. Any declination of referral is confi dential and never made known to any judicial offi cer of the Northern District. Information Th e District Judges and Magistrate Judges have taken purposeful steps to ensure that those with civil cases before the Northern District give due consideration to consenting to magistrate judge assignment. Th is request makes sense – If civil cases are evenly distributed amongst the bench of the Northern District, the caseload will be more eff ectively administered. Th e Court’s approach here involves all of its judicial offi cers, its Alternative Dispute Resolution plan, and its general procedures for the magistrate judges. Th e Court’s 5 Magistrate Judges Judges Cornelius, Davis, England, Ott, and Putnam will no longer issue Reports & Recommendations for limited jurisdiction civil matters. Going forward, the magistrate judges will preside over dockets of civil matters on which they possess full, dispositive jurisdiction - if parties consent – through trial if necessary. Our District’s Magistrate Judges are incredibly qualifi ed and hard-working; the system is designed to take advantage of their expertise. Judge John Ott • Chief Magistrate Judge, magistrate judge since April 1998 • Former Assistant U.S. Attorney in charge of litigation • Over 33 years of legal experience • Teaches Trial Skills at Cumberland School of Law Judge Harwell Davis • Magistrate Judge since March 1993 • FBI for 4 years • Deputy District Attorney for 5 years • Assistant United States Attorney for 9 ½ years 30 Birmingham Bar Association


Birmingham Bar Associations Bulletin Summer 2015
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