Idaho Supreme Court Rule Amendments

The Idaho Supreme Court has issued several orders amending a selection of Idaho Rules. Please read the full Orders and Amended Orders linked below. All recent Idaho Court Rule amendments are also available online at the Idaho Supreme Court’s Website.  
Amended Idaho Misdemeanor Criminal Rule 5
Idaho Misdemeanor Criminal Rule 5
Idaho Misdemeanor Criminal Rule 9.4
Idaho Misdemeanor Criminal Rule 14
Idaho Rules of Evidence 201, 410

Idaho Supreme Court Website

The Evolution of Gender Equality in Idaho: Examining the Impact of RBG on Idaho and the State of Gender Equality 50 Years After Reed

By Sarah Clemens

Nearly 50 years after the decision in Reed v. Reed, are Idaho women treated equally under the law? A look at the history of gender equality in Idaho legislation and where the legal treatment of women stands suggests that Idaho has made progress repealing facially discriminatory laws. Yet, even absent patent discrimination, there remains latent inequality in both the historical laws that remain in effect and in newly proposed legislation.

Idaho’s History and Sally Reed

“[M]ales must be preferred to females[.]”[i] Today, this language runs afoul of the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause, but before 1971, gender preferences in statutes were commonplace. Sally Reed learned this upon the tragic suicide of her minor son, Skip, when the probate judge appointed Sally’s ex-husband, Cecil, as administrator of Skip’s estate—denying Sally’s petition without a hearing. The story of Sally Reed is well known in Idaho, and because of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s involvement in the case, the story of an Idaho woman denied the equal opportunity to act as the administrator of her deceased son’s estate is equally well known throughout the country.

Sally was qualified to administer Skip’s estate. She worked from home caring for disabled individuals, and she cared for her son when Cecil abandoned her and their young son. Cecil, on the other hand, was abusive, and Skip ultimately committed suicide in Cecil’s basement with his rifle.[ii] Even so, under Idaho’s law, a preference was afforded Cecil based on gender to administer Skip’s estate.

Sally Reed appealed, employing Allen Derr and later receiving the assistance of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who authored the brief to the United States Supreme Court. Sally Reed succeeded, knocking down the first of many barriers for gender equality that Ruth Bader Ginsburg would challenge to define gender as a suspect class.

Reed v. Reed no doubt changed how gender-based classifications were addressed under the law. Though the probate law at issue in Reed set the stage for gender equality across the U.S., Idaho’s history with gender equality was not so straightforward. Certainly, the probate law at issue in Reed was rewritten and many other gender-based classifications changed in Idaho during the 1970s. Yet even after Reed, legislation in Idaho continues to be drafted even today with gendered language, and the failure of some proposed legislation suggests that Idaho is not yet ready to proceed beyond the protections afforded women under Reed and its progeny.

Idaho has come a long way, and in many respects, has led the way, in enacting legislation that provides equal rights to women. That said, the path to equality for women in Idaho had a checkered past and the path that lays ahead remains long. For the many advancements that individual women made, many laws enacted throughout Idaho’s history have held women back.

No doubt one of the marked achievements for women’s rights in Idaho was the enfranchisement of women to vote. The Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution recently celebrated its 100-year anniversary. In Idaho, however, women had gained the right to vote nearly a quarter-century earlier.[iii] In 1896, Idaho became the fourth state to grant women the right to vote, preceded only by Wyoming, Colorado, and Utah. Despite Idaho’s seemingly early recognition of women’s rights, the right to vote was not absolute. Poll taxes and literacy tests prevented minority men and women from voting for decades longer, and Native Americans were ineligible to vote at all until 1924.[iv]

In 1969 and 1972, the Idaho legislature passed two laws, Idaho Code §§ 18-7303[v] and 67-5909,[vi] both aimed at preventing discrimination on the basis of sex in employment practices. Even so, much of Idaho’s early legislation was aimed specifically at separating women on the basis of their sex. Consider this non-exhaustive timeline of legislation and case law during the late 1800s and early 1900s.

  • 1800s – If a wife predeceased her husband, all community property passed to her husband, but if the husband predeceased his wife, she received half and the remaining half was disposed according to his wishes.[vii]
  • 1887 – Women were granted the right to make a will by statute under Sec. 5725.[viii]
  • 1899 – The Idaho Supreme Court affirmed there is no statutory right for women to make holographic wills and any will by a woman must be attested, witnessed, and proved.[ix]
  • 1908 – Married women were not considered capable of committing crimes, except those punishable by death, if the woman was acting under the threat, command, or coercion of her husband.[x]
  • 1919 – While married, the husband was considered to maintain absolute control over community property.[xi]
  • 1924 – Women were not allowed to serve as jurors.[xii]
  • 1932 – Idaho Code recognized that married women are not deprived of civil liberty to execute a contract, but a married woman may not have the same rights to enter into contracts as an unmarried woman.[xiii]

The timeline, though abbreviated, underscores the evolution of women’s rights in Idaho. As Reed v. Reed and later cases brought by Ginsburg before the Supreme Court demonstrated, discrimination on the basis of sex is unconstitutional, and Idaho’s place in that historic recognition remains vital. Yet just as Ruth Bader Ginsburg looked at Reed as the starting place for gender equality rather than a successful place to end the fight, Idaho’s treatment of women as equal remains far from complete.

In the Brief for Appellant filed before the United States Supreme Court in Reed v. Reed in 1972, Ruth Bader Ginsburg agued, “appellant was denied the right to qualify as the administrator of her son’s estate solely because of her sex.”[xiv] Nearly 50 years later, has Idaho attained the degree of gender equality that began Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s pursuit of intermediate scrutiny? Examining recent legislation and existing laws suggests the answer is: not quite.

Equal Rights Amendment

The same year the United Supreme Court issued its ruling in Reed, Idaho was in the news for a second potential step forward in women’s rights: the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment.[xv] As one of the first states to ratify the amendment, the initial approval signaled a major step toward equal treatment for women under the law. Yet by 1979, Idaho voted to rescind its ratification, along with four other states. In committee minutes from the measure to rescind, then-Representative for Idaho Falls, Lenden Batmen stated, “[l]aws involving relationships between the sexes is an area where reasonable men may differ.”[xvi]

Despite the rescission, the amendment was reintroduced earlier this year by Representative Melissa Wintrow. Under the joint resolution, Wintrow’s proposal would amend Article 1 of Idaho’s constitution to provide for sex equality and prohibit inequitable treatment based upon gender. In opposition to the amendment, the Family Policy Alliance of Idaho released a statement that said, in part, the amendment would “prevent[] state and federal laws from making any distinctions based on sex.”[xvii] The statement went on to claim that if Idaho were to adopt the Equal Rights Amendment, “women could suddenly become eligible for the draft, and women’s federally funded shelters and prisons would have to allow men access.”[xviii] The bill to amend Idaho’s constitution ultimately failed to make it out of committee.

Gender-Neutral Legislation

The Equal Rights Amendment is not the only recent proposal before Idaho state legislators to address gender equality. In February 2016, Representative Wintrow also introduced House Bill 465, which would have amended Chapter 1, Title 73 of Idaho’s Code to add section 73-114B requiring that any new or amended sections to Idaho Code contain gender-neutral language.[xix] The bill received support from Representative Smith of Pocatello, which would also require that legislation use words such as “he/she” or “his/her” rather than masculine pronouns.

Though the bill narrowly received the votes necessary in committee to introduce it, the proposed change to the Idaho Code was met with significant resistance and advanced no further. And though this legislation would create an affirmative responsibility for lawmakers to draft all legislation in gender-neutral language moving forward, there have been some incremental changes to prior legislation. For example, for legislation that use the words “man/wife,” Idaho lawmakers have supplanted the gendered terms with the word “spouse.”

Gender-neutral language within the Idaho Code may seem inconsequential in the advancement of gender equality, but the use of gendered terms is precisely why Reed—and the plaintiffs from the other cases argued by Ginsburg—was disadvantaged; the language of the legislation separated out women for disparate treatment based solely on gender. This type of reform remains a focal point for change by many within Idaho’s legislature.

Both the Equal Rights Amendment and House Bill 465 are representative of a nationwide trend by state legislators to revise state statutes, state constitutions, and local codes to ensure the legislative language is gender neutral. To be clear, using gender-neutral terms in a statute does not automatically confer gender equality and equal rights upon women under the law. That said, the use of gender-neutral language is perhaps the first and easiest step that state legislators can take to remedy the representative disparities under the law, which is why many states have made significant efforts to revise state codes and local ordinances. Since 1983, Washington State has required gender-neutral language in all new pieces of legislation, and the state is also undertaking an extensive revision process to modify all existing state statutes dating back to Washington’s founding in 1854. Washington is not acting in isolation, however. In 2019, the city of Berkeley in California adopted an ordinance to remove gendered language from its municipal code.[xx] The city unanimously adopted the ordinance, which will cost the city $600 to update the language. Moreover, the National Conference of State Legislatures reports that nearly half of all states have sought to revise statutory language so that it is gender neutral.

Eliminating gendered language in legislation is a step forward, but the question necessarily turns to what impact merely modifying a statute from a masculine pronoun to gender-neutral language has on efforts to advance gender equality.

According to the National Women’s Law Center, the impact may be profound. “Words help shape our perception about what opportunities are available to women and men.”[xxi] Put simply, if women are not recognized in the language of the law, then society and the legal community may struggle to view women’s protections and rights under the law. And in some cases, the absence of gender-neutral language in the statute may bar relief, absent an appeal to a higher court. The examples of this principle are reflected through the cases that Ruth Bader Ginsburg argued during the 1970s.

Idaho Laws Moving in the Wrong Direction

Though gender-neutral language in Idaho legislation presents an important if not subtle avenue through which to advance gender equality, an equally important area is within the purpose of the legislation. Two bills recently enacted in the Idaho Legislature suggest that though the rights of women have progressed in many ways since Reed, in other ways pursuit of these rights remains an area of concern.

Consider Idaho’s Medical Consent and Natural Death Act. Idaho Code section 39-4510 authorizes any “competent person” to execute a living will. Section 39-4509 defines the statement of policy for the legislation:

The legislature recognizes the established common law and the fundamental right of competent persons to control the decisions relating to the rendering of their medical care, including the decision to have life-sustaining procedures withheld or withdrawn. The legislature further finds that modern medical technology has made possible the artificial prolongation of human life beyond natural limits.[xxii]

Yet while this legislation explicitly recognizes that any competent person has a fundamental right to control decisions pertaining to medical care, section 39-4510 provides that pregnant women may not enact a living will. A lawsuit is pending to challenge the language excluding pregnant women from the statute on the basis the bill discriminates on gender. The lawsuit, originally filed in 2018, was brought by Legal Voice and Compassion & Choices on behalf of four Idaho women. The groups argue that women do not lose their constitutional rights because they are “diagnosed as pregnant,” which is language from the statute. In late 2019, a federal court rejected a motion by the State to dismiss the case. The case remains pending.[xxiii]

More recently, Idaho took an affirmative—if not currently hypothetical—step toward impeding a woman’s fundamental right to privacy related to legislation that would criminalize abortion.[xxiv] Governor Little signed the law in March of this year and it would become effective should the United States Supreme Court overturn Roe v. Wade. As it stands, the bill makes no exceptions for a woman seeking an abortion in cases of incest or rape and permits the prosecution of doctors who would perform abortions.

ConclusionReed vs. Reed changed the legal landscape for women in Idaho and throughout the nation; the case served as a starting point for Ruth Bader Ginsburg to argue that sex discrimination should be viewed as a suspect class. In many ways, nearly 50 years later, Reed remains just that: a starting point. Though the treatment of women under the law is markedly different now than it was in 1971, many women still do not see themselves as equally protected. And some women would be forgiven for questioning whether Idaho’s legislation is advancing the treatment of women, or whether it is retreating to a time when women did not have the right to privacy for abortion or the right to decide on end-of-life of care. Idaho has come a long way. It has further to go.

Sarah Clemens is a 3L law student at the University of Idaho College of Law. She is interested in practicing criminal law after completing a judicial clerkship upon graduation. In her free time Sarah enjoys fiction writing and spending time with her rescue animals.

[i] Reed v. Reed, 404 U.S. 71, 73 (1971).

[ii] Emily Martin, Reed v. Reed at 40: A Landmark Decision, Nat’l Women’s Law Ctr. (Nov. 16, 2011),

[iii] Kathy Barnard, Women’s Suffrage Right to Vote Came Early in Idaho, Lewiston Tribune (Jul. 3, 1990),

[iv] Donna Yule, Even 100 years after the right to vote, women still fighting for rights, Idaho Statesman (Jan. 16, 2020),

[v] Idaho Code Ann. § 18-7303 (West 1972) (recognizing the denial of the right to work based on sex as discrimination).

[vi] Idaho Code Ann. § 67-5909 (West 2005).

[vii] Luis Acosta, Inheritance Laws in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries,Library of Cong. (Mar. 2014),

[viii] Scott v. Harkness, 6 Idaho 736, 736, 59 P. 556, 556 (1899).

[ix] Id. at 736, 59 P. at 557.

[x] Idaho Code Ann. §§ 17-201(7), 17-807 (1932).

[xi] C.S.§ 4668 (1919).

[xii] State v. Kelley, 39 Idaho 668, 668, 229 P. 659, 661 (1924).

[xiii] Idaho Code Ann. §28-101 (1932).

[xiv] Reed v. Reed, 1971 WL 133596, at *8 (U.S., 2004).

[xv] Betsy Russell, A look back at Idaho’s role in the ERA ratification saga, Post Register (Dec. 16, 2019),,31%2D4%20in%20the%20Senate. 

[xvi] Betsy Russell, Utah’s Recent Ratification of Equal Rights Recalls Idaho’s History, Spokesman Review (Dec. 15, 2019),

[xvii] Stephanie Curry, Erasing Women—The ERA, Family Policy Alliance of Idaho, (last viewed Oct. 18, 2020).

[xviii] Id.

[xix] H.B. 465, 61st Leg. (Idaho 2016).

[xx] Caitlin O’Kane, City to ban gendered language like “manhole,” “manpower” and “firemen,” CBS News (Jul. 18, 2019),

[xxi] Brian Peteritas, Gender-Neutral Language Written into State Laws,Governing (Apr. 2013),

[xxii] Idaho Code Ann. § 39-4509 (West 2012) (emphasis added).

[xxiii] Rebecca Boone, Idaho sued over pregnancy exclusion in advanced directive law,Assoc. Press (May 31, 2018),

[xxiv] S.B 1385, 65th Leg. (Idaho 2020).

Idaho Judicial Council

By David W. “Tony” Cantrill

I have been executive director of the Idaho Judicial Council for nearly 5 years and have practiced law for 45 years before that, so I do have some idea of what it’s like. The method for selection of magistrates is far different than selecting district court judges.

The Idaho Judicial Council interviews every applicant, asks for input from members of the bar, and goes deep into an applicant’s background. There are about 50 district court judges in the state. By contrast, there are about 100 magistrate judges in Idaho. The magistrate judges are the work horses of the state, in the sense that they preside over family law, probate, and misdemeanors cases, as well as civil cases of less than $10,000.

The selection of magistrate is overseen by the Magistrates Commission. Every county is allowed one magistrate. The range at present is one to twenty-three. Each district has a magistrate commission and there are seven districts statewide.

Idaho Code § 1-2203 provides that the Magistrates Commission be made up of (1) the chairman of the board of county commissioners of each county in the district or a member of such board as designated by the chairman, (2) the mayors of three municipalities, one of whom shall be the mayor of a city with more than 10,000 population, (3) two qualified electors in the district to be appointed by the governor, (4) the administrative district judge of the district, (5) two attorneys nominated by the county clerk and appointed by the administrative judge, (6) a magistrate judge, and (7) a county clerk from within the district. The attorneys may serve up to 6 years. There are other requirements, but they do nothing to limit or expand the membership of the commission.

A unique aspect of the Magistrates Commission is that it does not interview every applicant, rather only those it believes are viable. There were some who felt that in the earlier days of court reform, the selection was biased in favor of who you knew–but I can assure you that is no longer true.

After a new magistrate is selected and sworn in, he comes under the umbrella of the Judicial Council and I meet him for the first time. Even then it may be some time before we talk. I have found the new magistrates to be courteous, hard-working individuals who for the first time are confronted with the Code of Judicial Conduct, simple in its format but devilishly difficult in application. Almost universally, the question of disqualification arises. A judge has a duty to preside over cases when possible, but increasingly there are some who are married to lawyers and how do they handle that? It’s not easy but we always make accommodations. What about ex-law partners? The guideline is one year but it can be longer or shorter depending on the situation. Ada County with about 60 lawyers in the criminal division alone is far different than Lewis county with maybe one.

Overall, my work with judges has been pure pleasure. They listen and act accordingly. We do not socialize but instead acknowledge that we both have a job to do and want to do it well. Discipline is most unpleasant and will have to wait for another day. It does occur but on a very infrequent basis. Lastly, most of what I do is confidential and we can’t have it any other way. The overwhelming complaints are frivolous and only arise because the complaint lost. But I can tell you this, if a judge violates the Code and requires discipline in some form it will happen no matter who it is.

David W. “Tony” Cantrill is an Idaho native and resides in Boise, Idaho. He was born and raised in Pocatello. Mr. Cantrill graduated from Pocatello High School, received his Bachelor of Arts from Idaho State University in 1966 and received his Juris Doctorate in 1970 from the University of Idaho College of Law. He was in the Army, including the reserves from 1963-69. In 1970, Mr. Cantrill entered private practice in Boise concentrating in litigation. He has tried cases in five states and almost every county in the state of Idaho. Mr. Cantrill is a member of the Idaho State Bar, American Inns of Court, Defense Research Institute, Idaho Association of Defense Counsel, and is a Fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers. He has been married to his wife, Susan, for 49 years, has three children and numerous grandchildren. Mr. Cantrill joined the Idaho Judicial Council as its Executive Director in December of 2015.

To Be or Not To Be: That is the Answer

By Hon. Scott E. Axline

In Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet, Prince Hamlet starts a soliloquy by uttering these words:  “To be, or not to be. That is the question:…”  As we approach the 50th anniversary of the inception of the Magistrate Court system in Idaho I thought it might be beneficial for some if we look at exactly what it takes to become a Magistrate Judge and why someone would want “to be” a Magistrate.


Magistrate judges in Idaho as we know them now were first established by the Idaho Legislature on January 11, 1971. Prior to 1971 the court system in Idaho, with the exception of District Judges and the Supreme Court, which are both established by the Idaho State Constitution, was made up of a hodgepodge of local judges including probate judges, justices of the peace, police court judges, town judges, and traffic court judges, just to name a few. Some were attorneys, but many were not.  Those who were not attorneys were “lay judges.” These were the judges the vast majority of citizens involved in the courts actually come into contact with.  My own estimate is that 90 percent of the people who went to court were dealing with this hodgepodge of local Judges.  The change in 1971 bringing them all under one umbrella really was a monumental change in the courts of Idaho relative to the lower-level judges, because it changed what was required to be a judge and clearly defined what the judge could do.  Prior to this time, many, if not most, of the lower judicial positions were part-time positions. If a person was an attorney, she/he could also perform judicial functions to supplement their income and provide a service to the community. If they were a lay judge their judicial function could supplement their income from their regular job. On January 11, 1971 that changed.  On that date, pursuant to Idaho code section 1-103, “all probate courts, Justice of the peace courts, and police courts shall cease to exist….”

The Magistrate division of the District Court is established and defined in Idaho code section 1-2201, et seq.  The qualifications to become a Magistrate are set forth in section 1-2206:  a candidate must be at least 30 years of age; they must be a citizen of the United States; they must have been a legal resident of the state of Idaho for at least two continuous years immediately preceding their appointment; they must have been in good standing as an active or judicial member of the Idaho State Bar for at least two continuous years immediately preceding their appointment; and they must have held a license to practice law or held a judicial office in one or more jurisdictions for at least five continuous years immediately preceding their appointment.

The old system was thus put “to sleep”, if you will, in the hope, the “dream”, of what the new Magistrate Division could be for the State of Idaho and its citizens.


What may not be readily apparent is that to even consider being a Magistrate Judge, absent extraordinary circumstances not relevant to this discussion, a person must have graduated from high school (12 years of school), received an undergraduate degree (four years of school), graduated from law school (three years of school), passed the State Bar exam (which when I took it was a three-day exam), been admitted to practice law and held that ability and responsibility for at least five years. So, if one sails straight through, a person has to have 19 years of schooling, pass a multi-day exam, and keep their head above water in the practice of law for at least five years, a total of 24 years.

Of course, they must also be at least 30 years of age, which most will be, or will be close to, by the time they meet the rest of the criteria. That being said, the vast majority of Magistrates appointed in the State of Idaho are well past 30 years of age and have practiced law for a lot more than five years. Once a person has reached these milestones they can then throw their hat into the ring to be appointed as a Magistrate Judge. That “ring” is the Magistrate Commission.  Pursuant to Idaho code section 1-2203, the Magistrate Commission of each Judicial District is made up of the Chairman of the Board of County Commissioners of each county in the judicial district, the Mayors of three municipalities in the judicial district which are appointed by the Governor, two qualified electors residing within the Judicial district which are also appointed by the Governor, the Administrative Judge of the district, two attorneys nominated by the District Bar Association in each district and appointed by the Idaho State Bar, a Magistrate Judge in the district, and the County Clerk in the district to be appointed by the administrative District Judge.  A daunting group to be sure. 

As part of the process of going before the Magistrate Commission, the State Bar sends out a survey to all attorneys and also makes it available to the general public regarding each of the candidates who has applied.  That number varies each time but has been as high as almost 30 applicants.  The surveys are returned anonymously to the commission and include the comments and assessment of each candidate by members of the Bar and the public who may like or dislike the candidate for whatever reason. Most Magistrate Commissions then take those responses and come up with a “short list” of candidates to be interviewed.  The candidates also will have to provide information about themselves, including financial information, legal history, work history, education background, and Bar complaints against them, just to name a few.

So the candidate, along with all the other candidates who have made the “short list”, goes before this commission and is interviewed, which entails telling the commission a little about themselves and why they want to be a judge and answering questions put to them by the individual commission members, some of these questions may be prompted by comments made in the anonymous survey.  At the end of the interview process the Commission goes into executive session and discusses the candidates and votes. Once they have a majority vote, the candidate they picked is informed they have been selected to be a Magistrate Judge. This process would be harrowing enough if that were the end of it, but it is not. 

Pursuant to Idaho code section 1-2205 (C) the decision of the Magistrate Commission may be disapproved by a majority of the District Judges in the district within 30 days.  And the new Magistrate Judge is on “probation” for 18 months following her/his appointment during which time she/he may be removed from office without cause by majority vote of the commission. During this 18 month probationary period many of the Magistrate Commissions have the new Magistrate go through a review process every six months, during which the State Bar will send out another survey so the attorneys and people in the community can again make anonymous comments, good and bad, and rate the new judge on her/his performance.

During this same period of time the new judge is required to attend two multi-day “New Judge Orientation” courses at the Idaho Supreme Court. They must also attend a two-week course at the National Judicial College in Reno, Nevada.  If they make it through all of that, the Magistrate then has to face an election every four years to determine if he/she will be retained in office or will to go back into the private sector and start all over trying to build up a client base.

After the Commission notifies them of their appointment, the candidate has a short period of time, probably around 60 days, to wind up their legal practice, which in many cases means several hundred cases and clients, and, if they don’t live in the County where they will be seated, sell their home in their current county, purchase a home in their new county, and move their family.

Most, if not all, of the candidates coming out of the private sector will be taking a pretty significant pay cut, particularly if they have more than the 5 year minimum of experience.  The longer they have practiced law and the more experienced they are, both of which will make them better judges, the greater the likelihood they will be taking a pay cut and the greater the pay cut will be.  Oh, and let us not forget that, pursuant to Article V. Section 17,  of the Idaho Constitution and I.C. § 59-502, if the Judge cannot get a decision out in 30 days his/her pay is withheld until it is completed.

The candidates truly do “suffer the slings and arrows” in pursuit of their dream of becoming a Magistrate Judge.


And, while a candidate may only practice in one or two areas of the law in their private practice, from the first day on the job, which in most cases is before they have attended the New Judge orientation or the Judicial College, they are thrown into “a sea of troubles.”  They are required to know almost every area of the law since they may well be hearing cases in the following areas:  Civil cases under $10,000.00, whether contract, personal injury, or otherwise, evictions (including forcible entry, forcible detainer, and unlawful detainer), collections, the probate of wills and administration of estates of decedents, minors and incompetents (which can involve millions of dollars), guardianships, termination of parental rights, all actions for change of name, all proceedings for divorce, separate maintenance or annulment, including orders to show cause, hearings and issuance of restraining orders; including all child support and maintenance proceedings, all Domestic Violence and Protection Order proceedings, all habeas corpus proceedings, including all habeas corpus proceedings involved in a criminal proceeding or conviction, juvenile justice cases, misdemeanor cases (including D.U.I. and battery, etc.), infractions, arraignment court, proceedings pertaining to warrants for arrest or for searches and seizures; mental commitment proceedings, and proceedings for the preliminary examination to determine probable cause, commitment prior to trial or the release on bail of persons charged with criminal offenses, just to name a few.

A Magistrate Judge can, and often does, go from deciding where children will live in a family law case in the morning to deciding who will go to jail in a criminal case in the afternoon.  From presiding over an adoption one day to terminating parental rights the next.  From deciding if someone was actually speeding to deciding if there is probably cause to bind a defendant over to the District Court on a First Degree Murder charge which may carry the death penalty, to deciding who gets to inherit millions of dollars in an estate.  They literally have to know it all.

And they have to know it all the time.  A Magistrate Judge will usually be assigned “on call” duties, which means they review all the requests for warrants and new felony criminal complaints and also arraign defendants on new criminal charges.  And they do this on top of their regular calendar of cases during the day.  And when “on call,” they have to be available in the middle of the night for warrants for blood draws and search warrants, etc. and also be available on weekends to review new cases and determine bond amounts.  If they are a judge in a one judge county they have these duties 24/7/356.  If they are a judge in a multi-judge county they usually rotate these duties.

Magistrate Judges are the first line of defense against “the sea of troubles” citizens find themselves in, whether by their own doing or not.


So one can see that “to be or not to be” is not really the question, it is the answer. For if a person is asking themselves whether they want to be a Magistrate Judge or not, the answer is more than likely “…not to be.” For the vast majority of Magistrate Judges, if not all of them, there really was no question of whether they wanted to be a Magistrate Judge, they already knew that. They apply because they know that is what they want to do and they serve because they love the job and they want to give back to the community that they live in.

That is the answer.

Judge Scott E. Axline has been a magistrate judge in Bannock County, Idaho since January 4, 2013. He covers cases in the Sixth Judicial District and has also been appointed by the Idaho Supreme Court to hear cases in the Seventh Judicial District. He and his wife, Jackie, have four children and 11 1/2 grandchildren.

Who Are We?

By Hon. Michael J. Oths

The Idaho Magistrate Judges Association (IMJA) is the voice of Idaho’s limited jurisdiction court judges.  IMJA, through its officers, has been invited to address the Judiciary Committee of each branch of the Legislature on an annual basis.  In years past, the IMJA has compiled demographic data about its membership, for the benefit of the Legislative committees.  This article borrows from that research and provides a demographic history of Idaho’s Magistrates.

Idaho currently has 95 Magistrate Judges.  As you will find out next in Judge Axline’s article, in order to be appointed, candidates must be lawyers of at least five-years’ experience, at least 30 years old, and a resident and lawyer in Idaho for at least the last two years.

When the Magistrate division was created, however, being a lawyer was not a requirement.[i] Many of the early Magistrates were laypeople, including some who had previously been Justices of the Peace or Police Court Judges.[ii]   In fact, of the 60 original Magistrates appointed in 1971, 40 were non-lawyers.

In 1982, the Legislature amended the statute to provide that, going forward, all Magistrates must be lawyers.  By 1990, only six lay Magistrates remained in Idaho.

The last lay Magistrate to retire was the legendary Judge Mildred McClure, who served until 2001.  Judge McClure was first elected as Probate Judge from Dubois in 1962 and eventually was one of the first Magistrates in the Seventh District.

Seventh District Magistrate Linda Cook was the first woman lawyer appointed to the bench, taking her seat in 1976.  When First District Magistrate Debra Heise took her seat in January 1985, only a handful of women lawyers had been appointed, including Judge Cook, Judge Karen Vehlow, Judge Darla Williamson, and Judge Patricia Young.

As recently as January 2015, of the 50 senior[iii] Magistrates in Idaho, only six were women, comprising 12% of that segment of the bench.  As of this writing, 40 of the 50 senior Magistrates are men, meaning women are 20% of that more experienced group.  Conversely, 38% of the newer half of the Magistrate division are women.  These numbers are generally reflective of the overall Idaho State Bar.  Currently, women comprise 30% of the Idaho State Bar and 27% of the Magistrate bench.  Considering that it is rare for lawyers with fewer than 10 years’ experience to be appointed, it is noteworthy that 26% of lawyers admitted for at least 10 years are women, almost exactly the same percentage found on the Magistrate bench.

It is also interesting to study where Magistrates were before they became judges.  The last known demographic study was conducted in 2015, and showed the following:

  • 52% were in private practice immediately before appointment to the bench
  • 30% were county prosecutors
  • 6% were city attorneys
  • 5% were deputy Attorneys General
  • 4% were “other”
  • 3% were public defenders

The median current tenure for active Magistrates in Idaho is just under seven years since appointment.  Only 16% of Magistrates have been on the bench for more than 15 years.

Taking a snapshot of turnover on the bench is also revealing.  Of the 50 senior Magistrates as of January 2015, only 17 are still in that role.  Five have been appointed as District Judges, one is deceased, and 27 have retired.

The make-up of the magistrate bench has changed over the years, from mostly non-lawyers originally and only men, to a dedicated group of lawyers who serve as magistrates and reflect the gender demographics of the Idaho State Bar.

Hon. Michael J. Oths is a past President of the Idaho State Bar and a certified “bar junkie.” Oths is a magistrate judge in Ada County. Prior to his appointment as a magistrate, Oths was Bar Counsel for the Idaho State Bar for 17 years. He received his J.D. from the University of Oregon School of Law.

[i] The initial qualification was that the person have a high school diploma or a G.E.D equivalency.  Idaho Code §1-2206(2).

[ii] In Moscow, the Police Court Judge was traditionally a third-year law student.  Veteran Caldwell lawyer Herb Rettig was the Police Court Judge while enrolled at U of I, and said that the spot was a plum part-time job for law students.

[iii] As used in this article, “senior” refers to years on the bench, not age, and it refers to active judges, not to retired judges on senior status.

Commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the Magistrate Court

By Hon. Rudolph E. “Rick” Carnaroli

Fifty years have passed since the State of Idaho’s first Magistrate Judges took the bench. The creation of the Magistrate Division of the District Court was the product of in excess of a decade of work throughout the 1960’s on statewide court reform. In 1960, the Idaho State Bar formally recommended court reform.  In 1962, the voters of Idaho passed an amendment to the Constitution of the State of Idaho to enable legislative efforts to implement statewide court reform. Finally, in 1969, the Idaho Legislature completed its legislation to make the work of many become a reality. Among the advocates for court reform were members and leaders from the Idaho Judicial Branch, the Idaho Legislature, and the Idaho State Bar, as well as the residents of the State of Idaho who all wanted a better system of local justice.[i]

On January 11, 1971, the first Magistrate Judges took office.  The Magistrate Divisions of the District Courts replaced the local “people’s courts,” which were the justice of the peace courts, the municipal courts, and the probate courts.  A new lower court system under a more centralized management structure administered by the Idaho Supreme Court was open for business with the promise that it would better meet the needs of the times and Idaho citizens.

Serving Communities Better

            One has to wonder if those who championed court reform could see beyond what they were working to create: a statewide lower court system better suited to serve all communities throughout Idaho.  Did they foresee that the Magistrate Judges would become such an integral piece of the fabric of the Idaho Judiciary?  After all, the Idaho Legislature created the Magistrate Division under its constitutional authority to create “inferior courts.”  A better choice of words might have been “lower courts.”

Did they envision that the Magistrate Division would be much more than a division of “inferior courts” and that it would eventually receive the assignment to resolve approximately ninety percent of all Idaho’s case filings annually? Did they foresee that the Magistrate Division would eventually become the trial court to handle all of Idaho’s family law cases? The Magistrate Judges handle not only divorce and related proceedings, but also Child Protective Act cases, terminations of parental rights, adoptions, guardianship, and conservatorship proceedings.

Did they realize that someday, the Magistrate Division would be the gateway for almost all criminal cases filed in Idaho? With the exception of those cases that involve felony indictments handed down by a grand jury, every felony, misdemeanor, and infraction case commences in the Magistrate Division.  The jurisdiction of the Magistrate Division has grown and Magistrate Judges are part of a well-trained corps of Idaho judges deciding significant issues on a daily basis.

            One has to wonder if the champions of court reform viewed the newly created position of Magistrate Judge as a profession for many of the judges appointed to serve in the Magistrate Division.  Service in the Magistrate Division has become a final career choice for many talented jurists, some of whom remained in office for decades and eventually retired as Magistrate Judges.  It is fair to say that the majority have made the position of Magistrate Judge the final stop in their legal careers.  In fact, some Magistrate Judges have served in excess of 30 years on the bench, including the Honorable Mark Riddoch who continues to serve Bonneville County after 37 years.  Many Magistrate Judges have said that they truly believe they would not enjoy another judicial position as well or as much and most have found great satisfaction in service to their local communities.

Notable Idaho Magistrates

The Magistrate Division also boasts an impressive list of alumni. Five Idaho Supreme Court Justices and former Justices served their local communities as Magistrate Judges.  Two Idaho Court of Appeals Judges have also served as Magistrate Judges. In addition, dozens of Magistrate Judges have transitioned from the Magistrate Division to positions as District Judges[TF1] .

            Our outgoing Chief Justice Roger J. Burdick started his long and successful judicial career in 1981 as a Magistrate Judge in Jerome County.  The first woman appointed to serve on the Idaho Supreme Court, former Chief Justice Linda Copple Trout began her judicial career as a Magistrate Judge in Nez Perce County.  One of the first magistrate judges, former Chief Justice Gerald Schroeder, began his long judicial career in 1971 when his position as a probate court judge was absorbed into the Magistrate Division by court reform.  His long judicial career as a Magistrate Judge, District Judge, and as a Justice has spanned five decades as he continues to serve as a Senior Judge for the Idaho Supreme Court.

Former Chief Justice Daniel T. Eismann started a nine-year appointment as a Magistrate Judge in Owyhee County in 1986.  He transitioned to a District Judge position in 1995 and in 2000 he was elected to the Idaho Supreme Court where he served 17 years.  The latest appointee to the Idaho Supreme Court who served as a Magistrate Judge was recently retired Justice Joel Horton.  Justice Horton served as a Magistrate Judge in Ada County from 1994 to 1996 and served on the Idaho Supreme Court for 11 years until he retired in 2018.

            In 1982, the Idaho Court of Appeals was born of legislative enactment.  Our two former Magistrate Judges who served on the Idaho Court of Appeals are the Honorable Roger Swanstrom and the Honorable John Melanson.  Judge Swanstrom served as one of the original Magistrate Judges from 1971 to 1973 after which he was appointed as a district judge for the Second District.  Judge Swanstrom again took part in opening a new branch of the Idaho judiciary serving as one of the first three appointed members of the Court of Appeals from 1982 to1993. Judge Melanson served as a Magistrate Judge in Minidoka County from 2000 to 2009 and served the Court of Appeals from 2009 to 2017 serving as chief judge from 2015 to 2017.

Helping Modernize Idaho’s Justice System

As the Idaho court system has grown and evolved Magistrate Judges have contributed at almost all levels to assist the Idaho Supreme Court’s mission to administer a more modern justice throughout the state.  The drug courts, or treatment courts are a prime example of a more modern justice. 

In 1999, Idaho’s first drug court was started by former Chief Justice Eismann while he was serving as a District Judge in Ada County.  In the years that followed, all seven of Idaho’s judicial districts established their own treatment courts.  Idaho has since come to rely on treatment courts as an economic alternative to incarceration and a means by which the courts hold mentally ill and chemically dependent Defendants accountable for their crimes while providing them treatment in the community. While felony offenders most often comprise the treatment court rosters, many Magistrate Judges have served and continue to serve as treatment court judges delivering team-based drug, alcohol, and mental health treatment and services to criminal justice involved persons in their communities.

Magistrate Judges have taken seats at the table in both the administration of the Court and on the Idaho Judicial Council.  Three of the four elected officers of the Magistrate Judges’ Association regularly participate as voting members of the Administrative Conference of the Courts.  The Administrative Conference generally meets four times a year with “the responsibility [as members of] the Administrative Conference collectively, and … individually to make decisions in such a manner as to promote the effective administration of justice throughout the state of Idaho…”[ii]  One Magistrate Judge serves as a non-voting member of the Idaho Judicial Council.  The Idaho Judicial Council’s mission among other things, is to act pursuant to Constitutional and statutory authority to safeguard the integrity of Idaho’s entire judicial system, and to “administer the judicial vacancy, judicial discipline, and judicial incapacity system” pursuant to its rules.[iii]

Magistrate Judges also continue to serve in concert with the Idaho Legislature and departments of state government. For the past several years the Magistrate Judges’ Association has delivered informational presentations to the Idaho Senate Judiciary and Rules and the Idaho House of Representatives’ Judiciary and Rules Committees early in the Legislative Session.  Magistrate Judges interface almost daily with the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare in matters involving child protection.  Magistrate Judges like the Honorable Bryan Murray and the Honorable John Varin have help shaped more modern legislation in juvenile law and juvenile corrections working closely with the Idaho Legislature and the Idaho Department of Juvenile Corrections. 

Magistrate Judges have been and are deeply involved in judicial education and work tirelessly as members of numerous committees for the Administrative Office of the Courts. Magistrate Judges participate fully in helping the Court develop better rules of procedure.  For example, the Idaho Family Law Rules of Procedure were the product of the hands of many persons, Magistrate Judges, lawyers, and others, but at the point of the spear of this effort were two recently retired Magistrate Judges, the Honorable Russ Comstock and the Honorable David Day. 

The Idaho State Bar also enjoys the benefit of volunteer service from many Magistrate Judges in various capacities, including but not limited to committee work and continuing legal education.  In fact, the Magistrate Division recently provided leadership to the Idaho State Bar as the Honorable Michael Oths served three years as the first Magistrate Judge elected as an Idaho State Bar Commissioner.


The idea of celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Magistrate Division has been about four years in the making.  We first vetted the idea of celebrating our 50th anniversary with the members of the Magistrate Judges Association and received nothing but positive response and support.  We shared the idea with the Administrative Conference, the Administrative Office of the Court, and the Justices and received equally positive responses and offers of support. The next three years passed quickly and some of the original ideas we kicked around are no longer possible due to the outbreak of COVID-19 in our country and our state.  However, a big push forward happened during the last several months with new ideas and renewed enthusiasm and now, we celebrate.

I would like to thank all who encouraged the Magistrate Judges Association to bring this celebration forward and all of those who contributed their support time and effort to mark this anniversary.  Idaho Magistrate Judges, past and present, are a proud bunch.  They should be.  I would also like to thank all of the Magistrate Judges who mentored me along the way while I spent a truly enjoyable 13 years as a Magistrate Judge.  Happy Anniversary to my friends and colleagues.  The legacy you have built and continue to build deserves commemoration.

Hon. Rudolph E. “Rick” Carnaroli currently serves as a Sixth District Judge, appointed on January 5, 2018. He served as Sixth District Magistrate Judge, appointed October 1, 2004; co-founder and current Presiding Judge, Sixth District Veterans Court, 2012; Idaho Pro Bono Commission, 2008 to present; officer, Magistrate Judges’ Association, 2012-17; member of the Board of Commissioners of the Idaho State Bar, 2003-06; J.D. Willamette University, 1985; and B.A. Pacific University, 1980.

[i] Condensed from Justice for the Times, A Centennial History of the Idaho Courts, edited by Carl F. Bianci, Chapters 5, 6 and 7.

[ii] Rule 43a.(c) I.C.A.R. Administrative Conference.

[iii] Rule 1(a) and (b), Idaho Judicial Council Rules of Procedure.

Commissioner’s Message: What Will You Carry Into 2021?

By Kristin Bjorkman Dunn

At times it felt like it would never end.  The year that seemed to span a decade.  Yet here we are at the start of 2021.  Is that a worldwide collective sigh of relief I hear?

Turning the calendar to a fresh page and a new year reminds us of the infinite possibilities that lie ahead.  It brings with it the delight of untapped possibility.  Like the brisk air on a cold winter morning, the newness is invigorating.  What is around the corner for us in 2021?  Hopefully an effective vaccine, gatherings with those we hold dear, and an end to Zoom meetings.

How do you approach the new year?  Do you take stock of where your life journey has led?  Do you sit with pen and paper and jot down a trajectory for the year (and years) ahead?  Do you question if this will be the year you finally grow your own vegetables, take that French class, learn to paint, or explore topics you are passionate about?    Whatever your approach, there is something about a new year that brings energy and a sense of hope.

In this moment of renewal, maybe you will find a unique way to find space for a daily ritual in your life.  Perhaps you will connect with nature.  Idaho is filled with breathtaking scenery where you can treat yourself to the view or go on a hike.  Maybe you will carve out space to pause and to breathe and to be.  Perhaps you look for ways to expand your perspective or commit to slowing down and savoring each moment.  Maybe you will nurture your creative soul.  It could be the year that you decide to be a mentor, check up on someone, and bring encouragement. 

If you are in search for a way to stop work, change gears and connect with others and recharge, you might take inspiration from the Swedes.  The Swedes practice FikaFika is a cake and coffee break which natives insist is something of an art.  Fika refers to the pause – not just to enjoy the food and drink but to savor the moment itself.  It is a social phenomenon, a legitimate reason to set aside a moment for quality time.  Fika can happen at any time, morning as well as evening. And it happens not just once, but twice a day.  It can be savored at home, at work, or in a café.  It can be with colleagues, family, friends, or someone you are trying to get to know.  

Despite all its hardships, 2020 was the year we slowed down, took a breath, and found good in the little moments.  Moving into 2021, I will carry forward some of the moments from 2020 that seemed small, but made us feel big. I am referring to the feel good moments such as a walk in the park, reading more books, playing more board games, and the outpourings of empathy and generosity.  Perhaps one of the dearest of all these moments for me is the time I had with my two teens.  The pandemic brought me, my husband, and our son and daughter to the dining room table. It became our office and schoolroom.  The kids completed their school instruction and my husband and I worked our respective jobs.

When the opportunity came to take a break from this work at the dining room table, our family shared laughs and watched the occasional TikTok from which the inspiration came for a family Olympics that included bowling with toilet paper rolls and slurping food without using our hands.  Sometimes we took the dog for a walk around the neighborhood.  This precious time and connection was a silver lining of living in a pandemic world.  In 2021, I will continue to cherish however many more days the pandemic gifts to me with my two teens.

In addition to this gratitude that I carry forward into 2021, the words of Mahatma Gandhi, speak to me as I greet the new year.  He said, “It’s the action, not the fruit of the action, that’s important. You have to do the right thing. It may not be in your power, may not be in your time, that there’ll be any fruit. But that doesn’t mean you stop doing the right thing. You may never know what results come from your action. But if you do nothing, there will be no result.” However you welcome 2021, I hope you find your own space.  May you feel encouraged in the new year even if the landscape looks different than it ever has before.

Growing up, Kristin Bjorkman Dunn lived in several parts of Idaho. She called the towns of Salmon, Burley, and Moscow home. When she was finished with school, Kristin’s first job took her to Coeur d’Alene. Kristin now makes her home in Boise. In her spare time she can be found reading on her back patio, running on the greenbelt, or camping with her family.

Elephants in the Courtroom: A Day (or so) in the Life of a Judge of the Magistrate Division

By Hon. Jennifer L.K. Haemmerle

The phone rings at about 2:00 a.m. In response to the groggy, “Hello?,” comes one word… “Judge….” That’s all she needs to know; this is not a personal call but a request for a search warrant. Throughout the wee hours of the morning on any given day, weekend, or holiday, somewhere in Idaho a magistrate judge is up and awake conducting business as usual. In that regard, most parties don’t even know that a judge is already exercising judicial review and discretion over some issue that will affect his or her life.

“Got up, rolled out of bed, dragged a comb across my head”[i]

Any day can start with that call, which launches the Idaho magistrate judge into a day that will require her to respond to a vast variety of legal issues, civil and criminal, urgent and benign, that present themselves across the 44 counties and 95 benches that are the world of the judges of the Idaho Magistrate Division.

The Elephant in the Courtroom

The Idaho magistrate judge is the proverbial elephant encountered by the six blind men. As retold in the poem “The Blind Men and The Elephant” by John Godfrey Saxe,[ii] each man touched a different part of the elephant – the side, tail, trunk, tusk, ear, and knee. Based upon individual perception, each man determined that the elephant was a wall, rope, snake, spear, fan, or tree. The story illustrates that each person perceives his own truth based upon his own experience. In the same way, the party appearing before the magisterial elephant on one day may only perceive one facet of the magistrate bench, but the day holds many different encounters for the judge. To mix metaphors, the magistrate judge is a work horse, not a one trick pony.

First, consider that the blind men have never encountered an elephant before. So is the case with most people who find themselves in a courtroom. For many litigants, a case before the magistrate will be the first and often the only time that they are present in a courtroom. Even when the magistrate is hearing a matter in which the parties are represented by counsel who are well familiar with the courtroom, it is a new, challenging, and even intimidating experience for the party. The atmosphere is formal, the proceeding adversarial and unfamiliar, and there is an individual in a black robe (usually) who will render a decision that may affect how often a father sees his children, how much jail time a mother convicted of DUI must serve, or whether the decedent’s will was validly executed.

For each of these individuals, the magistrate judge is just that part of the elephant – the decider of custody, imposer of the sentence, and interpreter of the will. But these parts, and many more, are combined to make up the magistrate bench.

“Forget everything you have seen in television and the movies.”[iii]

During the week, the judge could start her daily docket with arraignments – the first appearance for dozens of defendants with misdemeanor charges arising from alleged violations of Idaho statutes or county and municipal code. Charges of every nature from misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter to a dog nuisance complaint must proceed through the same arraignment process.  Encounter any magistrate in the state, and she will be able to recite the penalty for dozens of criminal offenses.

 The rote recitation of rights and penalties is a far cry from the exciting pace of the TV crime drama. But this process, day after day, is critical to confirming constitutional rights – appointment of counsel for the indigent and setting of bond and pre-trial release.[iv] Hopefully, it is the thoughtful exercise of discretion on pre-trial release that prevents further crimes and protects people, including the defendant, from potential harm.

That same morning, the magistrate will also be the first judge to preside over the most serious of offenses in the state. Most citizens associate felony trials with district court but overlook that the majority of persons charged with felonies first appear before the magistrate. Sometimes that felon appears in court based on the very search warrant authorized by the magistrate in the middle of the night. It is not unusual that the only evidentiary hearing in a felony case is the preliminary hearing before the magistrate. A well heard preliminary hearing by a magistrate judge may help counsel focus on issues for resolution before the district court.

For many individuals, these appearances on infractions, misdemeanors, and felonies may be the first time they have been in a courtroom. It is often the first time they have encountered the protections of due process that are afforded to all of us under the Constitutions of the United States and the State of Idaho. For those who come before the magistrate for criminal proceedings, the judge starts out as the solid side of the elephant – the wall that stands firm to ensure constitutional rights are afforded to them.

“My object all sublime, I shall achieve in time – to let the punishment fit the crime”[v]

As part of the criminal docket morning, the magistrate judge moves to the tusk of the elephant. When considering the important task of imposing a criminal sentence, the judge must be keen in discernment and firm in conviction. Fortunately, the criminal sentencing and attendant interaction with the public gives the magistrate an opportunity to be more than just the judge who imposed a sentence. For many judges, the criminal sentencing docket is also the opportunity to provide tools, support, and encouragement as well as the sharp end of punishment when appropriate.

Whatever tools the magistrate judge choses, the ultimate goal at sentencing is to protect society and guide the defendant back onto the path of a law-abiding citizen.

“A hundred suspicions don’t make a proof”[vi]

On criminal law day, the magistrate will also preside over “motions to suppress.” Magistrates issue decisions that inform and shape the interpretation of search and seizure laws in the state, which have lasting and reverberating effect. The magistrate’s ruling on a suppression issue is often the rope that reigns in arbitrary police conduct or confirms that law enforcement’s detention of a defendant was supported by facts and the applicable constitutional standards. A cool and calculated ruling on a motion to suppress is essential for constitutional protections guaranteed to all citizens.

The docket of a magistrate judge, like the elephant’s trunk, is versatile and diverse. Administrative rules list an expansive case load assigned to the jurisdiction of the magistrate judge.[vii] Jurisdiction spans every element of the human condition from mental health to housing and from divorce to death. Collections, custody, juvenile proceedings, jury trials, drinking and driving, probate, and paternity are all in the magistrate judge’s bench docket. During any given lunch break, the magistrate turns her attention to the ever-present Odyssey queue (the “Q”). A scroll through the Q may reveal orders for suspension of driving privileges in “refusal” hearings, default proceedings in collection actions, requests for scheduling conferences and trial settings,  orders and letters for the probate of wills, and reports to review in guardianship cases. Immediately after dealing with the Q, the magistrate is prepping for the next hearing, maybe an eviction trial, small claims case, or divorce. The judge often wonders if all will be accomplished by the end of the day.

“There is no such thing as an open and shut custody case.”[viii]

Family law can present the greatest of challenges for the magistrate. Most family law judges and attorneys concur with the opening lines of Anna Karenina, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”[ix]  To be sure, most families in domestic relations cases, with guidance from court and counsel, resolve their differences and move forward amicably and with respect. It is a minority of cases that present the emotionally charged and legally challenging issues that require litigation. But those cases, when before the judge, demand full attention. The family law day for the judge will include temporary custody and support orders. Jurisdictional challenges under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) invite the intriguing prospect of a phone call to the judge in another state to discuss the merits of competing jurisdictional challenges.

Any family law day can also start with hearing civil protection orders. The protection of children and adults who have been victimized and controlled by domestic violence or stalking is a paramount concern to the court. But such protection must be within the scope of the law. The magistrate judge must be able to explain to a frustrated and agitated applicant why the law does not provide relief in his or her situation.

In the same day, the judge may hear a trial on separate property tracing from a comingled stock account, request for spousal maintenance, the determination of how to divide the family holiday decorations, or permission to relocate with a child to another state. For a brief and focused period of time, the magistrate becomes an expert on that family. The judge then digests the facts and applies those facts to law, which vests the judge with wide discretion. The Solomon-like approach to cut the baby in half is not available in practice when addressing custody or the division of property. When the judge leaves her office at the end of the day, she hopes she exercised her discretion well, discerning the best interests of the child and equitable division of the assets.

“To listen well is as powerful a means of communication and influence as to talk well.”[x]

Almost without exception, litigants believe that being listened to is as important or more important than the outcome of their litigation experience. This is particularly true for self-represented litigants. A party with an attorney can count on his attorney to explain the proceeding before, during, and after the hearing. A self-represented litigant must rely on his own exchange with the court at a hearing. Confirming that a judge understands, but disagrees, with the position of a party helps that party and the judge move through the process. People have a sort of ownership in the magistrate court; it is the people’s court.  The magistrate judge gives dignity and humanity to the people before her by taking the time to listen and explain the rule of law.

In Idaho, the magistrate probate docket is truly the “cradle and grave” practice. TV shows aside, the terms “people’s court” and “family law” move into a different realm when the judge must address long simmering issues that probate can present. Decedent’s estates, wills, trusts, guardianships, and conservatorships fall under the probate code. Most people know only one thing of probate – it is something to avoid. But for magistrate judges, probate is a rich area of the bench full of human drama, surprise, and emotion.

“Death is not the end. There remains the litigation over the estate.”[xi]

A magistrate with a probate docket for the day may be required to assess testamentary capacity or address the validity of a handwritten will. The judge that hears a probate dispute one day will next decide whether grandparents are entitled to appointment of guardianship for their grandchild. There is satisfaction in helping parents of a young man with developmental disabilities attain guardianship for their son and in measuring the limitation appropriate for the exercise of that guardianship.

Attendant with the probate code and its dealings with our mortality are the adoption statues. In these rare moments, the court is part of the creation of a family. Adoptions are often the most rewarding part of a magistrate’s day.

On the other hand, the saddest and hardest of days come a few chapters apart in the same code book, as magistrates are also called upon to preside over the Child Protection Act cases. These cases may end in litigation over termination of parental rights, the weightiest of cases a magistrate may hear. There are also good days when a magistrate can dismiss a case after the parents have taken the steps in their case plan to learn skills for protection of their child.

The magistrate judge’s service in the protection of society does not end with the bench and the clock. Before or after regular court hours, many judges preside over treatment courts. Treatment courts, including DUI courts, drug courts, mental health courts, and domestic violence courts are designed to help identify, address, and improve or resolve the underlying social justice problems such as emotional trauma and mental health issues that bring a party into contact with the court system through criminal behavior. Some judges also have “attendance courts,” designed to help address social justice issues in families that may manifest when a child is not getting to school on a regular basis. In this regard, the judge and her court are like the tree that one blind man perceived the elephant to be. A strong trunk provides support and strength, and the branches reach out to cover many Idahoans who participate in such programs throughout the state.

The day for the magistrate ends with another visit to the Q. Many magistrates stay late into the evening working on decisions, preparing for the hearings in the day to come, reading briefs, confirming penalties, and reviewing affidavits. Once home, she makes sure her phone is by the bedside, waiting for the next call.

“I saw you from across the bar. Stay there.”[xii]

It would be remiss to not address the effect of coronavirus upon the day-to-day lives of the magistrate judges and the parties that appear before them.  Ask almost any judge, and she will tell you that she became a magistrate because she wanted to serve the people in the community. She will also tell you that interaction with the parties, counsel, and colleagues are the best part of the job.   The computer screen, while invaluable to move the court process forward during the pandemic, is simply no substitute for true interpersonal communication. We miss the attorneys, the parties, and the rich texture of the personal relationships in the Idaho bar.

But the magistrate judges are still here – stick around you may see one.

“I saw one once,” said Piglet.  “At least I think I did,” he said. “Only perhaps it wasn’t.”

“So did I,” said Pooh, wondering what a Heffalump was like.

“You don’t often see them,” said Christopher Robin, carelessly.

“Not now,” said Piglet. “Not at this time of year,” said Pooh.[xiii]

While the actual sighting in person of a magistrate judge may be a rare thing these days, there is no doubt that, like the heffalumps, we are around.

Hon. Jennifer L.K. Haemmerle is the Judge of the Magistrate Division for Blaine County, Idaho. Judge Haemmerle graduated from the University of Idaho in 1985 with a bachelor’s degree and in 1989 from the University of Idaho College of Law. Judge Haemmerle was appointed as a judge by the Fifth Judicial District Magistrate Commission in October 2014 and sworn in on January 2, 2015. She currently is a member of the Misdemeanor Sentencing Alternatives Committee and the Guardianship and Conservatorship Committee and still a Vandal.

[i] The Beatles, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, (Capitol Records 1990) (1967). 

[ii] John Godfrey Saxe, The Blind Men and the Elephant (1872).

[iii] Philadelphia (Clinica Estetico 1993).

[iv]  I.C.R 46, 46.2 (Bail or Release on Own Recognizance; No Contact Orders).

[v] Arthur Sullivan and W. S. Gilbert, The Mikado (1885).

[vi] Fyodor Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment (1866).

[vii] I.C.A.R 5, 5.1.

[viii] Kramer vs. Kramer (Columbia Pictures 1979).

[ix] Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina (1878).

[x] John Marshall, former Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court.

[xi] 8 The Collected Works of Ambrose Bierce 365 (1911).

[xii] Internet MEME, “#Social Distancing Pick Up Lines” (2020).

[xiii] A. A. Milne, Winne-the-Pooh (1926).

2021 Regular Idaho Legislative Session Information

Monday, January 11, 2021, the First Regular Session of the Sixty-sixth Idaho Legislature convened. For more information about the 2021 Regular Legislative Session, click HERE.

Idaho Supreme Court Case Management System Upgrade Jan. 15-16

ATTENTION: An upgrade of the Court’s case management system will impact the availability of iCourt File and Serve from Friday, January 15, 6:00 p.m. to Saturday, January 16, 2021 8:00 p.m.

If you are initiating a new case your filings will reach the clerk’s review queue and be processed as normal.  If, however, you attempt to file into an existing case during this time frame you will receive an error message until the upgrade is completed.