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.