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Los Angeles County, CA November 2, 2010 Election
Smart Voter

What is a Superior Court Referee?

By Randy Hammock

Candidate for Judge of the Superior Court; County of Los Angeles; Office 28

This information is provided by the candidate
A Superior Court Referee is a "subordinate judicial officer," just as in the case of a Superior Court Commissioner. The initial difference between a Judge, Commissioner and Referee is in the manner in which they each obtain that position. Judges are either appointed by the Governor or they are elected (in a county-wide non-partisan election) to six year terms. Commissioners are elected by the superior court judges of that particular county. After their election as a Commissioner, they basically serve as an "at-will" employee of the Superior Court, as they are not subject to any re-election. Referees are appointed by the Presiding Judge, and they also serve as an "at-will" employee of the Superior Court. Both Commissioners and Referees are elected or appointed by an application and vetting process.

In Los Angeles County, the vast majority (if not all) of the Referees serve in the Juvenile Court. The Informal Juvenile Traffic Court is served exclusively by Referees. The Delinquency and Dependency Courts are served by approximately one-third by Judges, one-third by Commissioners, and one-third by Referees. There are about thirty (30) full-time referees currently serving in the Juvenile Court.

In the Juvenile Court, unlike the other divisions of the Superior Court (e.g., Civil, Criminal, Family Law and Probate), a stipulation between the parties is not required in order for a Referee to hear or decide any case (except in the limited case in the delinquency court when a trial is to be conducted on the merits of the petition). The Welfare & Institutions Code expressly authorizes Referees to hear and decide all cases in the Juvenile Court, subject to a right of rehearing before a juvenile court judge. For all practical purposes, though, this right of rehearing is rarely utilized by the parties, as they also have a right to directly appeal an order or decision of a Referee to the appellate courts.

In short, a Superior Court Referee in the juvenile dependency and delinquency courts essentially exercises the same day-to-day duties as a Judge in those courts. They are assigned a department, they maintain and control that department's calendar and cases, and they make all orders and decisions for the cases assigned to that department. Additionally, there is no distinction in the type or number of cases which are assigned to a particular department - whether that department is served by a Judge, Commissioner or Referee. All of the case assignments are treated in the same manner. Additionally, all subordinate judicial officers are required to wear judicial robes while in session and they are formally addressed as "Your Honor," and are essentially treated in the same manner of courtesy and respect afforded to a Judge. Of course, this does not suggest that Referees have all of the same powers, duties and obligations of a Judge. They do not. As a "subordinate judicial officer," a Referee is "subordinate" to a Judge in several aspects --primarily in the sense that a certain decisions and orders of a Referee are required to be reviewed and approved by a Judge, and they are always subject to a right of rehearing by a party before a Judge.

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