Your case might be heard by a “Court Commissioner.” Unlike Judges, who are elected employees of the State, commissioners are county employees. They are appointed by the Board of Supervisors and serve under the direction of the Presiding Judge.
Both parties must sign a written stipulation before a commissioner can hear the case. Occasionally parties will refuse to stipulate to a commissioner because they want their case heard by a “real” judge. Actually, most Dissolution of Marriage cases in many counties are heard by commissioners. As a result, a commissioner might have as much experience with dissolution cases as judges. For this reason, we encourage all of our clients to stipulate to commissioners, unless we feel the commissioner might be prejudiced against a particular client.
In Los Angeles County, the parties are required to sign a written agreement form that provides that the case can be heard by a commissioner. It should be noted that the form also provides that any future hearings in the case will be before that same commissioner. For example, if one of the parties requests a modification of the Judgment of Dissolution of Marriage years later, that request must be heard by the original commissioner, as long as that commissioner is still hearing cases in the same courthouse. For this reason, if there is any reason why you are reluctant to appear before the commissioner you should bring this to your attorney’s attention immediately.