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In general, federal court litigators like their magistrates better than their judges, and for two reasons: speed and personality. Lawyers responding to the Law Journal‘s survey gave eight full-time magistrate judges an average rating of 8.32 on a 1-to-10 scale, compared with an average rating of 7.97 for district judges. [See survey results here.] While magistrate judges fared higher than district judges in all categories, the most marked difference was in promptness of decision-making (question 8), for which respondents graded magistrates almost a full point higher. Magistrates also got higher grades on ability to foster settlement (question 6) and on courtesy and respect for litigants (question 9). Indeed, when it came to demeanor, four of the eight magistrates graded earned a score of 9 or higher on a 1-to-10 scale, and one just missed the mark. Given that magistrate judges and lawyers tend to have a more intimate relationship than do district judges and lawyers, it should not surprise that people skills play such an important role in how lawyers assess these in-the-trenches jurists. Nor is it a coincidence that the three magistrate judges rated tops overall also had sparkling grades in the courtesy-and-respect category: Joel Rosen, Stanley Chesler and John Hughes. Those same judges did well in the other category that requires equanimity of disposition � fostering settlement where appropriate (question 6), which in New Jersey occupies a greater-than-average percentage of a magistrate judge’s time and energy. While the role of magistrates varies from one district to another, their role in brokering settlements has grown since enactment of the Civil Justice Reform Act of 1990, which required each U.S. District Court to come up with a plan to reduce delays, says Tom Hnatowski, chief of the Magistrate Division of the U.S. Judiciary in Washington. Each district is free to establish what role magistrates will take, and in some places, each district judge will have a different policy on duties of magistrate judges. New Jersey chose to adopt a consistent districtwide approach, encouraging magistrate judges to bring parties to settlement and permitting them to hear entire civil cases with the consent of both parties. “That’s more effective than a court that might have piecemeal preferences” on magistrates’ roles, Hnatowski says. Donald Robinson, who has appeared regularly before the state’s magistrate judges for decades, says out-of-state colleagues have commented to him on how the district’s magistrate scheme functions. “They all marvel at our magisterial system in New Jersey,” says Robinson, of Newark’s Robinson & Livelli. “In other states, magistrates have very little power and don’t do a heck of a lot and aren’t given much jurisdiction.” Still, lawyers responding to the survey drew distinctions in the quality of justice dispensed. The two magistrate judges faring the worst suffered from low scores in particular categories. G. Donald Haneke, who came in last, was labeled slow and plodding. He came up last in speed, both in moving along court proceedings (question 7) and in issuing rulings (question 8). Though Haneke, with 18 years on the bench, is New Jersey’s longest-serving magistrate judge, attorneys ranked him last in the category of ability to handle complex issues and cases (question 4). “It’s hard to tell whether he doesn’t grasp them or doesn’t want to grasp them,” says one northern New Jersey lawyer interviewed about the survey results. Haneke also ranked last in ability to foster settlement, with a 6.88. Yet, he scored a respectable 8.39 in courtesy and respect for litigants. By contrast, low marks for demeanor helped drop Ronald Hedges next to last in the rankings. While his colleagues all scored above 8 on question 9 (courtesy and respect), Hedges was off the scale with a 6.17. “Of all the magistrate judges I’ve been before, he’s probably the least courteous to counsel,” another northern New Jersey attorney says of Hedges. “I don’t think it’s intentional, but I think that’s how people perceive it.” Hedges’ grade of 6.91 in case-settlement skills (question 6) was second-worst only to Haneke’s 6.88. But lawyers who have appeared before him say Hedges paints a complex picture. “Judge Hedges is a very intellectual person, and in that sense, is probably more demanding than other judges,” says Matthew Boylan, a partner at Lowenstein Sandler in Roseland. “His demeanor in the matters I’ve had is what you would expect of a judge. I’ve never known him to be disrespectful � he may comment in what he believes is a humorous way but one which is not perceived as humorous to the person to whom it is directed.” William Maderer, a partner at Newark’s Saiber Schlesinger Satz & Goldstein, says Hedges can be “curt” but is evenhanded. “I would describe him as no-nonsense, and if you’re prepared and understand the procedure in federal court, you will get a fair shake. I think he doesn’t have much patience for people who are litigating for the sake of litigating.” The lawyer with the highest score for courtesy and respect to lawyers and litigants was Susan Davis (Wigenton), who had been a part-time magistrate since 1997 and became full time last year when Joel Pisano was elevated to the District Court bench. Davis topped the scale at 9.33 on question 9, but low scores in most other categories dragged her ranking down to third from the bottom. Davis, with the top-ranking demeanor, “is going to be a very good federal judge,” says one lawyer who has appeared before her a handful of times. “She just follows the right procedures, she’s courteous to counsel, she lets them make their arguments and she makes her decisions. She is relatively accessible on a pressing discovery dispute,” the lawyer says. Rosen, the top scorer in the survey, is known for his agreeable disposition, scoring 9.3 in courtesy and respect. Rosen scored highly in all categories, and especially in fostering settlement, issuing orders and moving proceedings without delay. “He has a very amiable demeanor and makes counsel feel very comfortable. He treats counsel professionally and courteously and he listens. But at the same time he expects the schedules he imposes to be adhered to,” says one southern New Jersey litigator. Indeed, Rosen is “on the forefront” in his imposition of fines for failure to comply with his discovery orders, says the lawyer, whose client received one such fine. Rosen goes “a little bit overboard on discovery sanctions,” the attorney says. Other magistrate judges have their supporters and detractors. Attorneys said Chesler is especially skilled in calendar management, has a keen intellect and finely honed skills in bringing parties to settlement (he scored an 8.73 on question 6). Seating parties around his conference table or even engaging in “shuttle diplomacy,” Chesler “has a great sense of how much pressure to put on. He knows what the hot buttons are,” says one attorney. Not withstanding his pleasant nature, Chesler is demanding when it comes to lawyers’ response to his inquiries toward settlements, says Randal Chiocca, a Parsippany attorney. “He puts an effort into it, and in turn is looking for an effort from counsel,” Chiocca says. In criminal matters, Chesler is sympathetic to defendants says Richard Zeitler, an Iselin solo practitioner who finds that other magistrates often are more favorable to the prosecution. Robert Kugler came in fourth overall despite a score of 8.59 on demeanor (question 9), lower than all but Hedges and Haneke. One lawyer called Kugler “gruff” but another, Howard Gross of Cherry Hill’s Gross & Gross, remarked on his keen intellect. “I like his ability to size up a case like a good chess player,” says Gross. “He was able to resolve a case with me within a month of filing suit. He was able to see the entire case in trial in his head and know it had to get resolved.” Magistrate judges all fared excellently in the category of freedom from bias based on race or ethnicity, with all except Hedges earning a 9 or higher. That former Magistrate Judges Jerome Simandle, Pisano, Dennis Cavanaugh and Stephen Orlofsky have been elevated to district judgeships reflects, in some measure, the high caliber of New Jersey’s magistrate bench. Those judges, as magistrates, were all rated highly in past Law Journal reports on the federal bench in New Jersey.

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