Magisterial District 05-2-42 News: Judge Leah Williams Duncan Esq.
In 1968, a new Constitution adopted in Pennsylvania established the Magisterial District Courts. However, If you’ve been paying close attention, you may have noticed that the position of District Justice or “Magistrate” no longer exists as we came to know it in the past.
In 2004, the name “District Justice” was replaced legislatively by the name “Magisterial District Judge” in all statutes and rules of court. Much like with the many transitions of the old “Star Lake Amphitheater” or the more recent transition from Heinz Field to Acrisure Stadium, accepting and adjusting to a new name or a new title can be somewhat difficult for Pittsburghers. But fear not, your neighborhood judges are just as hard at work as ever.
Pittsburgh’s Northside is actually served by two Magisterial District Judges (MDJs): Judge Jehosha Wright (District 05-2-40), serving the lower North side communities including but not limited to Manchester, California- Kirkbride, Spring Garden and the Mexican War Streets and myself, Judge Leah Williams Duncan Esq. (District 05-2-42), serving the upper North side Communities including but not limited to Brighton Heights, Summer Hill, Spring Hill, Charles Street Valley, Marshall-Shadeland, Perry North and Perry South, Observatory Hill and Northview Heights. Both Judge Wright and I took office in January of 2022 and we have been diligently serving on the front line of our court system since that time.
In our own district offices, MDJs preside over matters of landlord/tenant disputes, school truancy issues, certain summary criminal offenses, property citations and civil disputes up to a maximum of $12,000. As judges serving districts within the City of Pittsburgh, the Northside’s two MDJs also serve in the rotation of Pittsburgh Municipal Court Judges who preside over arraignments, Traffic Court, Housing/Non-Traffic Court, Domestic Violence Court, Child’s Court and Criminal Court (overseeing preliminary hearings on charges ranging from simple disorderly conduct to criminal homicide); all taking place at the Pittsburgh Municipal Court building located at 660 First Ave. and connected to the Allegheny County Jail.
Some interesting facts:
- There are 546 Magisterial District Judges in Pennsylvania and approximately 46 in Allegheny County (give or take a few vacancies).
- While each of the 46 MDJs takes a turn presiding over arraignment court monthly or once every other month, only the 13 MDJs serving districts within the city preside two to three times weekly in Pittsburgh Municipal Court (also known as “city court”). l There is currently only one woman (myself) assigned to the rotation of MDJs in the Pittsburgh Municipal Court. Prior to my arrival in January of 2022, there had been no woman MDJs assigned to city court for several years.
- Since arraignment court operates 24 hours per day, seven days per week (including holidays), senior or retired MDJs are most often tasked with the overnight shifts.
- The current system of rotating city Magisterial District Judges in the Pittsburgh Municipal Court has been in effect since 2005.
In addition to our work on the bench, Magisterial District Judges maintain the authority to officiate weddings, to notarize documents, to approve both arrest warrants and search warrants, and to issue Emergency Protection From Abuse orders. Outside of the courtroom, I enjoy maintaining my connection with the community by attending various committee meetings and neighborhood events, serving on the board of the Northside Christian Health Center and checking in on my Alma Mater, Pittsburgh Perry High School from time to time. In the very near future, I look forward to offering a series of legal workshops to help familiarize the people of our districts with basic legal process and court proceedings.
So, to answer the question, “Where have all the ‘Magistrates’ gone,” don’t worry, the name may have changed but your “Magisterial District Judges” are right here serving daily on the court’s front line. Stay tuned for more information concerning the roles, requirements and challenges of the Magisterial District Judge as well as personal and specific efforts to bring a new level of service and visibility to this vital, worthwhile and rewarding position.