Some San Jose divorce, custody and/or support matters are assigned to a department where a judge is presiding, while other matters are heard in front of a commissioner. So, what is the difference between the two, and is one better than another?
A judge is elevated to the bench either by election or by appointment by the Governor. A judge must also be a licensed attorney to be eligible to serve on the bench. A commissioner, on the other hand, is an individual who is hired by the court to help out with a judge’s case load. Commissioners must also be licensed attorneys to be eligible to serve as a commissioner. Often, Commissioners work very closely with judges, and judges consider them essential for managing the work of the court.
Commissioners can perform judicial duties involving the determination of contested issues only upon the stipulation of the parties, but with that stipulation they have the same powers as judges. That means that the commissioner has the same power as a judge to hear a court case and make legally binding judgments. Per California Code of Civil Procedure Section 259, “[s]ubject to the supervision of the court, every court commissioner shall have power to do all of the following: