Which is Better – A Judge or a Commissioner?

In the Vista California Superior Court there are three commissioners and judges hearing regular family law matters. The difference between a commissioner and a judges is a valid concern.
The Vista family support division, where Commissioner Penne McLaughlin sits, hears contested support obligation matters. Thus, any person who is subject to the influence of a family law court order will have an interest in the difference between the two different designations of judicial officers serving in the Vista family law courts.
First a judge acquires his position by election or appointment by the Governor. If appointed, he or she must be re-elected to their position every 6 years. On the other hand, the commissioners are attorneys knowledgeable in a particular area of law, such as family law, who are hired by the local court system to serve under the direction of the supervising judge with the idea their special skills will serve the public well  such as family law.
Everyone in the court system has the right to have their case heard by an elected judge. Therefore, when a party makes their first appearance before a commissioner they will be asked by the bailiff to sign an agreement to accept the commissioner. If they fail to sign their case will be referred to the supervising judge for family law and re-assigned to a judge. There is no real stigma attached to such a refusal. The reason for the refusal is not stated and parties are expected to refuse if for example they know the commissioner personally. The only detriment is the risk of delay to your case  on that day.
The sitting Family Law Judges are: David G. Brown, Micheal Washington, and Margo Lewis. Margo Lewis is known to have a background in family Law as a lawyer.
Hon. David G. Brown of Dept 17, enjoyed military and civil litigation careers prior to his appointment to the judiciary. His court room is decorated with many military pictures. Needless to say, he likes to follow the rules closely in an orderly fashion. If you want something out of the ordinary you would be well advised to be ready with the applicable law supporting your request. Its always wise to have your paperwork in good order before all judges. In Judge Browns case that paperwork deserves that one last extra review to insure you are in technical compliance with all rules of court
The Hon. Micheal Washington is a relatively new judge who was both a lawyer and part-time professor at Cal Western and Thomas Jefferson law schools in San Diego. His reputation as a new family law judge is good.
Commissioner Patti C. Ratekin sits in Dept. 19 who has established herself as a legend in her own time. Before her appointment, Com. Ratekin was a court clerk who worked and attended law school as a single parent supporting her children. She practiced law as a family law attorney before she was employed by the courts as a commissioner. She has an enormous work ethic and is very sympathetic to the courts and is forever trying to facilitate the court system. Any litigant would be well advised to avoid any delay tactic. She is openly adverse to continuances. She has a lot of ideas help resolve the family law conflict and they are usually right on the money.
Commissioner William Y. Wood is a former district attorney. His background is in criminal law. His best area of expertise seems to be in domestic violence cases. Commissioner Wood tries very hard the letter of the law in family law. Now after a few years of experience he has gained a good handle on the ins and outs of family law.
Commissioners are paid a little less than the Judges however they have the benefit of not having to stand for election.
In conclusion who is better —a judge or a commissioner? Well that has to be judged in each case. Each seem to have their areas of expertise. Its been said that they will all come to virtually the same decision. After 40 years of practice I am not sure even the same judge will come to the same decision twice as the presentation is very important.
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1 reply
  1. Vlad Kroutik
    Vlad Kroutik says:

    So, I was in front Wood today, he was rude, interrupted, and since I self represent, he did not look at me when I address the court. I was never asked to accept him to hear my case, is this mistrial? What do I do? Thanks.

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