Courts: Philadelphia's Magisterial Mess

The front line of Philadelphia justice is manned by 28 magistrates, who handle traffic violators, hear civil cases involving $100 or less, summarily try minor criminals, and make the key decision on whether to hold suspects in serious crimes. Despite these responsibilities, only one magistrate is a lawyer, only nine are high school graduates, four never went beyond grade school, and one dropped out in sixth grade. Almost uniquely among modern U.S. cities, Philadelphia retains the magistrate's job as a payoff for ward politicians—and though the post pays only $12,500 a year, such are the hidden benefits that reformers...

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