Judges: Doing Better by Themselves

The U.S. court in downtown Detroit has the familiar grey Government air. Lawyers match wits in somber courtrooms, jurors try to understand, defendants try to look innocent. But there is one big difference. Detroit's federal district (trial) court handles 90% of its criminal business without the help of a single U.S. commissioner—the federal magistrates who man the front line of federal criminal justice. Despite this fact, the Detroit court is among the best run in the U.S.

Elsewhere, 700 U.S. commissioners issue warrants, set bail; and determine whether there is probable cause to hold an accused person pending grand-jury action....