District justices preside over geographic boundaries known as magisterial districts. They are at the front lines of the Pennsylvania judicial system. Every criminal case - from summary to misdemeanor to felony, from traffic violations to murder - enters the judicial system before a district justice.
They set bail, do arraignments and preside over preliminary hearings. They hear summary offenses such as disorderly conduct, disturbing the peace, violations of the state game code, dog laws and local ordinances. They handle misdemeanor criminal cases and begin the process in serious felony cases.
They also handle small claims court and civil suits involving claims of up to $8,000.
District justices wear robes, sit on benches, impose fines and jail citizens, much like Common Pleas Court judges. They sought the name change to improve their image in the eyes of citizens, who sometimes are unsure about the nature of their authority.
An administrative order issued Friday by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court formally recognized the name change. It was passed by the General Assembly in November and signed by Gov. Edward G. Rendell.
"Regardless of their title, the commonwealth's 555 magisterial district judges remain the court of first impression of most Pennsylvanians - the most frequent point of contact between Pennsylvanians and the state judicial system," said Ralph J. Cappy, the state's chief justice.
The powers of district justices and their salaries - currently $64,669 - remain unchanged.
Ten district justices sit in the 39th Judicial District, which covers Franklin and Fulton counties.
They include, in Franklin County:
· Pentz, whose office covers the borough of Waynesboro and Washington Township.
· David Hawbaker, whose district covers Mercersburg borough and Warren, Peters, Montgomery and St. Thomas townships.
· Larry Meminger, who handles cases in Greene and South Hampton townships and Orrstown borough and the section of Shippensburg borough in Franklin County.
· Gary Carter, who handles Chambersburg borough.
· Richard Alloway, whose office takes in Fannett, Metal, Letterkenny, Lurgan and Hamilton townships.
· Kelly Rock, who presides over the new district covering Quincy and Guilford townships and Mont Alto borough.
In Fulton County:
· Brenda Knepper's district in the Fort Littleton office covers northern Fulton County.
· Wendy Mellott in McConnellsburg covers central Fulton County.
· Carol Johnson in Needmore covers southern Fulton County.