The officers of the court are persons assembled at the court to administer justice. They include the judge, who is the principal officer of the court, the lawyers, the clerk of the court, the sheriff, the marshal, the bailiff, and possibly a constable or court officer.


A judge may be elected or appointed. Judges in the federal judiciary, with the exception of the judges for the Article I courts, are appointed for life by the president with the advice and consent of the Senate. Candidates for the federal judiciary are cleared through the office of the Deputy U.S. Attorney General, who receives reports of each candidate from the FBI and the American Bar Association. The Senate Judiciary Committee then conducts hearings on the nomination and makes a recommendation to the full Senate.

There are five methods of selecting judges in the states. The leading method is selection by partisan election, often following nomination at party primaries or conventions. Slightly less common is the nonpartisan election. The remaining states use either elections by the legislature, gubernatorial appointments, or the Missouri Plan. The Missouri Plan, so called because of its place of origin, was designed to overcome the weaknesses of the elective system. It permits the governor to select a judge from a list of nominees recommended by a special commission but also requires the judge to be voted on in a public referendum after serving a period of time.

At trials and hearings the judge presides and rules on issues occurring during the trial. In jury cases, the judge presides over the selection of the jury and instructs the jury concerning the law of the case. The judge may also be called upon to rule on motions made before the start of the trial.

From the time the oath of office is taken, judges at all levels are bound to conduct themselves in an ethical manner and to adhere to a code of judicial conduct. A Model Code of Judicial Conduct was adopted by the American Bar Association in 1972 and was most recently amended in 1990. Its seven basic canons are as follows:

  1. A judge should uphold the integrity and independence of the judiciary.
  2. A judge should avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all activities.
  3. A judge should perform the duties of office impartially and diligently.
  4. A judge may engage in activities to improve the law, the legal system, and the administration of justice.
  5. A judge should regulate extra-judicial activities to minimize the risk of conflict with judicial duties.
  6. A judge should regularly file reports of compensation received for quasi-judicial and extra-judicial activities and of monetary contributions.
  7. A judge or a candidate for judicial office should refrain from political activity inappropriate to judicial office.

Some states, such as New York and California, have adopted the Model Code with some modifications as state law. Violation of the canons of the Model Code and the state codes subjects a judge to disciplinary action.

State laws determine whether the court officers are referred to as judges or justices. In most states, as in the federal judiciary, the term justice is reserved for the members of the supreme appellate court.

Administration of the courts

The Chief Justice of the United States is the chief administrative officer of the federal judiciary. As the title implies, he or she is not merely the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, but the Chief Justice of the entire United States. Each federal court of appeals and district court has a chief judge. With the assistance of a circuit executive, the chief judge of a circuit administers most of the work of the court of appeals. The chief judge of a federal district court usually takes responsibility for most of the administration of that court. However, chief judges do not have authority over their fellow judges in rendering case decisions. In deciding cases, the authority of chief judges is the same as that of any other judge.

Chief justices of the state supreme appellate courts, depending upon the language of the state constitution, may or may not be the chief judicial officers in the state. As chief justices, however, they do have influence over the administration of the entire court system through the supreme appellate court’s superintending or rulemaking power. They are also responsible for the administration of the appellate courts.

Chief judges of intermediate appellate courts are responsible for the administration of those courts according to the constitution, statute, or court rule describing their responsibilities. Within the power given it, each court establishes rules to assist in the administration of the court.


Attorneys are also officers of the court. They are responsible for the preparation, management, and trial of their clients’ cases. Like judges, they are held to a code of professional conduct. The Model Rules of Professional Conduct, adopted by the American Bar Association in 1983 and regularly amended, seek to guide the attorney in the conduct of his or her various roles in relation to clients, the court, the public, and society in general. If a lawyer is found guilty of violating these ethical standards, he or she is subject to discipline, including reprimands, fines, suspension, and even disbarment. Most states have adopted the Model Rules with some modifications as state law.

Other court personnel

Other officers assigned to the court include the clerk and the sheriff. Theclerk schedules trials and officially records all court business. The clerk is responsible for maintaining the completeness, accuracy, and integrity of the court files, and in that capacity receives and files all court papers, including copies of summonses, complaints, answers, amendments, motions, and appearances, and also issues some papers, as summonses and writs, upon the order of a judge. In addition, the court clerk is responsible for the care of the jury. The sheriff, in addition to keeping the peace in the jurisdiction, serves summonses, complaints, and other court documents and carries out court orders. Some of the civil functions of the sheriff may be performed by a designated court officer.

There is a marshal for each federal judicial district and for the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. Marshals are appointed by the president, with the advice and consent of the Senate, to serve four-year terms. They and their deputies are primarily responsible for providing security within and outside the courtroom for federal judges, court officials, witnesses, and jurors. They are also responsible for (1) serving as marshals of the federal district court and of the federal court of appeals when those courts are sitting in the district; (2) executing all writs, processes, and orders issued under the authority of the United States, including those of the courts; and (3) paying the salaries and expenses of the U.S. attorneys and their staffs, and the marshals’ own staffs. Marshals and their deputies may also exercise the same powers as sheriffs of the state in which they are located.

The bailiff is responsible for the protection of everyone in the courtroom and for maintaining the dignity and decorum of court proceedings.

Courts of record also employ a court reporter, who is responsible for making a complete and accurate verbatim record of every word spoken during a trial or hearing before the court. This record may be taken down by sound recording or stenography, or by using a stenotype machine.

Additional court personnel may include law clerks and secretaries assigned to judges, a vast number of office workers in the office of the clerk of court, probation officers with their clerical staffs, and law clerks to the court reporters. In the federal district courts there are bankruptcy trustees with their staffs. The larger courts may also employ a number of messengers and librarians.