What Is A “Pro Tem” Judge & Why It’s Significant

The term, “Judge Pre Tempore” is a latin term and basically refers to one who presides over a factual dispute in place of another. To put in other words, a “substitute judge.” The impact of these types of cases to a criminal prosecution can vary depending upon how the presiding judge within the dui case jurisdiction chooses to utilize these judges. In Indiana, the laws related to the utilization of these individuals is rather flexible. Where some presiding judges will rarely if ever make use of such persons, others will have them brought on the bench far more extensively.

In most cases, the Pro Tem judge will be a lawyer from the community who will agree to preside over a court docket on a moment’s notice. Such an attorney will not uncommonly be a friend of the presiding judge or a lawyer who practices extensively within the specific court.

In more established use of these judges, a Pro Tem will be called upon in a more orderly fashion as the individual designated to hear cases when the judge will be either unavailable or to be part of the legal process itself. For example, such a judge may be assigned to hear most pre trial matters brought before the court that may carry little legal consequence as to the resolution of the factual dispute in question. The decided issue may simply be the scheduling and assignment of future court and trial dates. As a result, in more populous counties in Indiana, reasonable use of such individuals can have a positive effect on the efficient administration of justice. Where a Pro Tem is asigned to tend to basic administrative functioning of the court, the presiding judge has the ability to focus on more consequential matters such as the ruling on pre trial motions and review of legal briefs filed within other cases before the court.

More problematic and of substantial importance to defense lawyers of criminal cases in Indiana is and should be the use of such judges in matters related to the disposition of a client’s dui case. Depending upon the county and judge within the county, it is important for the defense attorney to have a firm grasp of the judicial philosophy of the presiding judge hearing a client’s dui case in regard to the use of pro tem judges. In my view, some presiding judges use pro tems far more responsibly and within the spirit of their intended use than others.

By point of reference, I recently concluded a trial with a pro tem empowered to hear the case. Through my knowledge of this particular individual I had made a determination that this jurist would be to my client’s advantage to rule on the case and therefore made no effort to remove the judge within prescribed time limits. This decision was significant, for in my opinion had this judge not been put in place I believe rulings in the matter may have been different with the presiding judge on the bench. The prosecutor had allowed the time limit to remove this pro tem judge lapse, eliminating his ability to demand that the presiding judge hear the case to his detriment as my client was found not guilty.

Within the above referenced example  it is essential to become aware of who will potentially be the final word on the dui case before the court. Not recognizing the reality that a presiding judge is not necessarily the ruling judge can become a costly decision for one not otherwise informed.