Early in his judicial career Judge Magnis was very concerned about the quality if indigent defense delivered to defendants in Dallas County. As a veteran public defender he was very familiar with criminal justice in Dallas and the devastating effects of poor legal representation on defendants and the community. He was also concerned that attorneys were not being appointed fairly and in compliance with Texas law. During his first term Judge Magnis spearheaded a new attorney appointment system in Dallas County that required the courts to comply with the law and appoint attorneys fairly and transparently. He was able to work closely with the Dallas County Information Technology Department to develop a software appointment system that assured fairness and transparency and further he was able to persuade the other judges in Dallas County to adopt the system. Incidental to significantly increasing the quality of indigent defense in Dallas, this effort assured that Dallas County remained in compliance with all State requirements for continued supplemental funding for indigent defense.
In 2012 Judge Magnis was honored to be unanimously elected by his 16 colleagues to the position of Presiding Judge of Dallas County Criminal District Courts. In this role he participated in all aspects of the administration of justice in the Dallas County Criminal Courthouse. Judge Magnis worked closely with the District Clerk, District Attorney, Dallas Sheriff, defense bar and other agencies to improve the delivery criminal justice to Dallas County. In addition to this leadership role, Judge Magnis chaired the search committee that hired the Director of Dallas County Adult Community Supervision and reviewed and approved the $40,000,00 budget and Community Supervision Plan for that agency.
During his tenure in this position Judge Magnis was able to pass the following policy changes:
- Recommended surety bond amounts assessed at initial arraignment were decreased for low level non-violent first offenders. Diverting low risk offenders out of jail saves money and is known to reduce recidivism.
- Recommended surety bond amounts assessed at initial arraignment for family violence offenders were increased. Continued and sometime lethal violence is known to occur during this post arrest period. Increasing these bond amounts gives victims time to access services and shelter and for appropriate controls to be placed on defendants.
- All the courts agreed to give preference to cases involving vulnerable victims including family violence and child abuse cases in order to resolve those cases quickly but fairly.
- Timelines given to police agencies to prepare and file serious violent cases were expanded to be more consistent with other counties throughout Texas. In addition to allowing proper preparation to file cases, law enforcement is not forced to file cases prematurely which might otherwise be dropped.
As an innovator Judge Magnis has worked tirelessly over the years to develop smart and effective problem solving courts in Dallas County. His work in this area has brought him into contact with community leaders and service providers throughout the county. He was recently asked to bring together stakeholders, including law enforcement, prosecutors, the defense bar, victim advocates, as well as other city and county leaders to develop a fast track system to target high risk and high lethality domestic violence offenders from dispatch to disposition. Judge Magnis used his leadership abilities to convene this group but because of his need to maintain judicial independence handed the leadership of this group to others. This task force continues to work to improve criminal justice and protect vulnerable members of our society.
Because he is computer savvy, Judge Magnis often works with other county departments to improve information technology systems. He is currently working as the as the felony courts’ user representative in the development of a new case management system for adult criminal cases in Dallas County. In this capacity Judge Magnis is working with the software development team as well as all other departments in Dallas that are involved in the criminal justice system. He hopes that this desperately needed new case management system will improve both the quality and efficiency of criminal justice in Dallas.