Chief judge is a title that can refer to the highest-ranking judge of a court that has more than one judge. The meaning and usage of the term vary from one court system to another. While the term "chief judge" is used in some courts, other courts use terms such as "chief justice," "presiding judge," "president judge," or "administrative judge."
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United States courts of appeals
In the United States courts of appeals, the chief judge has certain administrative responsibilities and presides over en banc sessions of the court and meetings of the Judicial Council. The chief judge remains an active judge of the court hearing and deciding cases, but at his or her option may elect to take on a reduced caseload to provide time to perform administrative responsibilities.
In order to qualify for the office of chief judge, a judge must have been in active service on the court for at least one year, be under the age of 65, and have not previously served as chief judge. A vacancy in the office of chief judge is filled by the judge highest in seniority among the group of qualified judges. The chief judge serves for a term of seven years or until age 70, whichever occurs first. The age restrictions are waived if no members of the court would otherwise be qualified for the position. Unlike the Chief Justice of the United States, a chief judge returns to active service after the expiration of his or her term and does not create a vacancy on the bench by the fact of his or her promotion. See 28 U.S.C. § 45.
These rules have applied since October 1, 1982. The office of chief judge was created in 1948 and until August 6, 1959 was filled by the longest-serving judge who had not elected to retire on what has since 1958 been known as senior status or declined to serve as chief judge. From then until 1982 it was filled by the senior such judge who had not turned 70.
Lists of the judges who have served as chief judge of each of the courts of appeals can be found in the articles for the respective circuits, such as United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit.
United States district courts
In United States district courts with at least two judges, the chief judge has certain administrative responsibilities, including presiding over some meetings of the judges. The chief judge remains an active judge of the court hearing and deciding cases, but may take on a reduced caseload to perform administrative tasks. The qualifications for chief judge and the selection process are essentially the same for the district courts as well as for the courts of appeals. See 28 U.S.C. § 136.
In the U.S. state of New York, the judge that presides over the state's highest court, the New York Court of Appeals, is titled the "chief judge". Similarly, his or her fellow jurists on that court are titled "judges", while jurists who sit on lower courts are titled "justices". This is the reverse of usage in other states, where jurists who sit on the state's highest court(s) are titled "justices" and those in lower courts are titled "judges".