Magistrates for each county are appointed for two-year terms by the Senior Resident Superior Court Judge upon nomination of the Clerk of Superior Court. Magistrates are officers of the district court, and they are subject to the supervision of the Chief District Court Judge in judicial matters.

In criminal matters, magistrates issue arrest and search warrants and set bail. They have authority to:
  • accept guilty pleas to minor misdemeanors and pleas of responsibility to infractions;
  • accept waivers of trial and guilty pleas to certain traffic littering, wildlife, boating, marine fisheries, state park recreation and alcoholic beverage violations; and
  • accept waivers of trial and guilty pleas in worthless check cases in which the check is for $2000 or less.
In civil matters, the magistrates may be assigned by the Chief District Court Judge to hear small claims cases, including summary ejectment (landlord's action to evict a tenant) cases. The magistrate is also authorized to perform marriage ceremonies, assign a year's allowance to a surviving spouse, administer oaths, verify pleadings and take acknowledgments (notarization) of instruments.

In Hillsborough, the Magistrate's Office is located on Court Street in the same building that houses the Orange County Jail. A satellite Magistrate's Office is located in Chapel Hill on Airport Road in the same building that houses the Chapel Hill Police Department. A magistrate is on duty in each office 24 hours a day.

The current magistrates in Orange County are Kate Colburn, Rex Frederick, Gerald Koelling, Loy Long, John Maddry, Tony Oakley, Seth Stephens, John Tompkins, and John Woodson.

During business hours, the telephone number is (919) 644-4690 in Hillsborough and (919) 929-5707 in Chapel Hill. After hours, the number is (919) 644-3050 in Hillsborough and (919) 968-2760 in Chapel Hill.