In Colonial Virginia the Justice of the Peace was in many respects the local governing authority. His powers ranged from the trial of criminal cases to the supervision of the building of warehouses and courthouses; the licensing of ferries; and the regulation of the legal and medical professions.
The powers of the Justice of the Peace gradually dwindled in favor of the courts and other local officials, until the Justice of the Peace system was finally abolished in 1974, and replaced with the Magistrate system.
The present day magistrate performs many purely clerical functions, but he also retains important judicial power. This article will examine the powers of the magistrate and the present role of the magistrate in the Virginia system of justice. [..]
Ronald Bacigal, The Virginia Magistrate System, 1 Va. B. Ass'n J. 17 (1975).