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Director's Message

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Director's Message - James C. Duff

James C. Duff - Director, Administrative Office of the United States Courts

The Judiciary enters 2011 reeling from the violent death of one of its devoted public servants. Chief Judge John M. Roll, an exemplary and beloved judge, was killed along with five others on January 8, 2011, in Tucson, Arizona. We may not be able to comprehend why such senseless acts occur, but in our efforts to try to understand them, we should never lose recognition of and appreciation for the enormous sacrifice and dedication of our colleagues in service to their country. Last year at this time, we mourned the loss of Court Security Officer Stanley Cooper, who was killed on post in the federal courthouse in Las Vegas, Nevada, while protecting the courts and the public. This year, we witnessed an act of indescribable heroism as Judge Roll shielded another victim with his body during the shooting rampage in Tucson and lost his life doing so.

As we reflect on our accomplishments and challenges in 2010, it is remarkable how Chief Judge Roll was involved in so many important administrative issues facing the Judiciary–from workload and vacancies to courthouse construction needs and cost-containment efforts to Congressional outreach. It is all the more remarkable because of the caseload he and his colleagues carried in one of the busiest district courts in the United States. For Chief Judge John Roll, as for many of you in the Judiciary, there were no "days off." Among his many accomplishments this past year, he secured the construction of a much-needed new courthouse in Yuma, Arizona, by convincing the General Services Administration (GSA), Congressional offices, and the Office of Management and Budget to reprogram economic stimulus funds. It is fitting that Arizona Senators John McCain and Jon Kyl have introduced a bill to name the new courthouse in Yuma in Chief Judge Roll's honor. We will miss John greatly as a dear friend and colleague, and we were privileged to work with him.

The administrative challenges confronting the Judiciary in 2010 involved many of our most crucial resources—judges and courthouses. The challenges included: increased workloads in many districts with unfilled vacancies and growing departures of judges; and increased needs in some districts for new courthouses or renovations, the funding for which was slowed by unfounded pressures to require all judges to share courtrooms in new courthouses. These particular problems are not entirely in our control to remedy, but rather are primarily controlled by Congress. We will continue to work with the new Congress in 2011 to resolve these resource needs.

As we enter an austere budgetary period, our internal control mechanisms, cost-containment efforts, and administrative diligence, while always important, will only grow in significance.

—Administrative Office Director James C. Duff

In contrast, many of our administrative successes in 2010 involved matters that were largely in our own control. They included: continued cost containment, such as reducing our rent; improving relations with GSA; enhancing our internal auditing functions; adopting a Strategic Plan to shape the course for the Federal Judiciary; improving and enhancing our electronic public access service, PACER; and implementing a very successful exchange program between employees at the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts (AO) and the courts. We remain hopeful that our good-faith efforts to manage costs and to become more efficient in those administrative matters we control will help us obtain needed relief from Congress in those funding matters that it controls.

As to our judgeship needs, it has been more than two decades since Congress passed a comprehensive judgeship bill. During that time, workloads have increased dramatically in some districts, particularly in our border courts. The problems in many of those courts are exacerbated by the number of judicial vacancies. In his 2010 Year-End Report, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., encouraged Congress to fill the vacancies, particularly in courts that are most severely burdened.

The number of judicial vacancies continues to grow at a more rapid pace than normal. Nine judges left the bench in 2010 for more lucrative positions. This is among the highest levels of departures in our history. The explanation is simple: inadequate salary. The Judiciary certainly recognizes the austere economic conditions the country faces and has postponed its effort to obtain salary restoration accordingly. But this is an issue that must be addressed as soon as the economy rebounds. In the meantime, we will seek a modest adjustment from Congress to provide judges with the same General Schedule COLA that almost all other federal employees receive.

Our courthouse construction needs have been delayed by some in Congress who are pushing for courtroom sharing by all judges in new courthouses. In response to those efforts, we are very grateful for the strong and informative testimony of Judge Michael A. Ponsor, Chair of the Judicial Conference Committee on Space and Facilities, and Judge Julie A. Robinson, Chair of the Committee on Court Administration and Case Management. They explained in precise and detailed testimony before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts and Competition Policy our current sharing practices and why trial judges must have readily available courtrooms. Judge Robert Conrad, Jr., of Charlotte, North Carolina, also provided specific and compelling examples of the problems his court experiences when judges are required to share courtrooms. The Judiciary also is particularly grateful to GSA Public Buildings Commissioner Robert A. Peck, who testified in support of the Judiciary's position on courtroom sharing and in support of the past courthouse construction practices of GSA. Congressman Henry C. (Hank) Johnson, Jr., has also been an effective advocate for the Judiciary's position on this issue, and we look forward to working with him in the new Congress. The Judiciary has demonstrated its commitment to efficiency in courtroom use by adopting certain sharing standards for senior district judges and magistrate judges and is reviewing courtroom use by bankruptcy judges. But as experienced trial judges know, across-the-board sharing of courtrooms by all active judges in new courthouses will not work.

This past year also included significant legislative accomplishments for the Judiciary, which are outlined in the report. Most notably, Congress reduced the disparity between penalties for crack and powder cocaine, and passed courts improvement legislation. Both bills were long sought by the Judiciary.

On other fronts, we are particularly pleased with the staff exchange program between the AO and the courts as it proves to be beneficial to both the courts and the AO. Our working relationship with the courts has improved greatly in recent years thanks to the efforts of many of you. Another example of the strengthened relationship is evidenced in our improved financial management and auditing functions. The courts have been instrumental in helping us improve these services. As we enter an austere budgetary period, our internal control mechanisms, cost-containment efforts, and administrative diligence, while always important, will only grow in significance.

Our careful stewardship and administration of the Judiciary are essential to maintaining our independence. We at the AO are grateful for your service both on the bench and in the administration of the Judiciary, and we are honored to support your work.

The remainder of this Annual Report, prepared by the staff of the AO, provides details of our many administrative accomplishments this past year.

Jim Duff