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Judicial Conference Condemns Courtroom Sharing Proposal

March 14, 2000

Contact: David Sellers, 202-502-2600

The Judicial Conference of the United States today voted to "strongly condemn the unilateral efforts of the Office of Management and Budget to impose a courtroom sharing policy on the judicial branch, as an unwarranted and inappropriate intrusion into the constitutionally mandated independence of the Judiciary."

At its biannual meeting today in Washington, the Conference also voted to rescind the December 1999 decision of its Financial Disclosure Committee to withhold the release of judges' financial disclosure reports where the requester indicates the reports will be posted on the Internet. The Conference also voted to instruct the chairs of its Codes of Conduct, Financial Disclosure, and Security and Facilities Committees to consider proposed legislative amendments to the Ethics in Government Act that would balance the public's need for information on judges' financial interests with judges' security needs.

In its consideration of courtroom use, the Conference Committee on Security and Facilities noted that historically, federal and state trial courts have allotted a courtroom for each active judge. The ready availability of a courtroom is essential to a judge's ability to perform his or her judicial duties. However, the President's fiscal year 2001 budget request assumes that three judges will share two courtrooms in all future federal courthouses. The immediate effect of OMB's action is the elimination of 27 out of 97 planned courtrooms in seven new courthouse projects. A list of the affected courthouses is attached.

The Director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts has statutory responsibility to "provide" accommodations for the courts, and the General Services Administration (GSA) is "authorized and directed" by Congress to provide the accommodations requested by the AO Director. OMB does not have authority to determine the number of courtrooms to be provided in a courthouse or over the underlying policy governing courtroom utilization. Congress specifically assigned these responsibilities to the circuit judicial councils, which have authority to "approve" court accommodations as necessary.

Following consideration by several Judicial Conference committees and two studies on courtroom utilization and case management, in March 1997 the Judicial Conference reaffirmed its policy of providing one courtroom for each active district judge. The Conference also provided guidelines to circuit judicial councils when considering the number of courtrooms to approve for senior judges who do not draw caseloads requiring substantial use of a courtroom.

In its March 2000 report to the Judicial Conference, the Committee on Security and Facilities said, "This Committee strongly objects to the unilateral action of OMB in superimposing its courtroom sharing policy as a requirement for funding current and future courthouse projects since it has neither statutory authority nor experience and knowledge of the federal courts."

In its consideration of judges' financial disclosure reports, the Conference today adopted a policy that states that while the appropriate Conference committees review the issue, when the Disclosure Committee receives a request for a judge's report that may result in dissemination to the public, the Committee will invite the judge to review the information contained in the report. If the judge believes it appropriate, the judge may request redaction of "personal and sensitive information that is otherwise confidential and could endanger the officer or other person if obtained by any member of the public hostile to the judicial officer." When the Disclosure Committee receives such a request, it will consult with the U.S. Marshals Service, and will grant or deny the judge's request after determining if the information sought to be redacted is not otherwise easily available to the public and could, if obtained by a hostile member of the public, endanger the judge or other person.

The Conference also decided today that on a permanent basis, the Committee on Financial Disclosure will implement procedures requiring judges who believe redactions to be appropriate before public dissemination, to request such redactions when the annual disclosure form is filed. In deciding whether to grant such a request, the Committee will follow the procedures specified above.

The Judicial Conference of the United States is the principal policy-making body for the federal court system. The Chief Justice serves as the presiding officer of the Conference, which is composed of the chief judges of the 13 courts of appeals, a district judge from each of the 12 geographic circuits, and the chief judge of the Court of International Trade. The Conference meets twice a year to consider administrative and policy issues affecting the court system and to make recommendations to Congress concerning legislation involving the Judicial Branch. A list of Conference members is attached.


 

Attachment A

 

JUDICIAL CONFERENCE OF THE UNITED STATES

 

March 2000

 

Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, Presiding

Chief Judge Juan R. Torruella
Judge Joseph A. DiClerico, Jr.

First Circuit
District of New Hampshire

 

Chief Judge Ralph K. Winter, Jr.
Chief Judge Charles P. Sifton

Second Circuit
Eastern District of New York

 

 

Chief Judge Edward R. Becker
Chief Judge Donald E. Ziegler

Third Circuit
Western District of Pennsylvania
Chief Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III
Chief Judge Charles H. Haden II
Fourth Circuit
Southern District of West Virginia
Chief Judge Carolyn Dineen King
Judge Hayden W. Head, Jr.
Fifth Circuit
Southern District of Texas

 

Chief Judge Boyce F. Martin, Jr.
Judge Thomas A. Wiseman, Jr.

Sixth Circuit
Middle District of Tennessee

Chief Judge Richard A. Posner
Judge Robert L. Miller, Jr.

Seventh Circuit
Northern District of Indiana

 

Chief Judge Roger L. Wollman
Judge James M. Rosenbaum

Eighth Circuit
District of Minnesota

 

 

Chief Judge Procter Hug, Jr.
Judge Judith N. Keep

Ninth Circuit
Southern District of California

 

 

Chief Judge Stephanie K. Seymour
Judge Ralph G. Thompson

Tenth Circuit
Western District of Oklahoma

 

 

Chief Judge R. Lanier Anderson
Chief Judge Charles R. Butler, Jr.

Eleventh Circuit
Southern District of Alabama
Chief Judge Harry T. Edwards
Chief Judge Norma H. Johnson

 

 

District of Columbia Circuit
District of Columbia

Chief Judge Haldane Robert Mayer

 

 

Federal Circuit

 

 

Chief Judge Gregory W. Carman

Court of International Trade

 

Conference Secretary: Leonidas Ralph Mecham, Director
Administrative Office of U.S. Courts

 


 

Attachment B

Courthouse Projects Included in the
President's FY 2001 Budget Request

Courthouse Courtrooms Requested Courtrooms Deleted by OMB
Los Angeles, California
33
9
Seattle, Washington
18
1
Richmond, Virginia
9
1
Gulfport, Mississippi
8
0
Washington, D.C.
9
4
Miami, Florida
16
8
Little Rock, Arkansas
12
4

Courthouse Projects Not Included in the
President's FY 2001 Budget Request

Eugene, Oregon
Buffalo, New York
Springfield, Massachusetts
El Paso, Texas
Mobile, Alabama
Fresno, California
Norfolk, Virginia
Las Cruces, New Mexico
Salt Lake City, Utah
Rockford, Illinois
Cedar Rapids, Iowa
Nashville, Tennessee
Erie, Pennsylvania
Savannah, Georgia

 

 

 

 

 

Prepared by: Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts
Office of Public Affairs, 202-502-2600