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Visiting Judges Help Courts Cope
At a time when judicial vacancies in the federal courts have approached 100, the caseload in the U.S. courts of appeals has increased 22 percent since 1992, and no omnibus judgeship bill has been passed by Congress since 1990, many courts are struggling to meet daily workload demands. A temporary solution, however, may be as close as the next circuit or district. According to Chapter 13, title 28 of the U. S. Code, the Chief Justice may designate and temporarily assign any Article III judge to another circuit. The Judicial Conference Committee on Intercircuit Assignments, with committee chair Judge James C. Cacheris (E.D. Va.) and members Judge Paul R. Michel (Fed. Cir.) and Judge Alfred M. Wolin (D.NJ), assists the Chief Justice in the discharge of his statutory responsibility for intercircuit assignments of judges.
Intercircuit assignments help circuits cope with special circumstances that could include protracted cases, a case in which all judges of the circuit disqualify themselves, or multiple cases transferred into the circuit. During 2001, a total of 166 intercircuit assignments were recommended by the Committee and approved by the Chief Justice. Ninety-one Article III judges participated in these assignments, a number that reflects the willingness of many judges to accept intercircuit assignments. Fifty-nine percent of the assignments approved during this period were to the courts of appeals. The majority of those assignments were for the Ninth and Eleventh Circuits. Of the 68 assignments approved for the district courts, 16 were for long-term assignments lasting more than six months.
Often, chief judges know of other judges who are able to help. Just as often, they ask the Committee for assistance and that’s when the Committee turns to the rosters of Article III judges who have expressed interest in taking intercircuit assignments.
Recently, Article III judges were asked to complete an on-line questionnaire that would help the Committee and courts in finding potential visiting judges. "The new questionnaire was developed by the Committee," said Cacheris, "to gather information that can be used when matching judges to courts, including the types of cases and matters each judge would be willing to handle."
After courts have exhausted the possibilities for assistance from within their own circuit, the chief judge of the circuit forwards a Certificate of Necessity to the chair of the Intercircuit Assignments Committee.
To improve timeliness in processing requests, the Committee recently approved changes to the operating procedures used in processing intercircuit assignment requests. Two changes that directly affect the courts are :
• When an intercircuit assignment is initially arranged, visiting judges should now prepare and submit the appropriate consent form to the chair of the Committee on Intercircuit Assignments. Copies of the forms are available are available on the Judiciary’s intranet.
• Clerks should now provide courtesy copies of the letter transmitting the Chief Justice’s designation of an assignment to their chief judge and, if applicable, to their chief circuit judge and circuit executive.
Senior judges may consent to their own assignments, but active judges require the consent of their chief judge of the circuit or special court. In both cases, the chief judge of the lending circuit or special court should be consulted to assure that the needs within the lending circuit or court are satisfied first. Once the paperwork is completed, visiting judges are authorized to perform judicial duties in the court for a specified period of time or for a case.
"The Committee urges courts to make use of visiting judges and is eager to assist courts to ensure that all judges know that help is available," said Cacheris, "and how to get that help when needed. We’re ready to assist in any way possible."
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