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Courtroom Study To Collect Array of Information
Nationwide, the federal Judiciary occupies over 500 buildings that contain at
least one courtroom. At Congress’ request, the Judiciary will document how often
those courtrooms are in use, and this month court staff begin training on how to
record that data.
“The presumption has been that courtrooms are
over-built,” said Judge John R. Tunheim (D. Minn.), chair of the Judicial
Conference Committee on Court Administration and Case Management (CACM). “But
that presumption relies on anecdotal information from random checks to see which
courtrooms are dark. There’s really no good, accurate data
The study won’t collect information on all courtrooms, just a
statistical sample large enough to allow generalizations on how courtrooms are
commonly used, according to Donna Stienstra, senior research associate at the
Federal Judicial Center (FJC). Stienstra, along with senior research associate
Pat Lombard, is directing the project.
The FJC, asked by the CACM to do
the study, will collect data in 27 districts. Each district will record
information about events that actually occur or are scheduled to occur during a
3-month period. Half of the courts will record data during Wave 1—January 15
through April 15, 2007—and the other half will record data during Wave 2—April
16 through July 15, 2007.
“We asked the FJC to perform the study,” said
Tunheim, “because they have a deep understanding of the Judiciary and the work
we do, the institutional expertise to design a study to get accurate data—and no
preconceived ideas on what the data will show.”
were selected through a computerized random draw; the sample includes a district
from each circuit except the District of Columbia.
“Large, medium and
small district courts, with different facilities and caseload demands are
represented,” said Lombard. Bankruptcy courts and courts of appeals are not part
of the study.
Three additional districts, including Tunheim’s, were
selected as case study districts because of unusual circumstances in the
district that bear on the question of courtroom use. Two courts have
arrangements for the sharing of courtrooms because of courthouse renovation
work, and the other shares courtrooms by long-standing tradition.
question of courtroom use was raised by Congressman Bill Shuster (R-PA), chair
of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, Subcommittee on
Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management, during a
hearing last year on the Judiciary’s ability to pay for current and future space
needs. A space utilization policy had been suggested as a way to reduce courts’
space requirements, but to date, neither the Judiciary nor Congress has had
comprehensive data available for policy and planning purposes.
study has been designed to collect accurate, detailed information about all
activity that occurs in courtrooms,” said Stienstra.
Three types of
time-based data about courtrooms will be collected: data on the actual use of
courtrooms, which is an objective measure of the time a courtroom is actually
occupied by anyone, for any reason, including use of the courtroom for
ceremonies, educational outreach and proceedings held by state court judges;
data about proceedings or ceremonies that might be held in a courtroom, but are
held elsewhere, such as pretrial conferences in a judge’s chambers or
naturalization ceremonies in a jury assembly room; and data on the scheduling of
events, whether they occur or not, such as a trial that is cancelled because of
a settlement or plea agreement. Though a settlement or plea may leave a
courtroom empty and thus technically not in use, the vacated time slot may have
occurred too late for the courtroom to be available for other proceedings. Time
spent in courtrooms will be collected for active district judges, senior
district judges, magistrate judges and visiting judges, and for official use by
people such as attorneys and court staff.
Software based on the Lotus
Notes application has been developed by the FJC to record the data. Starting in
November 2006, the FJC is conducting on-site training of court staff on how to
collect and enter the information using the software.
Procedures will be
in place to ensure data quality. “We’ll monitor data on a daily basis,” said
Lombard, “to verify and to look for inconsistencies. We’ll compare study data
against routinely collected court data. We’re also hiring independent,
unidentified data collectors to record courtroom use in the study districts at
random times and locations.”
In addition to information on the use and
scheduling of courtroom space, every district and magistrate judge in all 94
district courts will receive a questionnaire asking about the role courtrooms
play in managing their caseloads. The questionnaire also will seek judges’ views
on how changes to current courtroom use policy might affect caseload management.
Project directors Stienstra and Lombard expect to present an interim
report on the study’s findings to CACM by the fall of 2007, followed by a final
report in the spring of 2008.
Districts Selected for the Courtroom Use Study
|Districts Recording Data from January 15 – April
15, 2007 |
Minnesota (case study)
New York Western
|Districts Recording Data from |
April 16 – July 15,
New York Southern (case
South Dakota (case