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April 2007

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This article is in the news archives --- for current news go to the Third Branch News.


Courtroom Use Study at Mid–Point

Data collection in the on-going Federal Judicial Center study on courtroom use reached its midway point in April.

The study is collecting information on the use of courtrooms in 26 districts of various sizes nationwide. Half of the districts, the Wave I districts, recorded data for the period January 15 through April 15, 2007. The other half, the Wave II districts, are recording data for the period April 16 to July 15, 2007. For the list of the participating districts, see the November 2006 Third Branch newsletter. Note that the FJC recently removed the Eastern District of Louisiana from the study because recent filings have so altered the district’s caseload that it is no longer representative of the category of districts it was randomly selected to represent.

Working with six training specialists from the district courts, the FJC traveled to 56 divisions and taught over 1,000 court employees how to record the data for the study. The FJC developed a specialized application, based on Lotus Notes, to record the data.

“The application to submit data is designed to be convenient and reliable,” said FJC senior research associate Donna Stienstra, who along with senior research associate Pat Lombard, is directing the project. “We’ve tried to make it as easy as possible for staff to transmit to us the information we need—and that they have—about schedules and courtroom use.” Their success may be measured by the reams of data now streaming to the FJC from the Wave I courts. Some courts have even expressed interest in retaining the courtroom scheduling aspect of the software after the study is completed.

The study is collecting time-based data on the actual use of courtrooms; data about proceedings or ceremonies that might be held in a courtroom, but are held elsewhere; and data on the scheduling of events, whether they occur or not. Although several past studies have looked at courtroom usage in the federal courts, they generally relied on limited data. “In this study,” said Lombard, “we are collecting a broader spectrum of scheduling and actual use data than was ever collected in the past. Previous researchers and commentators have long been aware of the problems with earlier studies and have recommended collection of more comprehensive data. This may be the first study to look at the complete picture.”

“Cooperation by the courts has been superb,” said Jim Eaglin, Director of the FJC’s Research Division. “The courts appreciate that the FJC has designed a study to produce a fair and accurate assessment of courtroom use. We’re especially gratified by the number of judges who have taken the time to attend our presentations about the study.”

In a separate component of the study, the FJC will send a questionnaire this spring to every federal district and magistrate judge in all district courts. The questionnaire asks about the judges’ use of courtrooms, any experience they have had in sharing courtrooms, and the role courtrooms play in how judges manage their caseloads.

The FJC is conducting the courtroom use study at the request of the Judicial Conference Committee on Court Administration and Case Management (CACM). The committee undertook the study at the request of the Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. The FJC will submit its analysis of the data to the CACM Committee in October 2007.