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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
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.