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Interview: Interview with Judge John R. Tunheim
Judge John R. Tunheim, of the U. S. Dis- trict Court for the
District of Minnesota, has served as chair of the Judicial Conference
Committee on Court Administration and Case Management since October 2005
Q: What is the jurisdiction of the Committee on Court Administration and Case Management (CACM)?
A: The Court Administration and Case Management Committee, as it name
implies, has one of the broadest jurisdictional grants of any Judicial
Conference Committee. As a result, it has been involved in governance
issues relating to court administration, such as the composition of
circuit councils, the combining of functions between district and
bankruptcy courts clerks’ offices and the role of the chief judge in
overseeing court operations. The Committee has jurisdiction over a
number of court operational areas such as clerks’ offices, Alternative
Dispute Resolution, attorney admission and discipline, miscellaneous and
filing fees, law books and libraries, records management, places of
holding court, court reporting and interpreting, and juries. The
Committee has been active in all these areas and in recent years has
reviewed and increased miscellaneous fees in a number of areas, trimmed
the budget for law books, promoted and encouraged the use of electronic
records, and recommended legislation to allow circuits and districts
where emergencies arise to hold court in other circuits or districts
when necessary. In the area of case management, the Committee has
supported the increased use of Case Management/Electronic Case Files
system (CM/ECF), considered the issue of courtroom usage, and overseen
the Civil Justice Reporting Act statistical reporting program and
expanded it to include bankruptcy and Social Security appeals.
Because the Committee’s jurisdiction encompasses so many
areas, of necessity, the Committee also has worked closely with a number
of other Conference committees on a number of these issues.
I have very much enjoyed working on the Committee and now
serving as chair. CACM has an exceptional staff and really outstanding
operation of grand and petit juries comes under CACM’s jurisdiction. Is
your Committee considering any initiatives to promote jury service in
the Committee has recently been asked by the Executive Committee to
look at ways to make jury service less burdensome and more cost
effective. Two of the issues suggested by the Executive Committee are:
can be taken to relieve the economic hardships experienced
by some jurors and other methods for summoning jurors such as the “one
day, one trial” procedure used in some federal courts, which would
lessen the uncertainty and service time for jurors.
Our jury subcommittee will be considering theses issues
as well as whether more can be done to ensure that jury service will not
cause employment problems for jurors.
Jury service has always been considered an important
civic duty involving some sacrifice on the part of those who serve, but
it doesn't mean that we shouldn't be looking for ways to lessen its
burden. Some state courts have established funds to assist jurors
serving on long trials and have provided more employment protection for
jurors by increasing the penalties for employers who take punitive
measures against juror employees. The subcommittee will be examining
these and other options to improve jury service.
theft is a real concern. How does the federal Judiciary address privacy
and security concerns relating to the electronic filing of document and
the public availability of documents filed electronically?
Committee has worked on privacy-related issues for over five years. As
the courts have moved into the realm of electronic case files, the
Committee has worked to ensure that there is a viable policy in place to
balance both the public right to access court case files and the need
to protect privacy interests contained within those case files.
First adopted in 2001, the Judicial Conference policy on
privacy and access to electronic case files allowed remote electronic
public access to documents in case files as long as certain pieces of
personal information are redacted. That information is the same
information typically used in identity theft, such as Social Security
numbers, financial account numbers, names of minor children, and dates
of birth. One type of case was determined to contain too much sensitive
information to be made available to the public electronically: Social
Security benefits cases. Those case files are only available at the
The Conference originally deferred granting electronic
public access to criminal case files until a study was conducted to
ensure no harm would be caused by providing access. In 2003, after
receiving study results that showed no harm from the public access, the
Conference approved a policy to allow access to documents filed in
criminal case files, with one additional piece of data to be redacted:
home addresses. Appellate cases are treated as they are in the lower
The policy has worked quite well, and as a result, the
Rules Committee has incorporated many of its provisions into new Federal
Rules of Procedure, scheduled to go into effect (absent Congressional
action) on December 1, 2007.
Q: Will there come a day when a member of the public can find transcripts of all trial court proceedings online?
A: The Committee has devoted significant time and effort to making
transcripts of court proceedings available to the public through the
PACER system. It is especially critical to provide online access to
transcripts now that the courts of appeals are migrating to CM/ECF.
Briefs with hyperlinked citations to transcripts—instant access to the
record—will be an amazing efficiency once transcripts are filed online.
I have found that nearly everyone “has a dog in this
hunt,” and as a result, it has been a challenge to reach an agreement
acceptable to all. The Committee is close to such an agreement, and I am
now quite confident that we will soon have transcripts online.
the lingual diversity of our nation grows, are federal courts well
situated to accommodate litigants who do not speak English and, if so,
how is that accommodation provided?
federal Judiciary has long been recognized as a leader in providing the
best possible interpretation services for non-English speaking
defendants in criminal cases, and as a model for certifying court
interpreters in Spanish. However, the provision of these services, by
statute, is limited to interpretation in cases initiated by the United
The recent census indicates a substantial increase in the
percentage of the population who understand a language other than
English and do not understand English "very well." The Committee
believes that the Judiciary must recognize the changing nature of the
population and respond by expanding our efforts to assist those with
limited English proficiency (LEP) in understanding the courts and the
justice system. We see it as an access to justice issue that needs to be
addressed, just as we did when the Committee recommended measures in
1996 to assist persons with communications disabilities due to speech or
A number of federal courts have already undertaken
initiatives to translate court forms into Spanish and other languages.
At the request of the Committee, the Administrative Office (AO) has
gathered information on court forms that have been translated and is
making them available for use by all courts. In addition, a subcommittee
will be working with court personnel and the AO in identifying the
forms that will provide the most assistance to those with LEP and
developing uniform translated versions of these forms. Of course, all
official forms will still be in English, but the Committee believes that
translation of these forms will greatly help the courts in their
efforts to address the need for this type of assistance and improve
access to justice.
March, the Conference adopted CACM’s recommendation on a pilot project
involving digital audio recordings of court proceedings. Would you tell
us about this pilot project?
its meeting last December, the Committee endorsed a pilot project to
link audio files of court hearings to the docket in CM/ECF, and to make
those audio files available through PACER. Pursuant to our
recommendation, the Judicial Conference endorsed a six-to-12 month pilot
project in which several courts will make digital audio recordings of
courtroom proceedings publicly available online through PACER.
Since the pilot project has been announced, a fair number
of courts have expressed interest in participating, and selection
criteria for participation has been established. That criteria includes a
requirement that at least one Article III judge (as opposed to
magistrate judges only) participate in the pilot for district courts,
and that the judge already be using digital audio recording as the
official means of taking the record.
The pilot is limited to six courts—three bankruptcy and
three district—in order for the AO to provide and control the technical
architecture needed. These include the bankruptcy courts for the Eastern
District of North Carolina, the District of Maine, and the Northern
District of Alabama, and the district courts in the Eastern District of
Pennsylvania and the District of Nebraska. The pilot will begin with
these five courts. Should another district court volunteer and meet the
criteria, it will be added.
A method for providing the audio file through PACER,
which was developed by the Eastern District of North Carolina Bankruptcy
Court, will be used for the pilot. Staff from the bankruptcy court and
the AO’s CM/ECF District Court Development Team are building the
additional pieces of necessary software. A chambers module will
interface with a digital audio log sheet that will permit a judge to
select which hearing(s) he/she would like to make available via PACER at
the end of each day. The digital audio files from the selected hearings
will be automatically copied from the court’s digital audio system to
the CM/ECF server and, using software, a docket entry will be made in
the court’s CM/ECF system with the audio file attached. The AO will
provide model procedures that the presiding judge may wish to use for
informing parties of the potential of having the audio recording of the
hearing available via PACER.
The pilot project is scheduled to begin in all five
courts on July 1, 2007. At its June 2008 meeting, the Committee will be
provided with an evaluation of the pilot
year, the Federal Judicial Center (FJC) began a courtroom usage study
at the request of your committee. Why was it begun and when do you
expect a report?
courtroom usage study is one of the Committee’s largest and most
important projects. Members of Congress who provide the funding for
courthouse construction projects have made very clear that
appropriations will slow or stop until the Judiciary conducts a study
demonstrating how our courtrooms are being used today. Lacking any real
data, the Committee asked the FJC to design and implement a careful
study which captures kind of detailed information the Committee needs to
analyze whether changes need to be made to traditional courtroom
assignment policies and what impact such changes would have on how
judges do their work.
The data collection phase of the study will be completed
in July. Twenty-six randomly selected courts, large, medium, and small,
are participating and staff are busy recording every scheduled and
actual courtroom event. The study has resulted in a tremendous amount of
data that will take the FJC time to analyze. The Committee has been
very impressed both with the incredible detail of the study and how well
it has been implemented. FJC staff and local study court staffs have
done terrific work.
The Committee expects to receive an interim report from
the FJC by this fall and hopes to work with other committees and be
ready to report findings to the Judicial Conference and Congress in