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Conference Adopts Recommendations On Law Clerks
The Judicial Conference voted at its September meeting to continue
implementing its cost-containment program by adopting a series of
recommendations relating to law clerks and the Judiciary’s Court Personnel
System in general. At its September 2004 session the Judicial Conference adopted
a sweeping cost-containment strategy to help courts cope with projected funding
shortfalls. In the last three years, steps have been taken to reduce the costs
of courthouse rent, information technology, probation and pretrial services, and
several other Judiciary programs.
Continuing its cost-containment effort, the Conference agreed to modernize
its Court Personnel System benchmarks, which will affect the classification and
grading of staff positions nationwide. It also voted to give local courts
greater autonomy in managing and paying their personnel, and to develop national
performance guidelines for local implementation.
With regard to law clerks, the Conference agreed that each judge will be
limited to one career law clerk. Those 291 career law clerks now in chambers
where more than one career law clerk is employed will be able to retain their
career status in those chambers, with the assent of their judge. In addition,
any career law clerk now in place can be hired as a career law clerk by another
judge, even if that judge already employs a career law clerk, if their current
judge dies, retires, resigns or is otherwise unable to retain a law clerk. Most
federal law clerks are “term” clerks and typically serve one or two years.
“Career” law clerks are expected to serve four or more years. This new policy
limits a term law clerk’s term of employment to no more than four years, to be
applied prospectively for current term law clerks. Another step replaces law
clerk salary matching with a system aimed at achieving salary parity between
those law clerks who gain their work experience within the Judiciary and those
who gain their experience outside the Judiciary.
The Conference also voted to make transcripts of federal district and
bankruptcy court proceedings available online through the Judiciary’s Public
Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) system.
Under the new policy, transcripts created by court reporters or transcribers
will be available for inspection and copying in a clerk of court’s office and
for download from PACER 90 days after they are delivered to the clerk.
Individuals will be able to view, download, or print a copy of a transcript from
PACER for eight cents per page.
During the initial 90-day period, transcripts will be available at the
clerk’s office for inspection only, or may be purchased from the court reporter
Implementation of the Case Management/Electronic Case Files
(CM/ECF) system over the past decade has allowed remote electronic access to
most federal case files. The only type of court document not yet publicly
available online nationwide has been the transcript of court proceedings.
In other matters, the Conference:
- Approved establishment of a joint pilot project in which the Government
Printing Office and the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts will provide
free PACER access to the public at approximately 15 federal depository
- Encouraged district courts to examine how jurors are summoned and to
consider adopting changes, if local circumstances permit, regarding how long
jurors are on call or how frequently they are required to serve, so as to make
their service on juries less burdensome.
- Voted to seek an amendment in federal law to increase from $1,000 to $5,000
the maximum civil penalty for employers who retaliate against employees serving
on jury duty.
- Directed the various Circuit Judicial Councils to continue implementation of
the recommendations of the Judicial Conduct and Disability Act Study Committee,
which was chaired by Justice Stephen Breyer by, 1) encouraging the courts in
their respective circuits to create committees of local lawyers to serve as
intermediaries between individual lawyers and the formal complaint process; 2)
requiring all courts covered by the Judicial Conduct and Disability Act to
provide information about filing a complaint on the homepage of the court
website and take other steps to publicize the Act; and 3) ensuring the
submission of timely and accurate statistical information about complaint filing
and terminations. This summer the Judicial Conference’s Committee on Judicial
Conduct and Disability released its draft Rules Governing Judicial Conduct and
Disability Proceedings for 90 days of public comment to conclude October 15,
2007. The Committee held a public hearing regarding the draft rules on September
27, 2007, at the U.S. Courthouse in Brooklyn.