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September 2008

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


Interview with Judge Barbara Rothstein

Judge Barbara Rothstein was appointed to the federal bench in 1980 and is a district judge in the U. S. District Court for the Western District of Washington. She was named Director of the Federal Judicial Center in 2003.

What was your perception of the FJC when you arrived in 2004, and has that perception changed since you became Director? What do you see as the Center’s strengths?

It’s so much more than I expected. I had no idea how truly exciting it would be or of the sheer talent of the people here. These are people—many of whom have been here a very long time—who are all innovative and creative and ready to take on new challenges. When I come up with an idea, people just take it and improve on it. It comes back to me tenfold. It’s a combination of knowledge and talent and the willingness to face new challenges. The Center has to be like that because the Judiciary is a changing institution. If the Center is going to serve the Judiciary, it has to change, too. It needs to be right up there, either a step ahead or in stride with what changes are taking place with judges and with staff.

In the past year the FJC has produced brochures on classified evidence and conducted post BAPCPA-programs, seminars on management skills, and eight major research and evaluation projects, along with many other projects and programs. What is the Center—a research center that educates, or an educational center that does research?

We’re both. I knew the education side when I first became Director, because I had taught a lot of their seminars and went to a lot of their workshops. I had very little knowledge that it even had a research section. But the research is every bit as important as the education. It’s turned into the issues that are facing the Judiciary. When Congress has a problem or an interest in what’s going on in the Judiciary, they turn to the Judicial Conference committees and the committees turn to us, because we are their research arm. People trust us, which is a wonderful thing. They know that our research division is very professional, very neutral, and very informed because we are within the Judicial Branch. So the Center knows the turf and it can hit the ground running on an issue.

How do you select what the Center will study?

We don’t pick it out of the air. The topics come from the Conference committees. For example, our latest big project is on bankruptcy case weighting. That is vital because bankruptcy law has been changed and it is important to examine the caseloads of bankruptcy judges under the new statute. This project will be instrumental in determining the future number of bankruptcy judges.

We did a study on the use of courtrooms. That request came from the Conference Committee on Court Administration and Case Management but it also involved the Judicial Resources Committee and the Committee on Space and Facilities. It was one of the largest and most complex studies that the Center has ever undertaken.

The Committee on Federal-State Jurisdiction has asked us to do a training video, and we’ve also done research for them on death penalty habeas cases.

We do some studies that aren’t really from the committees. For instance we’re re-doing the scientific reference manual—it straddles education and research—and that’s our own project.

How do you select educational programs for judges and court staff?

We have education advisory committees. The judges who are on those advisory committees are judges who have shown a real interest in education. They’re drawn from all over the country, to make sure we’re not missing something that one area of the country would want. For instance, the border districts always are interested in sentencing and immigration issues. The advisory committees help us plan our workshops.

In addition, I go to all the circuit conferences and to as many of our workshops as I can. Judges are not shy. They come over to me and request workshops on various subjects. There are requests coming from a number of judges. So John Cooke and Bruce Clarke and I sit down and say, <span class="quotes">‘</span>OK. We can only afford this number of seminars. Which of the ones that people really have been asking for do we really need?’

With all of our educational programs we follow an instructional design approach—assessing needs, identifying goals, selecting the best means of meeting those needs—and involving our attendees in the learning process with vignettes, quizzes, role-playing and questions and answers in the lectures. The learning process works best when participants are actively engaged in a discussion, in solving a problem, or in making a decision.

How does the FJC make use of the Web and new media?

The Center uses many distance learning and desktop learning methods to make its programs available. Our recently redesigned intranet site, FJC Online, is now a major source of Center program materials.

One of our biggest projects, which we launched August 18, is the Judges’ IT page on FJC Online. We’re very proud of it. It’s still a work in progress, but it’s easy for people to use. There are about 100 tutorials for judges on IT solutions that make things easier for them, things that they can use in their daily work and are timesavers. Or suppose we had a workshop and you’re a judge who didn’t get to go, but you know that at that workshop they discussed law on terrorism. Each workshop has a web page with its agenda and the materials presented. Many sessions are digitally recorded and available on the program page, so a judge can listen to them 24/7 on the computer, or even download them onto an MP3 device and listen elsewhere. Our videos and FJTN programs are also available in streaming videos on tthe website and we have some FJC-based interactive education programs as well. Also, many of our publications are available online and we have a number of resource pages devoted to specific topics, such as the federal death penalty cases, case management issues in terrorism cases, and international law. We have webcasts, where we’ll have everybody on one site talking to each other.

Is this a cost saving measure?

Yes. We have to deliver as much as we can with a very small budget. If you can train people without constantly having to fly people around the country, you can save a lot of money.

The FJC’s mission includes a mandate to share information with the judiciaries of other nations. How does the Center do that?

We work closely with the Judicial Conference Committee on International Judicial Relations. Our mission is to work with judiciaries from other countries to spread the Rule of Law.

Usually the Center is on the schedule for visiting judges. They visit the Supreme Court, they come here, and to the AO, then they go to the courts. The Center’s International Judicial Relations Office recently launched a webpage on FJC OnLine with background on the Center as well as resources on the U.S. courts for judges and court officials from abroad.

Many emerging developing judiciaries are very interested in setting up Centers like the Federal Judicial Center. They want to know: how do you set up a Center? What’s the best way to staff it? Who should run it? The message we deliver is that a judicial training center should always be independent. Judges should educate judges. Then they want us to come and help them. I’m going to Ghana in October with two members of my staff. The Center does not have the money for international travel. We often work with the State Department, or USAID. In this case, we’re working with Fordham Law School.

Ghana emerged for two reasons: In terms of African judiciaries, it is probably one of the most advanced. And they have a fabulous Chief Justice, a wonderful woman who is vitally interested in improving their judiciary and dealing with their problems.

The Center’s international work is not limited to developing countries. In fact, the Center is expected to bring back information about foreign judiciaries to the U.S.

There is a project with Argentina where the Center has assisted with the development of a training series and a publication on the use of scientific evidence in the courts.

What is the Visiting Foreign Judicial Fellows Program?

Each year the Center hosts a small number of independently funded judges and legal scholars from other nations who spend one to six months at the Center conducting research in an area related to judicial administration. We have a judge here for four months from Afghanistan as part of the Program. That’s been wonderful. He’s working on a criminal trial bench book for Afghan judges modeled on the FJC Benchbook.

Resources are limited. How does the Center do everything it must do?

I wasn’t Director of the Center during the times when our budget was being cut and we couldn’t fill positions. That was very hard. Every time a suggestion for a new program came up, the Center had to be concerned about resources. We didn’t have enough manpower, and it takes a lot of manpower to put on a program.

We’re still asked to do more than we can do and sometimes we can’t do, all the programs we’d like to do. But over the last few years, Congress has been good to us.

We have recently ended a long hiring freeze and been able to hire new people—young people, all technically savvy—and they all have training in distance learning, webcasting, all the new media. So it’s like a shot in the arm. For the first time in several years, we can hire some additional people and expand our capabilities. I am just the lucky person who is Director at the time when we can do all this.

What is the current relationship between the FJC and the AOUSC?

In a word, excellent. Our agencies regularly coordinate and collaborate on a wide range of projects and issues. We each have distinct missions, but ultimately we both exist to serve the courts. We can maximize that service only by working closely with each other to ensure that we use our own limited resources wisely and effectively. And we are doing that, throughout both agencies, including at the top. Jim Duff and I have a wonderful relationship. He has been a magnificent leader for the AO and I enjoy working with him.

I understand the Center will be celebrating its 40th anniversary. Any plans for a celebration?

The Lewis and Clark Law School in Portland, Oregon is helping us celebrate our 40th Anniversary. With a program on September 18-20. They called us and said, ‘We know you’re coming up on a 40th Anniversary. We would love to do something for it.’ And we said, sure. I just looked at the program and it’s fabulous.