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February 2009

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


Judge George Z. Singal - Committee Works Toward Diversity, Studies Pay, and Measures Work

Judge George Z. Singal was appointed to the U.S. District Court for the District of Maine in 2000. He has been a member of the Judicial Conference Committee on Judicial Resources since 2003, and became chair of the Committee in 2007.

Q: What responsibilities are delegated to the Committee on Judicial Resources by the Judicial Conference?

A: The Committee considers all matters of human resource policy and administration, including the need for additional Article III judges and support staff. It also oversees the Judiciary Salary Plan and Court Personnel System (CPS), makes recommendations to the Judicial Conference regarding all staffing formulas, and oversees the operation of statistical systems of the courts.

Q: The Committee formed a subcommittee on diversity. Why?

A: Simply expressed, diversity is inclusiveness. It is an essential characteristic for any society that is serious about making its members feel their respective interests are important and will receive fair, just, and equitable treatment.

The Judiciary is, after all, the guarantor of fairness, justice, and equitable treatment. As such, it is intuitively obvious to the most casual observer that diversity becomes a crucial consideration for the Judiciary. Our citizens must see representativeness in our ranks if they are to believe we are indeed just and fair. We must provide equal opportunity for all members of our society, indiscriminate of race, gender, religion, disability, and many other characteristics. Diversity is a key element in how we prove to our public that we hold their interests very dear.

Consequently, in December 2004, the Chair of the Committee on Judicial Resources established a subcommittee on diversity to examine the issue within the federal judicial workforce and to consider programs, policies, and training on fair employment practices that would benefit the Judiciary. Judge Ann Montgomery (D. Minn.) and Judge Xavier Rodriguez (W.D. Tex.) are co-chairs of the subcommittee.

Q: How does the Committee plan to increase diversity in the federal Judiciary?

A: As a way to broaden recruiting for minority employment candidates, the Committee directed the Administrative Office to create a flagship video for public viewing to increase awareness of the mission of the Judiciary, the opportunity to serve the nation through Judiciary employment, and the outstanding professional environment and development opportunities associated with Judiciary employment.

The Committee also has launched efforts to increase awareness of Judiciary employment opportunities, especially clerkships, through letters to judges, law school deans, and bar association leaders. Having letters sent by local community leaders, where professional relationships and reputations already exist, should have a positive impact on minority recruiting.

Finally, our Committee members serve as part of an ad hoc speakers bureau to advocate for improved diversity. Our members avail themselves of any opportunity to promote diversity in a public forum.

Q: In September 2008, the Judicial Conference adopted significant changes in the pay system used for most federal Judiciary employees, based on the court compensation study. Can you tell us about the study?

A: The court compensation study was begun by the Judicial Conference in 2005 as a cost-containment initiative. Salaries are a major part of the Judiciarys budget and we needed to look for ways to limit the growth in future compensation costs. In September 2007, the Conference approved modernizing position benchmarks and altering the CPS salary funding and progression policy. New benchmarks were implemented on January 5, 2009.

With regard to the changes to the CPS salary progression policy and funding, courts must adopt a performance management system by October 2009, but linkage to pay will not occur until October 2010. Because this is a major cultural change, the Committee and Judicial Conference believe it is prudent to allow a one-year trial period before pay linkage.

Efforts continue to assist the courts with this change. In October 2008, approximately 90 percent of court unit executives attended a very successful training session which outlined their responsibilities for implementation. Train-the-trainer sessions will follow in Spring 2009 for approximately 400 court representatives. We are identifying mentor courts with performance management experience to help other courts. We also are developing a comprehensive on-line source for information and training, as well as electronic performance management tools.

Q: Theres also an Executive Compensation Study. What is its status?

A: The Committee received the study results in December 2008. It is a comprehensive study covering a wide range of issues relating to our executives, from pay to benefits and retirement systems. Because of the complexity of the issues, the Committee established a working group of judges and executives to provide perspective in the form of pro-and-con analysis for each recommendation. The working groups analysis will assist the Committee in weighing the implications of the reports recommendations. Although evaluation of the recommendations remains a Committee and Conference responsibility, the working groups analysis will help ensure that the process is well-informed and help avoid unintended consequences. The goal is to report the working group findings to the Committee at its June 2009 meeting.

Q: The issue of work measurement seems to attract a lot of attention. What is work measurement and why do we do this?

A: Work measurement is the use of a collection of basic statistical techniques to tell us how many employees we need to accomplish a substantial portion of the workload of the Judiciary. We employ this statistical process for three basic reasons.

  • As managers and good stewards of the public’s resources, we need an empirical basis for estimating how big our staffs should be.
  • Congress entrusts us with several billion dollars to execute our mission to dispense justice at the federal level to the public. Congress seems to appreciate our fact-based approach to determining our requirements.
  • Once Congress has provided us with funding, we need an internal process for deciding how to allocate that money. Work measurement provides a series of formulas that helps set the aggregate amount of money for our court types and also provides a mechanism for estimating the money required at each individual court.

Q: Starting with formulas presented to the Judicial Conference in 2008, the Judiciary adopted a refined work measurement process. Why did we make the revisions?

A: The most compelling reason to revise work measurement is the Committees need for more in-depth information. The previous process, which served us well for several years, focused on how an employee spent his or her 80-hour pay period. We had no insight into such important issues as uncompensated overtime or work not done. The new process moved the focus from the employee to the workload, providing much more in-depth information. We can now estimate, for example, how much time the bankruptcy clerks office requires for the intermediate steps of a Chapter 7 filing instead of the aggregate time to process the case. We also have solid estimates that vary dependent on whether that same Chapter 7 is an asset or no-asset case, or a pro se or non-pro se case. Previously, we had only aggregate estimates for a generic Chapter 7. The greater volume of data and subsequent information should greatly enhance our decision-making. Our last data collection for probation and pretrial services, for example, yielded over 10,000 data points for analysis and comparison.

Q: How does the Committee on Judicial Resources develop its Article III judgeship recommendations to the Judicial Conference?

A: The judgeship recommendations are the product of an extensive, multi-step analysis conducted every two years in response to requests from courts of appeals and district courts for additional Article III judges. The Subcommittee on Judicial Statistics, currently chaired by Judge Susan Illston of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, manages the process. All courts that request additional judgeships provide detailed justifications for the requested judgeships. The process includes discussions with circuit chief judges, district chief judges, and the respective judicial councils.

The subcommittee scrupulously analyzes the judgeship requests. In some instances, this process results in the Committee recommending fewer judgeships than requested by the courts. The Committee does not recommend judgeships for courts that do not request them.

The current survey began in January 2008 and subsequent action was completed at the Committees December 2008 meeting. The Judicial Conference will consider the Committees recommendations in March 2009.

Q: When was the last omnibus judgeship bill and what factors does the Committee consider in developing judgeship recommendations?

A: The last omnibus judgeship bill was enacted in 1990. However, 34 district judgeships were created between 1999 and 2002 as parts of other legislation. Legislation was introduced in the 110th Congress that would have created the 67 judgeships (15 in the courts of appeals and 52 in the district courts) recommended by the Judicial Conference in March 2007. Unfortunately, the legislation did not move. Shortly after the March 2009 Judicial Conference, the new judgeship recommendations will be transmitted to the 111th Congress.

As a standard practice, the Committee endeavors to ensure that courts are maximizing existing judicial resources before recommending additional judgeships. Caseload factors provide the primary basis for developing recommendations. These include weighted case filings per authorized judgeship; the amount of assistance provided by senior, visiting, and magistrate judges; unusual caseload complexity; temporary caseload increases or decreases; geographical characteristics of the court; and other factors that can have an impact on a courts need for additional judicial resources. When it is not clear that a courts high caseload will continue, the Committee recommends temporary rather than permanent judgeships. In considering these factors, the Committee focuses on the recent caseload trends on a court-by-court basis and then makes its final recommendations. For the recommendations made in December, the Committee used statistics compiled for fiscal year 2008.

Q: There is an increased interest in long-range planning. What is the Committee doing to address this issue?

A: Many of the issues confronting the Committee are very complex and frequently ambiguous, seldom with simple solutions. We recognized a need for a strategic perspective on these difficult circumstances and the benefit of addressing them from a multi-year, long-range perspective.

To emphasize the importance of the long-range planning process, the Committee conducted an out-of-cycle meeting in July 2008 to specifically address the process. We sought and received input from both the Human Resources Advisory Council and the Human Resources Specialists Advisory Group prior to the July meeting. As a result, the Committee had a basis from which to identify a number of critical long-range issues that should be placed on the agenda for consideration over the next several years.