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September 2009

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


Judiciary Approves Free Access to Judges Workload Reports; Courtroom Sharing for Magistrate Judges

The Judicial Conference has voted to make a judge-specific workload report available for the first time over the Internet at no charge and also approved a courtroom sharing policy for magistrate judges in new courthouse and courtroom construction.

At its biannual meeting, the Conference voted to make all future Civil Justice Reform Act (CJRA) reports available to the public without charge on the Judiciary’s public website, www.uscourts.gov, beginning with the period ending March 31, 2010.

The CJRA reports are prepared by the Administrative Office based on civil case data submitted by the courts twice a year. They contain, by district judge and magistrate judge, all motions pending more than six months, all bench trials that have remained undecided more than six months, and all civil cases pending more than three years. The reports also contain data on bankruptcy appeals and Social Security appeals pending more than six months.

The reporting requirements, established by Congress in 1990 and supported by the Judicial Conference, are designed to help reduce both costs and delays in civil litigation in district courts. To date, the reports have been available on the Public Access to Court Electronic Records system (PACER), which assesses a user fee. Future reports will be available for free on the Judiciary’s Internet website.

The courtroom sharing policy revises the U.S. Courts Design Guide for courthouse construction, calling for sharing at a ratio of two judges per courtroom in courthouses with three or more magistrate judges. In addition, one courtroom will be provided for magistrate judge criminal duty proceedings. In courthouses where the sharing formula would result in a fraction because of an odd number of judges, the number of courtrooms allocated will remain at the next lower whole number. There are more than 500 magistrate judges serving the federal courts.

The policy approved at the September 2009 meeting is the next step in the Judiciary’s aggressive cost-containment efforts. At its meeting last September, the Conference adopted a policy for senior trial judges to share courtrooms in new construction. Also under study are the feasibility of a courtroom-sharing policy for non-senior district judges in large courthouses and courtroom usage in bankruptcy courts.

A courtroom use analysis was requested by a House of Representatives subcommittee in 2005, and a comprehensive study was conducted by the Federal Judicial Center. The U.S. Courts Design Guide policy changes approved today apply to new courthouse construction and the construction of additional courtrooms in existing buildings.

The Conference’s Committee on Court Administration and Case Management, which proposed the courtroom use recommendation, reported that the changes demonstrate “the Judiciary’s commitment to pursuing appropriate efficiencies in courtroom utilization.”