Business Improvements - Annual Report 2010
Jury Management System Web Page
Prospective jurors now have the option of providing and obtaining jury service information online via a district court's web page. With the eJuror enhancement to the Jury Management System (JMS), jurors have 24-hour online access to complete information about how to report to jury duty, as well as qualification questionnaires and other forms. Jurors can request to be excused, seek deferrals, and stay informed about other jury-related functions. The eJuror application reduces work requirements for court staff and decreases postage costs. Clerk's office staff from 10 district courts worked with the AO over two years to develop and test the application. Eighty courts installed eJuror during the 2009-2010 national deployment, and, as of September 2010, 42 of those courts were "live," with the remaining courts expected to go live in FY 2011. Jurors report that they find the system easy and convenient to use.
In June 2009, 40.1 percent of petit jurors reporting for jury service were not selected, serving, or challenged (NSSC), an all-time high. The increase was primarily due to a significant NSSC rate increase in several large district courts. Reducing these rates will help citizens avoid unnecessary appearances for jury duty.
Several measures will address this issue with the court community. The AO is working with the Conference Committee on Court Administration and Case Management (CACM) and the Federal Judicial Center to hold a juror utilization and management workshop, to research the impact of case types on juror utilization, and to add a topic for upcoming judges' seminars on best practices for effective jury selection in high-profile cases. At the request of the Committee, the AO, as it did in 2003, prepared for judges a statistical analysis of juror usage rates for their district courts. The analysis showed how the rates have changed over the preceding 10 years and provided other general information to assist courts in improving their utilization of jurors.
In fiscal year 2010, there was a 13.8 percent increase in the number of events requiring the use of interpreters in the courts. District courts reported that they used interpreters in 357,171 events, compared to 313,969 events reported in fiscal year 2009. Spanish remains the most-used language for interpreters in the courts and accounted for 96.6 percent of all reported events in 2010, with 120 different languages reportedly requested across all events. The number of Spanish events increased from 302,959 events in 2009 to 345,106 in 2010. This increase is due, in part, to the increase in apprehensions under Operation Streamline, a multi-agency border control initiative. Other frequently-used languages in fiscal year 2010, in order by number of events, were: Mandarin (1,640); Russian (935); Cantonese (803); Vietnamese (755); Haitian Creole (621); Mixteco Bajo (580); Arabic (549); Portuguese (543); and Korean (479). Overall, 120 different languages were used in court events during 2010.
Federal court interpreters must meet the highest standards to be certified, including passing the challenging Spanish/English Federal Court Interpreter Certification Examination. In fiscal year 2010, the written examination component of the Spanish/English Federal Court Interpreter Certification Examination was administered to 1,331 examinees in 34 locations nationwide. Those who passed the written examination are eligible to take the oral examination which will be offered in fiscal year 2011 in approximately 12 metropolitan areas nationwide. Those who pass the oral examination will be deemed Federally Certified Court Interpreters. The written examination will be offered again in fiscal year 2012.
National Court Interpreter Database
The web-based National Court Interpreter Database (NCID) contains the names of 3,033 active interpreters, of whom 877 are AO-certified in Spanish, Haitian Creole or Navajo. The NCID also contains 2,156 otherwise qualified interpreters in 132 languages. In an effort to keep court interpreter listings current, all interpreters in the database were requested to update their records.
The Judiciary's Telephone Interpreting Program (TIP) provides remote interpretation in short proceedings where certified or otherwise qualified court interpreters are not locally available. TIP saved an estimated $1.1 million in interpreter travel and contract costs in fiscal year 2010, and $9.1 million over the life of the program. More importantly, TIP ensured that qualified interpreters were available for defendants in court proceedings. In fiscal year 2010, the Judiciary's TIP services were used in more than 3,613 events in 39 languages, with Spanish used for 92 percent of TIP events. All Spanish TIP events were interpreted by AO-certified interpreters. In total, 47 district courts used TIP services.
The eight provider courts this year were: the Central District of California, District of New Mexico, Northern District of Illinois, Southern District of Florida, District of Columbia, Southern District of California, District of Nebraska, and the District of Rhode Island. Staff interpreters handled 74 percent of TIP proceedings, and contract interpreters handled the remaining 26 percent. A recent survey revealed that a majority of court interpreters surveyed felt that TIP provides interpretation services at levels comparable to face-to-face interpretation in the court.
Training for Interpreter Coordinators
AO and court staff and other experts provided two-and-a-half days of training to 205 court staff responsible for procurement and management of interpreting services in 87 district courts. The July 2010 training focused on the importance of using highly-qualified or certified interpreters to ensure the effective administration of justice. Topics also included policies and procedures related to procurement, management, and administration of interpreting services, as well as advances in technology and other changes that affect court interpreting.
Integrated Financial Management
By applying improved technology to financial operations, the Judiciary will continue to gain efficiencies and better integrated workflows. Therefore, the AO has initiated a project to upgrade its financial management system, FAS4T, to the new Judiciary Integrated Financial Management System, JIFMS. The goal is to streamline financial processes, eliminate costly interfaces, improve data security and controls, and help take advantage of better financial practices, such as using electronic fund transfers instead of paper checks. A May 2010 study recommended upgrading the version of FAS4T used by the courts to the latest version used by the AO. This upgrade will improve the Judiciary's financial system and integrate the financial, budget, procurement, and accounting functions into a single solution.
Civil Criminal Accounting Module (CCAM) and Cash Receipting
Eighty-four district courts now use CCAM to perform civil and criminal accounting and cash receipting functions. Implementation incorporates lessons learned and places greater emphasis on data reconciliation and checkpoints for monitoring a court's readiness before moving to the operational stage. This strategy has been instrumental in successful deployment and use of CCAM in larger district courts, and will be used to have all courts fully operational in FY 2011.
Streamlining Panel Attorney Payments
The AO completed an upgrade of the web-based Criminal Justice Act (CJA) payment system in August 2010. The new platform streamlines payments to CJA attorneys and makes reporting more reliable.
Methods Analysis Programs
The Methods Analysis Programs (MAP) provide the appellate, district, and bankruptcy courts with reliable sources of information for improving operational efficiency and effectiveness, and reducing or eliminating tasks. The MAP working groups' recommendations facilitate cost control efforts and help to preserve limited resources.
Staff from the appellate and bankruptcy appellate panel clerks' offices participated in a records management MAP, hosted by the AO, to review and suggest improvements for records management practices and policies, in light of the implementation of CM/ECF and the move to electronic records. Information collected was distributed to all circuits and subsequent training for records staff is planned.
AO staff worked with the Judicial Panel on Multi-District Litigation to establish a working group to address best practices for managing multi-district litigation cases in transferee and transferor courts. The agreed upon best practices were posted on the Judiciary's intranet site. The district MAP working group now is reviewing the processing of criminal fines and restitution.
AO bankruptcy court administration staff hosted a September 2010 meeting of the bankruptcy MAP covering a broad range of issues, including procedures related to repeat filers and requests to pay fees in installments; quality assurance procedures for claims; and the use of court-developed tools to promote efficiency, such as a court-developed dictionary resource tool. In light of the advances made to the bankruptcy version of CM/ECF in release 4.0, the bankruptcy MAP working group will revamp its posted recommendations in the near future.
During 2010, Administrative Office staff, at the direction of the Committee on Court Administration and Case Management and working with librarians and others, conducted a Study of Libraries and Library Services. The study revealed how a significant reduction in law book funding in fiscal year 2012 and beyond would impact court libraries and library services, and suggested clear options for change. Recommendations addressed the new role of libraries in the digital age and included an investigation and report on the potential savings to be gained by eliminating unnecessary duplication; national collection development planning; reducing the size and/or number of libraries; reconsidering services to the public; and considering other cost containment ideas.
AO staff gathered data and input through a survey of all Judiciary legal researchers and discussions with ad hoc subject matter expert groups composed of more than 50 court librarians. Then, they vetted findings and proposed recommendations through a steering group comprised of judges, a circuit executive, and circuit librarians. The Study resulted in nine recommendations for consolidating and sharing collections where possible, for consolidating services, and for using technology to avoid more paper collections than necessary.
The Committee endorsed the Study, along with its recommendations, in June 2010 and forwarded four of the recommendations to the Judicial Conference, all of which were approved in September 2010. Two recommendations related to assessments of library space and collections require a report back to the Committee. The AO will continue working with the circuit librarians to assist with the implementation of the recommendations and report back to the Committee on ongoing efforts.
Streamlined Statistical Reporting
The AO continued a project in which the legacy system used to collect, process, and report caseload data is being replaced by the New Streamline Timely Access to Statistics (NewSTATS) system. The functionalities for the bankruptcy caseload and for the Civil Justice Reform Act (CJRA) reports have already migrated to NewSTATS. The migration for the civil caseload data is currently underway.
Bankruptcy and District Operational Practices Forums and Appellate Symposium
In FY 2010, CM/ECF Operational Practices Forums again were a valuable and popular way for court staff to discuss experiences, issues, and best practices. AO Court Administration staff, with faculty assistance from the Federal Judicial Center, have held forums for both bankruptcy and district court staff for the past several years. Nearly 1,300 judges and court personnel attended both the Bankruptcy and District Operational Practices Forums.
Audio and video files and notes from the forum sessions were posted on the Judiciary's intranet site. Additionally, both forums included plenary sessions on the Next Generation of CM/ECF efforts in the district and bankruptcy courts.
The appellate court community attends an annual Appellate CM/ECF Symposium each fall, with as many as 150 judges and court personnel participating. The program focused only on CM/ECF offers court staff an opportunity to share best practices, better understand the application, and interact with CM/ECF developers.
Electronic Public Access Program
The Electronic Public Access program provides online public access to court information in accordance with legislation and with Judiciary policies and user needs. The Internet-based PACER (Public Access to Court Electronic Records) service provides the courts, litigants, and public with access to court dockets, case reports, and over 500 million documents filed with the courts through the Case Management and Electronic Case Files (CM/ECF).
As mandated by Congress, the program is funded entirely through user fees set by the Judicial Conference at eight cents per page; there is a $2.40 maximum charge for any single document, no matter its length, and the fee does not apply to opinions, which are available through PACER free of charge. Certain categories of users may be exempted by the court from paying the fees. In March 2010, the Judicial Conference adjusted the Electronic Public Access fee schedule so that users are not billed unless they accrue charges of more than $10 for PACER usage in a quarterly billing cycle, in effect, quadrupling the amount of data available without charge. Previously, users were billed as soon as their accounts totaled $10 in a one-year period. This change increased the proportion of PACER users who did not pay fees as a result of fee waivers and exemptions from nearly 50 percent in 2009 to almost 75 percent in 2010. The fees are published in the Electronic Public Access Fee Schedule available on uscourts.gov. The EPA fee revenue is used exclusively to fund program expenses and enhancements that increase public access to the courts, including websites and courtroom technology.
The Judiciary completed a year-long assessment of the program's services in 2010. The assessment provides a clearer picture of who uses PACER services and shows that the vast majority of users are satisfied with the value they receive for the fees they pay. Information was gathered through focus groups, interviews, and surveys conducted with the courts, attorneys, litigants, librarians, and other users. The findings point to areas that could have a significant impact on user satisfaction.
Based on findings from the assessment, in March 2010, a new search tool, the Case Locator, was released, replacing the U.S. Party/Case Index with added search capabilities and a fresh user interface. More improvements are planned, including a communications campaign to inform users about current and new features and services, a redesign of the PACER invoice, and a new training initiative, in partnership with the Government Printing Office (GPO) and the American Association of Law Libraries.
In March 2010, based on the results of a pilot program, the Judicial Conference endorsed a digital audio initiative developed by a local court that enables district and bankruptcy judges to make digital audio files of court hearings publicly available through PACER for a fee of $2.40 per file. To be included, digital audio must be the original method used to take the record. The determination as to which audio files are made available rests with the presiding judge. Seventeen courts are currently implementing the initiative, joining the original seven pilot courts.
In March 2010, the Judicial Conference also approved a one-year, 12-court, joint pilot project with the GPO to provide public access to court opinions through the GPO's Federal Digital System (FDsys).
Since 1994, the Bankruptcy Noticing Center (BNC) contract has saved the Judiciary more than $100 million in postage, personnel, and equipment costs. All bankruptcy courts use the BNC for notice production and distribution services, and the participation rate in this voluntary program speaks highly of its effectiveness. More than 170 million notices were transmitted by the BNC in FY 2010. An operational change instituted in this fiscal year significantly reduced the volume of returned mail handled by courts, debtors' attorneys, and debtors. Mailing addresses were cross-referenced with the United States Postal Service National Change of Address database, avoiding print and mailing costs for up to 1.7 million notices.
In FY 2010, the Electronic Bankruptcy Noticing (EBN) program saved the Judiciary more than $7 million in print and postage costs, while expediting notices by delivering them electronically. Electronic noticing grew steadily, constituting about a quarter of BNC notices sent monthly. In an effort to increase EBN usage, the AO used national focus groups and an awareness campaign to promote registrations and update the EBN public website for a streamlined sign-up process. Bankruptcy notices also contain language encouraging EBN registration, and many courts have updated EBN program information on their public websites. As a result, the BNC is registering approximately 1,000 new EBN partners a month, almost three times the rate experienced at the start of FY 2010.
Central Violations Bureau
The Central Violations Bureau (CVB) provides participating U.S. district courts and federal law enforcement agencies with an efficient processing system for handling petty offenses and some misdemeanor cases initiated by a violation notice.
During fiscal year 2010, the CVB processed more than 350,000 citations and collected approximately $22 million in fines and forfeitures, which are deposited in the Crime Victims Fund. In addition, approximately $5.5 million was collected through a $25 processing fee, and those funds were used to support Judiciary operations. The CVB also fielded approximately a half-million telephone calls and e-mails from the public, courts, and law enforcement agencies that otherwise would have been handled by the courts.