Improving Service to the Public
- Initiatives Improved Pro Se Litigants’ Access to Courts: As part of ongoing efforts to improve public access to the courts for pro se filers, the Judiciary is pursuing several initiatives based on two Federal Judicial Center (FJC) reports that surveyed the available programs and materials designed to assist pro se litigants in district courts. It is hoped the surveys’ results, shared with all district courts, will encourage adoption of best practices that can assist courts with heavy pro se workloads and reduce work for chambers’ and clerks’ offices.
- eJuror Program Saves Time and Money: Currently, 71 district courts are live on eJuror, a web-based self-service component of the Jury Management System (JMS). JMS allows courts to qualify, summon, manage, and track jurors. Courts are reporting steady increases in the percentage of jury participants choosing to use the online system instead of mailing in forms or communicating by phone. Communicating with jurors by e-mail saves postage costs and eliminates delays. With eJuror, jurors can go online to complete qualification questionnaires, summons information forms, and pre-screening questionnaires; query status and reporting information; request excuses and deferments and complete exit surveys. The module is user-friendly, flexible, and allows local configuration.
- National Efforts Improve Juror Utilization Rates: The national average of jurors not selected, serving or challenged (NSSC) on the first day of jury service was 37 percent for the 12-month period ending June 30, 2012. This compares favorably with 37.9 percent for the prior 12-month period, 39.0 percent for 2010, and 40.1 percent for 2009. The most recent year-to-year decline in the percentage of jurors NSSC equates to a Judiciary savings of approximately $300,000. More importantly, it resulted in 3,450 potential jurors not being brought to a courthouse unnecessarily.
- Revised Model Instructions Explain Social Media Concerns: The Judicial Conference Committee on Court Administration and Case Management updated the model set of jury instructions (pdf) federal judges use to deter jurors from using social media to research or communicate about cases. The new guidelines provide detailed explanations of the consequences of social media use during a trial, along with recommendations for repeated reminders of the ban on social media usage. The update comes in response to a national survey of federal trial judges.
2012 Telephone Interpreting Events (TIP)
- Total FY 2012 TIP events: 3,972
- Total languages interpreted: 42
- Districts receiving TIP services: 56
- Locations/divisions receiving services: 105
- Events covered by staff interpreters: 3,151 of the 3,972 total TIP events.
- Totals FY 2012 savings using TIP: $1,214,005
Expanded Telephone Interpreting Program (TIP) Provides Interpreters: Since 2001, the Judiciary's Telephone Interpreting Program (TIP) has provided remote simultaneous and consecutive interpreting in approximately 39,000 events, saving an estimated $12.1 million in travel and contract costs. Approved by the Conference in 1994, TIP is intended for short federal court proceedings where “certified” or “otherwise qualified” court interpreters are not locally available. TIP significantly increases the likelihood that the courts will use “certified” or “highly qualified” interpreters, improving the administration of justice.
For every TIP event using Spanish, the interpreter is federally certified; in 55 percent of those events, the provider is a staff court interpreter. There are 10 district courts with staff court interpreters that currently provide TIP services to 56 districts in 105 locations. In FY 2012, TIP use increased to over 3,972 events, thereby increasing savings to an estimated $1.2 million.
In FY 2011, the AO migrated the online TIP scheduling system from the Central District of California to the AO and is now providing operational and maintenance support. The system is used for scheduling all TIP services for participating courts and for collecting statistical data on TIP use. The AO is researching new technologies to improve the courtroom and provider-court telephone systems. Possible replacement equipment, which will improve sound quality and use the Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), has been identified and is set to be piloted in a district court in FY 2013.
- Interpreted Languages Top 10: In FY 2012, district courts reported that they used interpreters in 325,257 events, compared to 325,921 events reported in FY 2011. Spanish remains the most-used language for interpreters in the courts and accounted for 96.7 percent of all reported events in 2012, compared with 96.3 percent of events in 2011. Overall, 116 different languages were used in court events during 2012. Other frequently-used languages, in order by number of events, were: Mandarin (1,288); Russian (1,180); Vietnamese (909); Korean (836); Cantonese (628); Arabic (621); Portuguese (373); Romanian (343); Haitian Creole (328).
- Electronic Filing in Federal Courts Now Universal: With the addition in FY 2012 of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, all federal courts now accept electronic filings via the Judiciary’s Case Management-Electronic Case Files (CM/ECF) system. CM/ECF provides courts enhanced and updated docket management and allows courts to maintain case documents in electronic form. It also gives each court the option of permitting case documents—pleadings, motions, petitions—to be filed with the court over the Internet.
Electronic Public Access Program Delivers Court Information: The Electronic Public Access program provides public access to court information through electronic means in accordance with federal statutes, Judiciary policies, and user needs. The Internet-based PACER (Public Access to Court Electronic Records) service provides courts, litigants, and the public with access to dockets, case reports, and over 500 million documents filed in federal courts through the Case Management and Electronic Case Files (CM/ECF) system. At present, there are more than 1.4 million user accounts, with approximately 13,000 new accounts added each month. In fiscal year 2012 alone, PACER processed over 500 million requests for information.
In September 2011, the Judicial Conference authorized an increase in the Judiciary's electronic public access fee from $.08 to $.10 per page, effective on April 1, 2012, to continue to support and improve electronic public access service, and to develop and implement the next generation of the CM/ECF system. The fee had not been increased since 2005 and, for the previous three fiscal years, the public access program’s obligations had exceeded its revenue. The $.10 per page fee is not charged for viewing case information or documents on PACER at public access terminals in the courthouse.
The Conference was mindful of the impact such an increase could have on other public entities and on public users accessing the system to obtain information on a particular case. For this reason, local, state, and federal government agencies will be exempt from the increase for three years. PACER users who do not accrue charges of more than $15 in a quarterly billing cycle are not charged a fee. The Judicial does not charge for access to judicial opinions. Parties to a court case receive a copy of filings in the case at no charge.
Improvements Made to the Electronic Public Access (EPA) Service: The Judiciary continued its efforts to improve the public’s access to electronic services by providing two new services in fiscal year 2012: firm billing and electronic tutorials for the Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) system. The firm billing service will allow organizations to maintain and manage multiple PACER accounts for their employees and still receive a single invoice. Online tutorials focusing on how to use PACER effectively are available to the public on the pacer.gov website. These new services are part of ongoing efforts to increase user satisfaction through improvements to EPA services identified in a 2010 assessment of the EPA program. Work is underway to refresh the assessment to measure the impact of improvements on user satisfaction.
Additionally, the public can stay informed of newly docketed events on PACER through the new automatic case notification, available by subscribing to a court’s RSS feed. The feed is free.
- Records Management Project Preserves Historic Files: In March 2012, the Conference approved creation of a new records disposition schedule for the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation and a revision to the records retention schedules for the Court of Federal Claims. While preserving historically significant records, these schedules identify temporary records and provide updated guidance aligned with the courts' present business process. The schedules will go into effect when approved by the National Archives and Records Administration.