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Issue 1: Providing Justice

How can the judiciary provide justice in a more effective manner and meet new and increasing demands, while adhering to its core values?

Issue Description

Exemplary and independent judges, high quality staff, conscientious jurors, well-reasoned and researched rulings, and time for deliberation and attention to individual issues are among the hallmarks of federal court litigation. Scarce resources, changes in litigation and litigant expectations, and certain changes in law challenge the federal judiciary’s effective delivery of justice. To address this issue, this plan includes three strategies that focus on improving performance while ensuring that the judiciary functions under conditions that allow for the effective administration of justice:

Strategy 1.1

Pursue improvements in the delivery of justice on a nationwide basis.

Background and Commentary. Effective case management is essential to the delivery of justice, and most cases are handled in a manner that is both timely and deliberate. The judiciary monitors several aspects of case management, and has a number of mechanisms to identify and assist congested courts. National coordination mechanisms include the work of the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation, which is authorized to transfer certain civil actions pending in different districts to a single district for coordinated or consolidated pretrial proceedings. The work of chief judges in managing each court’s caseload is critical to the timely handling of cases, and these local efforts must be supported at the circuit and national level. Circuit judicial councils have the authority to issue necessary and appropriate orders for the effective and expeditious administration of justice, and the Judicial Conference is responsible for approving changes in policy for the administration of federal courts. Cooperative efforts with state courts have also proven helpful, including the sharing of information about related cases that are pending simultaneously in state and federal courts.

Despite ongoing efforts, pockets of delay persist in the courts. With the understanding that some delays and backlogs cannot be avoided and do not reflect upon a court’s case management practices, this plan calls for a concerted and collaborative effort among courts, Judicial Conference committees, and circuit judicial councils to make measurable progress in reducing the number of cases that are unduly delayed, and the number of courts with persistent and significant backlogs that may be unwarranted.

The delivery of justice is also affected by high litigation costs. High costs make the federal courts less accessible, as is discussed in Issue 5. Litigation costs also have the potential to skew the mix of cases that come before the judiciary, and may unduly pressure parties towards settlement. Rule 1 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure calls for the “just, speedy, and inexpensive determination of every action and proceeding,” and this plan includes a goal to reduce unnecessary costs as well as delay.

This strategy also includes a goal to ensure that persons entitled to representation under the Criminal Justice Act are afforded well qualified representation through either a federal defender or panel attorney. Well qualified representation requires sufficient resources to assure adequate pay, training, and support services. Further, where the defendant population and needs of districts differ, guidance and support must be tailored to local conditions.

In addition, the plan includes a goal to enhance the supervision of offenders and defendants. Probation and pretrial services offices have led judiciary efforts to measure the quality of services to the courts and the community, including the use of evidence-based practices in the supervision of offenders and defendants.

Other efforts to improve the delivery of justice should continue. For example, a number of significant initiatives to transform the judiciary’s use of technology are underway, including the development and deployment of next-generation case management and financial administration systems. The work of the probation and pretrial services has also been enhanced through the use of applications that integrate data from other agencies with probation and pretrial services data to facilitate the analysis and comparison of supervision practices and outcomes among districts.

Goal 1.1a:   Reduce delay through the work of circuit judicial councils, chief judges, Judicial Conference committees and other appropriate entities.

Goal 1.1b:   Reduce unnecessary costs to litigants in furtherance of Rule 1, Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

Goal 1.1c:   Ensure that persons represented by panel attorneys and federal defender organizations are afforded well qualified representation consistent with best practices for the representation of criminal defendants.

Goal 1.1d:   Enhance the supervision of offenders and defendants in order to reduce recidivism and improve public safety.

Strategy 1.2

Strengthen the protection of judges, court staff, and the public at court facilities, and of judges and their families at other locations.

Background and Commentary. Judges must be able to perform their duties in an environment that addresses their concerns for their own personal safety and that of their families. The judiciary works closely with the U.S. Marshals Service to assess and improve the protection provided to the courts and individuals. Threats extend beyond the handling of criminal cases, as violent acts have often involved pro se litigants and other parties to civil cases.

While judiciary standards for court facilities provide separate hallways and other design features to protect judges, many older court facilities require judges, court personnel, and jurors to use the same corridors, entrances, and exits as prisoners, criminal defendants, and others in custody. Assuring safety in these facilities is particularly challenging. Protection for judges must also extend beyond court facilities and include commuting routes, travel destinations, and the home. A key area of focus for the judiciary has been raising the level of awareness of security issues, assisting judges in taking steps to protect themselves while away from court facilities, and educating judges on how they can minimize the availability of personal information on the internet.

The effective implementation of this strategy is linked to other efforts in this plan. Strategy 1.3 includes a goal to ensure that judiciary proceedings are conducted in secure facilities. In addition, Strategy 4.1 includes a goal to ensure that IT policies and practices provide effective security for court records and data, including confidential personal information.

Goal 1.2a:   Improve the protection of judges, court employees, and the public in all court facilities, and the protection of judges in off-site judicial locations.

Goal 1.2b:   Improve the protection of judges and their families at home and in non-judicial locations.

Goal 1.2c:   Provide increased training to raise the awareness of judges and judiciary employees on a broad range of security topics.

Goal 1.2d:   Improve the security of court facilities, including perimeter security at primary court facilities.

Goal 1.2e:   Work with the U.S. Marshals Service and others to improve the collection, analysis and dissemination of protective intelligence information concerning individual judges.

Strategy 1.3

Secure resources that are sufficient to enable the judiciary to accomplish its mission in a manner consistent with judiciary core values.

Background and Commentary. The judiciary is likely to face an uncertain federal budget environment, with likely constraints on the ability of congressional appropriations committees to meet judiciary funding requirements. Uncertainty and shortfalls, when they occur, present particular challenges to clerks’ offices, probation and pretrial services offices, and federal defender organizations in ensuring that operations are adequately staffed.

Another key challenge for the judiciary is to address critical longer term resource needs. Many appellate, district and bankruptcy courts have an insufficient number of authorized judgeships. The judiciary has received very few Article III district judgeships, and no circuit judgeships, since 1990.

Resources are also needed for jurors. Compensation for jurors is still limited, with inadequate compensation creating a financial hardship for many jurors. And, while the judiciary has made progress in securing needed space, some court proceedings are still conducted in court facilities that are cramped, poorly configured, and lacking secure corridors separate from inmates appearing in court. As the judiciary’s facilities continue to age, additional resources will be needed to provide proper maintenance and sustain courthouse functionality.

Further, the judiciary relies on resources that are within the budgets of executive branch agencies, particularly the U.S. Marshals Service and the General Services Administration. The judiciary must work with these agencies to ensure that the judiciary’s resource needs are met.

The ability to secure adequate resources serves as the foundation for a vast majority of the judiciary’s plans and strategies. For example, to ensure the well qualified representation of criminal defendants (Goal 1.1c), the defender services program requires funding sufficient to accomplish its mission. Strategy 3.2 and its associated goals focus on the importance of attracting, recruiting, developing and retaining the staff that are required for the effective performance of the judiciary’s mission, and will be critical to supporting tomorrow’s judges and meeting future workload. Also, a goal under Strategy 4.1 urges the judiciary to continue to build and maintain robust and flexible technology systems and applications, requiring a sustained investment in technology.

Goal 1.3a:   Secure needed circuit, district, bankruptcy and magistrate judgeships.

Goal 1.3b:   Ensure that judiciary proceedings are conducted in court facilities that are secure, accessible, efficient, and properly equipped.

Goal 1.3c:   Secure adequate compensation for jurors.