Key Studies, Projects, and Programs - Annual Report 2011
In collaboration with the courts, Administrative Office employees guide and support streamlined business practices and accountability in managing public resources.
In addition, AO staff play a central role in implementing Judicial Conference pilots and programs.
- Case Management/Electronic Case Files
- Courtroom Usage
- Cameras in the Courtroom Pilot Project
- Patent Pilot Project
- Dodd-Frank Act Implementation and Studies
- Improving Court Access for Pro Se and Limited-English Proficiency Litigants
- Audits and Program Reviews
- Methods Analysis Programs
- Internal Control Enhancements and Policy Revisions
- Nationwide Implementation of the ICE System
- Electronic Public Access Program
- Financial Management Systems
- Juror Utilization and National Improvement Efforts
- Central Violations Bureau and the Movement to Electronic Noticing
- Bankruptcy Noticing
- Bankruptcy Forms Modernization
- Court Interpreting
- Use of Interpreters
- Interpreter Certification
- National Court Interpreter Database
- Expanding the Telephone Interpreting Program
- Records Management
Case Management/Electronic Case Files – Planning for the Next Generation
For more than a decade, the courts and the public have benefited from the electronic case management and case filing system. Work on the Next Generation of CM/ECF has brought AO staff together with judges and court staff to identify greater efficiencies and new functional requirements. The basic goals include greater integration among the district, bankruptcy, and appellate versions of CM/ECF, shared data with other Judiciary systems, more streamlined processes, greater consistency, especially for external users, and greater efficiency through use of new tools and technology.
Members of bankruptcy, district, and appellate court chambers requirements groups have discussed chambers' needs. More than 400 requirements were posted on the Judiciary intranet site for court comment, and more than 6,000 comments were received. The project also has received input from representatives of the bar, academia, government agencies, and other organizations.
Judges and court staff worked with AO staff to help prioritize development of these requirements. The requirements phase is set to conclude in early 2012, and will be followed by design, coding, testing, and implementation phases.
The CM/ECF Next Generation project has moved forward under AO management and with guidance on requirements and policy issues from a steering group of judges, clerks of court, and chief deputies. Continuous enhancements have been made to the existing system since the prototype versions were introduced in 1995, and the CM/ECF system currently is used in all district, bankruptcy, and regional courts of appeal, in the Court of Federal Claims, the Court of International Trade, and by the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation.
Nearly 6 million docket entries are made on CM/ECF each month and 51 percent of all docket entries are now made by attorneys. More than 600,000 attorneys have filed case documents using CM/ECF. Attorneys currently file nearly 2.5 million documents via the Internet each month. In bankruptcy courts, attorneys now perform over 90 percent of all case-opening data entry work, resulting in convenience for the attorneys, who no longer have to file documents at the courthouses, and in cost and time savings for the courts.
Enhancements continue to be made in the current versions of CM/ECF and will be carried over to the Next Generation. Upgrades made in 2011 include changes to filing of home mortgage claims in accordance with Bankruptcy Rule 3002.1, integration of the court-developed e-orders functionality for bankruptcy courts, and access to the online reporting system for offender payments.
CM/ECF Operational Practices Forums have been a valuable way for court staff to discuss experiences, issues, and practices. The AO, with faculty assistance from the FJC, held two forums for bankruptcy and district court staff in fiscal year 2011. Both provided attendees with the ability to share best practices, and enabled the AO to share information on national initiatives.
In response to a 2005 Congressional request, the Judiciary conducted a study to document "how often courtrooms are actually in use based on a statistically significant sampling of courthouses." The Judicial Conference Committee on Court Administration and Case Management (CACM) led the study. In 2008, the Conference adopted the Committee's recommended courtroom sharing policy in new construction for senior district judges and in 2009, approved a courtroom sharing policy for magistrate judges.
In September 2011, the Conference adopted a courtroom-sharing policy in new courthouses and courtroom construction for bankruptcy judges, as proposed by the CACM Committee in consultation with the Committees on the Administration of the Bankruptcy System and Space and Facilities.
Cameras in the Courtroom Pilot Project
The Judiciary launched a three-year pilot program in July 2011, permitting participating district courts to record videos of civil proceedings, with parties' consent, and to make recordings available to the public on court websites. When the Judicial Conference endorsed the program in September 2010, it tasked the CACM Committee with overseeing the pilot and asked the FJC to study the program, evaluating cameras in district courtrooms.
Fourteen courts are participating in the pilot. Within these courts, 104 active and senior district judges with diverse views on cameras agreed to participate. The CACM Committee and the FJC agreed that the pilot should include both judges who favor and judges who oppose cameras in the courtroom, to ensure that all views of district judges regarding the impact of cameras are fairly presented and studied. To contain costs, the courts are recording proceedings using their existing recording equipment, as well as some limited equipment provided by the Administrative Office.
The pilot courts have made local rules changes to allow an exception to the Conference ban on video recording. The pilot courts will make digital video recordings of civil proceedings, with parties' consent. The recordings are then made available on web "channels" set up for each court on www.uscourts.gov. The first recorded proceeding was a preliminary injunction hearing in the Western District of Tennessee. Six other proceedings from the Northern District of Ohio, the Western District of Tennessee, the District of Guam, and Massachusetts followed. Courts may also post videos on their own websites or link to the uscourts.gov site.
Patent Pilot Project
Congress enacted a law in January 2011 establishing a 10-year pilot project for the assignment of patent cases in U.S. district courts (Pub. L. No. 111-349), "to encourage enhancement of expertise in patent cases among district judges." The law requires the Director of the Administrative Office to designate courts of different sizes and within at least three different circuits to participate in the pilot program. The law does not authorize additional funds for participating district courts. The Director requested that the CACM Committee work with the Administrative Office on implementing the pilot.
All district courts that applied were approved to participate: the Eastern District of New York, the Southern District of New York, the Western District of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, the Eastern District of Texas, the Northern District of Texas, the Western District of Tennessee, the Northern District of Illinois, Nevada, the Central District of California, the Northern District of California, the Southern District of California, and the Southern District of Florida. The Committee issued general guidance for the implementation of the pilot, which began in September 2011.
In consultation with the participating district courts and the FJC, the Director must submit reports on the effectiveness of the program, in consultation with the participating district courts and the FJC, to the House and Senate Judiciary Committees.
Dodd-Frank Act Implementation and Studies
The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010 requires the AO to conduct studies annually for three consecutive years and every fifth year thereafter to examine the Bankruptcy Code and assess the bankruptcy system's ability to handle the insolvency and restructuring of financial firms. A working group with members from the Committee on the Administration of the Bankruptcy System, the AO, and FJC assisted in developing the AO study, which was submitted to Congress this past July.
The Act also directed the GAO and the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System to conduct individual studies on the same topic, in consultation with the AO. The reports from the AO, the Board, and the GAO were similar in that they all reviewed the existing literature and proposals from academics and others on improving the effectiveness of liquidations and reorganizations under the Code. None of the reports contained recommendations.
Improving Court Access for Pro Se and Limited-English Proficiency Litigants
As one of several efforts to improve public access to the courts, including pro se filers, the CACM Committee considered two reports prepared by the FJC on a survey of programs and materials used in district courts to assist pro se litigants in civil cases. Results of the survey will be shared with all district courts to encourage their adoption of practices to assist courts with heavy pro se workloads, and to conserve resources and time in clerks' offices and chambers. The Committee will also consider whether other recommendations could be made to enhance FJC programs on pro se litigation, or to locate funding or staffing for pro se assistance programs that would be cost effective for courts, and would enhance pro se access.
Spanish translations of criminal court forms are available on the Judiciary intranet and translations for civil court forms will be added in the coming months. The use of translated forms is voluntary, as the courts deem appropriate; the forms are merely informational and are not replacements for the official English language forms; the forms do not replace the need for an interpreter or the responsibility of the court in proceedings initiated by the United States to ensure that those with limited English proficiency understand their rights; and any form filed in federal court must be completed in English.
Audits and Program Reviews
The Administrative Office conducts financial audits, reviews, assessments, and evaluations to promote effectiveness, efficiency, and economy in both court and AO operations. The AO carries out a comprehensive program of financial audits covering all court units, Judiciary funds, and financial systems. Court audits are conducted on a four-year cycle for most courts, and on a 30-month cycle for larger courts. In 2011, the Administrative Office issued final reports for 69 cyclical financial audits of the courts. It completed 42 other financial audits, including audits of Chapter 7 bankruptcy trustees, the Court Registry Investment System, Criminal Justice Act grantees, and audits in response to a change of clerk, and to follow up on prior reviews. Pursuant to Section 603 of the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005, required audits of randomly selected debtors began in 2007 to determine the accuracy, veracity, and completeness of the information contained in the petitions, schedules, and statements filed by individual Chapter 7 and 13 debtors. During 2011, 277 debtor audits were conducted.
Each year, onsite management assistance and program reviews of various kinds are conducted in court units and federal defender organizations. Reviews may cover budget management, jury administration, court reporting, program operations and management, human resources management, property management, procurement, information technology operations, IT security, succession planning, and continuity of operations plans and disaster preparedness. Review procedures generally include observations of office operations, interviews with key staff, and the review of records and files. During fiscal year 2011, onsite management reviews were conducted for one appellate court, five district courts, four bankruptcy courts, 17 federal defender organizations, and 25 probation/pretrial services offices.
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 unnecessary tasks and avoidable costs.
The district MAP working group is developing a report to be issued in 2012 recommending best practices to improve procedures for handling and tracking criminal fines and restitution. The group is working with the DOJ, as well as Judiciary entities, on ways to automate the delivery of victim loss information to the courts to reduce data entry errors, capitalize on technology, and integrate the processing of these orders and payments across case management and financial systems.
Internal Control Enhancements and Policy Revisions
The AO recently updated its internal control policies. Internal control measures provide reasonable assurance that Judiciary assets are protected from error, fraud, waste, loss, or abuse; operations are efficient and effective; financial reports are accurate and reliable; and business practices comply with applicable statutes and policies.
Following an extensive review process of the AO's existing internal control program, many previous requirements have been eliminated or modified to reduce administrative burdens while still ensuring adequate control over assets. A working group of court and AO staff reviewed existing procedures and provided advice on the content and structure of the policies. Extensive input was received on an exposure draft of the policies. Court staff were consulted throughout the revision process to ensure the practicality of specific requirements.
Nationwide Implementation of the ICE System
The AO is continuing national implementation of the Internal Control Evaluation system, a tool that has proven to be very useful to court managers. The ICE system validates compliance with certain internal control requirements and Judiciary procurement policies. It was implemented in 57 individual court units in 14 district courts during fiscal year 2011. In total, 268 individual court units in 61 district courts and four appellate courts are using ICE.
Electronic Public Access Program
The Electronic Public Access program provides online public access to court information in accordance with federal statutes, and with 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. During fiscal year 2011, the Judiciary's PACER Service Center established 160,000 new PACER accounts and responded to more than 205,000 telephone and email requests. Approximately one third of the 1.3 million PACER accounts were active during the past year.
As mandated by Congress, the Electronic Public Access program is funded entirely through user fees set by the Judicial Conference. The fee revenue is used exclusively to fund program expenses and enhancements that increase public access to the courts, including court websites and courtroom technology. In September 2011, the Judicial Conference authorized an increase in the Judiciary's electronic public access fee from $.08 to $.10 per page, which will take effect on April 1, 2012. The change is needed to continue to support and improve PACER services, and to develop and implement the next generation of the CM/ECF system. The fee has not been increased since 2005.
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. Moreover, PACER users who do not accrue charges of more than $15 in a quarterly billing cycle will not be charged a fee. (The current exemption is $10 per quarter.) The expanded exemption means that 75 to 80 percent of all users will still pay no fees. Fee information is published in the Electronic Public Access Fee Schedule available on uscourts.gov.
During fiscal year 2011, the Judiciary improved the PACER service in the following key areas.
Mobile Access to Case Information
The Judiciary launched a new mobile version of the PACER Case Locator. The PACER Case Locator allows searches for court records in all district, bankruptcy, and appellate courts. The Mobile PACER Case Locator is accessible using Apple devices, such as iPads, as well as Android devices Version 2.2 or higher.
Training and Education
The Judiciary is working with the Government Printing Office and the American Association of Law Libraries to provide training and education to the public on how to access court records efficiently and effectively. The program was piloted in two libraries during fiscal year 2011, The Library of Congress and the San Bernadino County Law Library, and will be expanded to additional libraries in fiscal year 2012. In conjunction with this initiative, the Judiciary has launched a new PACER training site. This allows anyone with an Internet connection to learn how to use PACER free of charge without obtaining a PACER account. The site includes data from real cases, allowing users to become familiar with the type of case information and documents available through PACER.
Opinion Pilot Program
The Judiciary also worked with the U.S. Government Printing Office to make United States court opinions available to the public through GPO's FDsys website, which provides access to federal electronic information from all three branches of government. More than 12,000 opinions from three courts were made available in October 2011. Opinions from additional courts will be added during the upcoming fiscal year.
The New Streamline Timely Access to Statistics (NewSTATS) project is replacing the AO's aging legacy statistical system with a state-of-the-art electronic infrastructure and modern business intelligence tools to collect, process, and report court caseload data. Civil case data from the district courts and adversary proceedings data from the bankruptcy courts have been migrated into NewSTATS. Criminal data from the district courts are now being migrated, and the Federal Court Management Statistics reports are now generated from NewSTATS.
Financial Management Systems
Initiated last year, the Judiciary Integrated Financial Management System (JIFMS) will upgrade the current Judiciary Accounting and Financial System, FAS4T. The goal of JIFMS is to streamline financial operations, eliminate costly interfaces, improve data security and controls, and help courts take advantage of better financial practices, such as the use of electronic fund transfers instead of paper checks. A May 2010 study recommended upgrading the version of FAS4T used by the courts to the most current version. This upgrade will integrate all of the Judiciary's financial, budget, procurement, and accounting functions in a single system.
Civil Criminal Accounting Module (CCAM) and Cash Receipting
The AO completed the implementation of CCAM in all 94 district courts. For the first time, all district courts are using the same system and the same business practices for performing civil and criminal accounting and cash receipting.
Juror Utilization and National Improvement Efforts
The percentage of petit jurors reporting for jury service but not selected, serving, or challenged (NSSC) was 37.9 percent for the 12-month period ending June 30, 2011. This is an appreciable decrease from a high of 40.1 percent in 2009. Partly in response to higher NSSC rates, the FJC, working with the AO and the Committee on Court Administration and Case Management, offered a juror utilization and management workshop in March 2011. The workshop focused on juror management issues specific to the larger courts. In addition, the AO is working with the FJC on its study of the impact of case types on juror utilization. The AO provided additional general information to assist courts in improving utilization rates, based on results from a September 2010 analysis of each district court's juror-usage rates over the previous decade.
Implementing eJuror Programs
The Jury Management System (JMS), which allows courts to qualify, summon, manage, and track jurors, now offers a web-based self-service component: eJuror. Eighty-two districts signed up to implement this user-friendly JMS module, and approximately 61 districts are already live on the system. Courts are reporting steady increases in the percentage of jury participants who elect to use the online system versus mailing in forms and communicating by phone. Communicating with jurors by email saves postage costs and eliminates unnecessary delays. With eJuror, jurors can go online to complete qualification questionnaires and summons information forms, complete pre-screening questionnaires, query status and reporting information, request excuses and deferments, and complete exit surveys. The module is flexible and allows local configuration.
Central Violations Bureau and the Movement to Electronic Noticing
The national Central Violations Bureau (CVB) processes violation notices and fine payments for petty offenses committed on federal property. The CVB processes an average of 350,000 violation notices per year. Currently, most defendants receive handwritten tickets from law enforcement officers. A new electronic ticketing process could reduce the time for a ticket to reach the CVB, provide more accurate results, and lower the processing costs by eliminating manual steps.
While only a small fraction of federal tickets are now issued electronically, many law enforcement agencies are starting to see the benefits and are moving in that direction. For example, an electronic ticketing process is already being implemented by law enforcement agencies at Fort Hood, Texas, and Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, and by the U.S. Forest Service. Electronic ticketing allows officers to use a small portable device to capture personal information from the magnetic stripe on a driver's license. The officer selects the appropriate charge(s) and has the defendant sign a digital pad, thus eliminating the need for the officer to write the ticket out by hand. The officer then prints a copy of the violation notice, which is issued to the defendant. The data, along with copies of the violation notice, are transferred electronically to the CVB, where that information is processed.
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. The participation rate in this voluntary program speaks highly of its effectiveness. More than 160 million notices were transmitted by the BNC in FY 2011. Several operational enhancements were introduced this fiscal year that reduced BNC program costs. Improved early identification of undeliverable addresses has reduced the returned mail handled by courts, debtors' attorneys, and debtors by 2 million notices, avoiding more than $600,000 in print and mailing costs in FY 2011.
Electronic Bankruptcy Noticing (EBN) saved the Judiciary more than $8 million in print and postage costs during the year, while expediting notices by delivering them electronically. Electronic noticing grew steadily, largely due to program marketing efforts. By the end of the fiscal year, EBN comprised more than 29 percent of all notices sent monthly.
Bankruptcy Forms Modernization
The forms subcommittee of the Advisory Committee on Bankruptcy Rules continues its multi-year effort to make bankruptcy forms more user-friendly, accurate, and electronically fillable. In June 2011, the Forms Modernization Project approved an initial package of forms to be used by individual debtors and recommended that the Advisory Committee consider publishing several of the forms for comment in 2012. As work on additional forms continues, the forms project team is in close contact with the Next Generation CM/ECF project teams to promote functional requirements that users have requested, such as the ability to store information in data form, to retrieve data in user-specified reports, and to control user access to data.
In fiscal year 2011, district courts reported that they used interpreters in 325,921 events, compared to 336,527 events reported in fiscal year 2010. Spanish remains the most-used language for interpreters in the courts and accounted for 96.3 percent of all reported events in 2011, compared with 96.6 percent of events in 2010. Overall, 122 different languages were used in court events during 2011. Other frequently-used languages, in order by number of events, were: Mandarin (1,682); Russian (1,376); Cantonese (813); Korean (701); Arabic (650); Vietnamese (635); Portuguese (474); Haitian Creole (406); and French (333).
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 2011, the oral component of the exam was administered in 12 locations nationwide. Only those candidates who had previously passed the written examination were eligible to take the oral examination, and those candidates who passed the oral examination will be deemed Federally Certified Court Interpreters. The written examination will be offered again in fiscal year 2012, and the oral examination will be offered again in fiscal year 2013.
National Court Interpreter Database
The web-based National Court Interpreter Database (NCID) is used by the courts to locate interpreters for court proceedings. The NCID contains the names and contact information of approximately 3,300 active interpreters, of whom 831 are AO-certified in Spanish, Haitian Creole or Navajo, as well as approximately 2,500 "otherwise qualified" interpreters in 140 languages. In addition, courts use the database to capture information on background checks of contract court interpreters. The AO launched a secure online portal allowing interpreters the ability to update their own records.
Expanding the Telephone Interpreting Program
In 1994, the Judicial Conference approved the Judiciary's Telephone Interpreting Program (TIP) to provide simultaneous and consecutive interpreting remotely for short proceedings in federal courts 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, which improves the administration of justice. For every TIP event using Spanish, the interpreter is federally certified; in 78 percent of those events, the provider is a court staff interpreter.
Since 2001, TIP has been used for approximately 35,000 events, saving an estimated $10.5 million in travel and contract costs. Since 2005, the average number of events per year has been approximately 3,700, for an estimated yearly savings of over $1.1 million. However, in fiscal year 2011, TIP use increased by 26 percent to over 4,500 events. Over 93 percent of the interpreted events were for Spanish. There are 10 district courts with staff court interpreters that currently provide TIP services to 47 districts in 99 locations.
In fiscal year 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 for the system. The system is used for scheduling all TIP services for participating courts and for collecting statistical data on TIP use. The AO is also researching new technologies to update the system, which was last updated in 1994.
In recent years, the Judiciary, working with the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), has sought to improve its records management program to ensure the preservation of historically significant case files. A major milestone was reached in November 2010, when the Archivist of the United States signed the new schedule for civil case files, which was previously approved by the Judicial Conference.
The new civil schedule retains the authority of judges and court staff to designate individual cases as permanent based on their historic significance, and all federal judges have been asked to complete their case designations. In addition, some non trial case files may be automatically designated permanent based on their "nature of suit codes," the classification scheme used to identify the type of case. Previously, only files from cases that went to trial were automatically scheduled as permanent. The new schedule also preserves all cases filed before 1970, as well as docket sheets, judgments, and opinions from all cases regardless of trial status or nature of suit. All case file records from the courts of appeals are also permanently preserved. Staff from NARA and the Judiciary gathered information from district court judges and clerks, legal scholars, and historians, and conducted an extensive review of case files to properly appraise the records. Legal scholars and historians also were asked to review the appraisal. The schedule was then published in the Federal Register for general public review and comment.
At its September 2011 meeting, the Judicial Conference also approved proposed revisions to the retention schedules for bankruptcy and criminal case files and forwarded the revisions to the Archivist of the United States for ratification. Upon implementation, the new schedules are expected to lower Judiciary costs by approximately $3 million per year.