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Judicial Conference Convenes Biannual Meeting

Contact: David Sellers, 202-502-2600

The Judicial Conference of the United States today received a report on the impending crisis in courthouse construction that is facing the federal Judiciary. Judge Norman Stahl, chair of the Conference's Committee on Security and Facilities, reported that for the second consecutive year it appears that there may be no funds available for federal courthouse construction. If this occurs, the costs of construction will increase, certain sites may be lost, and costly rents for temporary space will have to be paid.

Judge Stahl testified last week before the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, Subcommittee on Public Buildings and Economic Development. At the hearing he said, "In view of the current impasse on courthouse construction funding, the costs of courthouses will needlessly increase unless steps are taken to ensure a viable future construction program."

Many court facilities were built more than 50 years ago and have become unsafe and overcrowded. However, the Judiciary has little recourse since its role in the planning and construction of courthouses is limited because it does not have independent authority to lease, construct, plan, or design space.

In recent years the Judiciary has conducted a continuous review of design standards to identify less costly methods of meeting functional requirements; convened jointly with GSA a private sector panel of architects, engineers, and construction industry professionals to suggest ways of reducing construction costs; and addressed the impact of reducing the ratio of courtrooms to judges and the potential for closure of underutilized facilities.

In other action the Conference:

  • Agreed to support legislation that would reduce from 30 to five the number of days of attendance required by jurors to hear one case in order to be eligible for additional fees. The juror attendance fee, which is set by statute, was increased from $30 to $40 a day in 1990. While the fee has never been intended to support or replace salaries, it is intended to provide a minimal level of compensation for jurors' time and effort fulfilling their civic responsibilities. Nevertheless, for some individuals and in particular those who serve on lengthy trials, jury service is a real financial hardship. As a result, the Conference is endorsing legislation that would provide that after a juror has served five days, the judge may authorize an additional $10 a day fee. Out of 8,427 completed jury trials in FY 96, 1,908 lasted for five days or more while only 50 lasted longer than 30 days.
  • Resolved to seek vigorously a cost-of-living adjustment for federal judges, Members of Congress, and top officials in the executive branch for 1999. The Conference also agreed to continue to seek the repeal of section 140 of P. L. 97-92, which requires special congressional action for judicial salaries to increase. Further, the Conference announced its support for the revitalization of a federal salary-fixing entity similar to the former Commission on Executive, Legislative, and Judicial Salaries (known as the Quadrennial Commission). During the two decades leading up to the Ethics Reform Act of 1989, the Quadrennial Commission played a significant role in easing some of the problems caused by salary compression. With the Ethics Reform Act, Congress effectively scrapped the Commission and substituted a Citizens' Commission consisting of six appointees of the three branches of government and five randomly selected citizens. Since the creation of the new Commission, no money has been appropriated for it, and Congress and the President have never appointed their members. The leaders of all three branches of government received a 2.3 percent COLA in 1998, the first such adjustment since January 1993.
  • Approved a process to be included in the biennial judgeship surveys for determining when to recommend that a court of appeals vacancy not be filled or the position be eliminated. Given the unique nature of the caseloads of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit and U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, they are not part of the newly approved process. Last year the Conference adopted a similar approach regarding district court vacancies.
  • Adopted a policy stating that if a federal judge uses a state facility to conduct a federal proceeding, the judge remains bound by Judicial Conference policies, including the policy on cameras in the courtroom. In addition, the Conference agreed that when a state court is using a federal court facility for a state court proceeding, Judicial Conference policy regarding cameras in court shall govern.

The Judicial Conference of the United States is the principal policy-making body for the federal court system. The Chief Justice serves as the presiding officer of the Conference, which is composed of the chief judges of the 13 courts of appeals, a district judge from each of the 12 geographic circuits, and the chief judge of the Court of International Trade. The Conference meets twice a year to consider administrative and policy issues affecting the court system and to make recommendations to Congress concerning legislation involving the Judicial Branch. A list of Conference members is attached.

March 1998

Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, Presiding

Chief Judge Juan R. Torruella, First Circuit Judge Joseph A. DiClerico, Jr., District of New Hampshire

Chief Judge Ralph K. Winter, Jr. ,Second Circuit Judge Peter C. Dorsey, District of Connecticut

Chief Judge Edward R. Becker, Third Circuit Chief Judge Donald E. Ziegler, Western District of Pennsylvania

Chief Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III, Fourth Circuit  Chief Judge Charles H. Haden II, Southern District of West Virginia

Chief Judge Henry A. Politz, Fifth Circuit  Judge William H. Barbour, Jr., Southern District of Mississippi

Chief Judge Boyce F. Martin, Jr., Sixth Circuit  Judge Thomas A. Wiseman, Jr.*, Middle District of Tennessee

Chief Judge Richard A. Posner, Seventh Circuit Judge Robert L. Miller, Jr., Northern District of Indiana

Chief Judge Richard S. Arnold, Eighth Circuit  Judge James M. Rosenbaum., District of Minnesota

Chief Judge Procter Hug, Jr., Ninth Circuit Judge Lloyd D. George, District of Nevada

Chief Judge Stephanie K. Seymour, Tenth Circuit Judge Ralph G. Thompson, Western District of Oklahoma

Chief Judge Joseph W. Hatchett, Eleventh Circuit Judge Wm. Terrell Hodges, Middle District of Florida

Chief Judge Harry T. Edwards, District of Columbia Circuit  Chief Judge Norma H. Johnson, District of Columbia

Chief Judge H. Robert Mayer,  Federal Circuit

Chief Judge Gregory W. Carman,  Court of International Trade

Conference Secretary: 
Leonidas Ralph Mecham, Director 
Administrative Office of U.S. Courts 

* Judge Julia Gibbons (TN,W) has been designated to attend in Judge Wiseman's place.

Related Topics: Judicial Conference of the United States