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Judicial Conference Addresses Judgeship Needs Issues

The Judicial Conference of the United States today adopted a new system of case weights that will help it fine-tune its requests for new district judgeships; moved to seek legislation to preserve temporary bankruptcy judgeships that will lapse next year; and addressed sentencing reform legislation that would impact court workloads.

The new case weights, the first since 2004, are based on a study conducted by the Federal Judicial Center. The study included objective data from nearly 300,000 civil and criminal case terminations regarding the amount of time required to conduct trials and other proceedings such as evidentiary hearings or pretrial conferences, and also included subjective measures based on a survey of approximately 220 active district judges regarding their estimates of the time required to perform case-related work in chambers.

Weighted filings provide a more accurate estimate of judicial workload than simply counting filings. Under the new case weights, the weights for many types of criminal cases are significantly higher, while case weights are lower for several civil cases, such as environmental matters, and death penalty habeas corpus. The differences reflect changes in case law, changes in the nature of the cases being handled, and adaptations to caseload changes through case management procedures. The Judicial Conference biennially submits judgeship recommendations to Congress.

In other action, the Conference:

  • Authorized the Director of the Administrative Office to seek legislation to preserve temporary bankruptcy judgeships that will lapse on May 25, 2017, and that are included in the March 2015 bankruptcy judgeship recommendations the Conference transmitted to Congress. Specifically, the Conference seeks to convert 16 temporary judgeships in nine districts that have particularly high caseloads. These districts have registered a 55 percent increase in weighted bankruptcy filings from December 31, 2006, (the last time new bankruptcy judgeships were authorized) until September 30, 2014. If legislative action is not taken, the first bankruptcy judge vacancy that occurs in each of these nine districts after May 25, 2017, will not be filled.
  • Agreed to support retroactivity provisions in S. 2123, the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015, or any similar sentencing reform legislation, such as H. R. 3713, that would help alleviate the unjust effects of mandatory minimum sentences. The Judicial Conference has long-standing positions opposing mandatory minimums and supporting their repeal. The Conference encourages Congress to provide the courts the resources needed to implement these provisions, so as to minimize the burden on the courts, and in particular, probation offices, so as to maximize the effective reentry of inmates into the community.

The 26-member Judicial Conference is the policy-making body for the federal court system. By statute the Chief Justice of the United States serves as its presiding officer and its members are 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.

Related Topics: Judicial Conference of the United States