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Judicial Conference Addresses Workplace Conduct and Criminal Justice Act Issues

The Judicial Conference today approved changes to the Judiciary's Model Employment Dispute Resolution (EDR) Plan to cover interns and externs and to extend the time for initiating EDR complaints from 30 to 180 days. The Conference’s Judicial Resources Committee will consider further changes to the model plan at its next meeting. The Director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts also reported on the recruitment of a Judicial Integrity Officer in the Administrative Office and the expansion of judicial, staff, and law clerk orientations and education dealing with workplace harassment.

In addition, the Chairs of the Committees on Codes of Conduct and Judicial Conduct and Disability reported to the Conference on proposed amendments to the Codes and Conduct Rules responsive to the recommendations contained in the June 2018 Report of the Federal Judiciary Workplace Conduct Working Group. The proposed amendments were published today for public comment.

The amendments include provisions that state:

  • A judge has an affirmative duty to promote civility, not only in the courtroom, but throughout the courthouse.
  • A judge should neither engage in nor tolerate workplace misconduct, including comments or statements that could reasonably be interpreted as harassment, abusive behavior, or retaliation for reporting such conduct.
  • A judge should take appropriate action upon learning of reliable evidence indicating the likelihood that another judge's conduct violated the Code. The action should be reasonably likely to address the misconduct, prevent harm to those affected by it, and promote public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the Judiciary.
  • In order to file a misconduct complaint, an individual does not have to be subject to alleged misconduct.
  • Confidentiality obligations of employees should never be an obstacle to reporting judicial misconduct or disability.
  • A judge has an obligation to safeguard complainants from retaliation. Retaliation for reporting misconduct constitutes judicial misconduct.
  • A judge’s failure to call to the attention of the relevant chief judge clearly identified information reasonably likely to constitute judicial misconduct constitutes judicial misconduct.
  • An express reference to workplace harassment within the definition of misconduct.

In other action, the Conference addressed the recommendations of the Report of the Ad Hoc Committee to Review the Criminal Justice Act (Cardone Committee). The Ad Hoc Committee was chaired by U.S. District Judge Kathleen Cardone and composed of federal judges, defenders, a panel attorney, an attorney from private practice, and a law professor. The members were appointed by Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., to conduct a comprehensive review of the operation and administration of the Criminal Justice Act in the federal courts.

Today the Conference approved 19 of the interim recommendations submitted by the Ad Hoc Committee, two with modifications. The approved recommendations include adoption of a uniform standard for judicial review of vouchers submitted by panel attorneys – lawyers appointed under the Criminal Justice Act for accused persons who are unable to afford counsel. The Conference also approved additional funding, staffing and training for various defender programs and activities.

The Director of the Administrative Office also reported that, in response to another interim recommendation of the Committee, the Defender Services Office will be made an independent office within the Administrative Office, reporting at the executive level. 

Other interim recommendations were acted upon by the Executive Committee of the Conference and still other interim recommendations remain under consideration.

In addition to its interim recommendations, the Cardone Committee recommended the establishment of an independent Federal Defense Commission within the Judicial Branch, but outside the oversight of the Judicial Conference. The Committee and the Judicial Conference agreed to consider the interim recommendations for immediate action, recognizing that the creation of a Federal Defense Commission would take time and Congressional action. The recommendation to create an independent Federal Defense Commission remains under review.

The Judicial Conference also approved its Courthouse Project Priorities plan for Fiscal Year 2020. The plan will be submitted to Congress with a request that the necessary funds be appropriated to the General Services Administration. The two courthouses on the plan are in: Hartford, Conn., where the new courthouse would replace the Abraham Ribicoff Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse at as estimated cost of $295 million; and Chattanooga, Tenn., in the Eastern District of Tennessee, where the new courthouse would replace the Joel W. Solomon Federal Building at an estimated cost of $157 million.

The Judicial Conference’s Space and Facilities Committee uses standardized criteria to rank courts’ current and future housing needs. Among the factors considered are current building condition, functionality, security and capacity, and caseload and personnel growth. The Courthouse Project Priorities list is updated annually, and the highest priority is given to those courthouses with the greatest Urgency Evaluation.

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