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Annual Report 2009

Director James C. Duff

James C. Duff became the Director of the Administrative Office of the United States Courts in July 2006. Since then, he has worked to strengthen the collaborative spirit in the federal Judiciary. As part of that effort, he has guided the development of court and AO staff work and information exchanges, both within the AO and with courts, that increase teamwork and understanding in our service to the public.

Director's Message

As we finalized this Annual Report and entered 2010, another stark episode of security challenges confronted the Judiciary and the country. On January 4, 2010, Stanley Cooper, a Court Security Officer in the federal courthouse in Las Vegas, Nevada, was killed in the line of duty while guarding the building. He, along with Deputy U.S. Marshal Richard Gardner, who was shot, and other security personnel on the scene, saved the lives of many employees and visitors to the court. We in the Judiciary are fortunate and grateful for the dedicated protection we receive from our security officers. I encourage all court employees to extend their gratitude to those who protect us, not just when there is a tragic event, but every day.

There are many in the federal Judiciary who have earned the gratitude of our citizens for providing a Judiciary that has their confidence and trust. The manner in which the Judiciary has been called upon and has responded to recent crises facing our country demonstrates this point.

In the midst of the economic crises in 2009, in a period of weeks, our bankruptcy court in the Southern District of New York efficiently managed and addressed the main objectives, thus far, of the bankruptcy filings of two of the world’s largest automobile manufacturers. Staff from bankruptcy courts and the Administrative Office spent several months preparing for cases of this magnitude. Their preparation paid off. Governmental success stories rarely receive media attention. That was the case here, but we in the Judiciary certainly recognize the extraordinary work involved in such cases and commend those involved for their leadership.

Additionally, federal judges in Mississippi and Louisiana have completed approximately 16,500 civil cases that were filed over the past four years in the aftermath of the disaster from Hurricane Katrina. The judges have managed these cases admirably. Their efficiency and fairness serve as a model for the courts.

The efforts over the past several years of our border courts in handling the enormous workload created in large part by immigration and drug cases are also remarkable. These courts need help, and we are seeking it. But the dedication of the judges and staff who manage, for example, 7,926 criminal cases a year in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas alone, deserve our attention and gratitude.

The Chief Justice observed in his Year End Report that the courts are operating soundly, and this is because we have such dedicated public servants. He also noted that many of the needs of the Judiciary highlighted in previous years remain to be addressed. Certainly among them is our highest priority of obtaining reasonable compensation for our judges and staff. He deferred pressing this and other issues in his Year End Report because of the hardships facing so many of our fellow citizens at this time. We will take up the cause with Congress again when the economic climate improves.

The Judicial Conference of the United States has recommended to Congress that 63 new Article III judgeships be created to help with the workloads of the courts. The Conference requests for new judgeships have gone largely unanswered for 20 years in Congress. In the meantime, there are also 100 vacancies on the federal bench that need to be filled as of this writing.

In the administrative realm, we express our appreciation to court staff across the country and at the AO for their dedicated work this year. We are also very pleased with the success of our Leadership Exchange Program that we initiated in 2009. Four outstanding participants from the courts have joined us at the AO for a year. They immersed themselves in substantial projects for the courts. We have benefited greatly from their practical experience and input. It is a sacrifice in the short term for the courts to spare such qualified leaders to spend a year at the AO. But we believe the Judiciary will receive a longer term benefit from the exchange when the participants return to their courts.

Of particular note in the Exchange Program was an extremely informative and rewarding experience 12 people from the AO had in the Seventh Circuit. The AO staff attended oral arguments, sentencing hearings, and motion calls; met with judges; and accompanied probation officers on client visits. The judges and staff who participated were very organized and gracious with their time. These first-hand experiences will help the AO better serve the courts.

Exceptional times required exceptional public service: Federal judges and court staff developed system solutions to address major automaker bankruptcy filings without disruption in service to the public, and ably managed workload related to civil cases filed in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Exceptional times required exceptional public service: Federal judges and court staff developed system solutions to address major automaker bankruptcy filings without disruption in service to the public, and ably managed workload related to civil cases filed in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

—Administrative Office Director James C. Duff

Similarly, my visit to our border courts in Tucson and El Paso in August with the Director of the U.S. Marshals Service, John Clark, was enlightening. It is one thing to read statistics, such as those in this report, but it is quite another to observe first-hand the challenges and hardships—both workload and security risks—faced in those courts. In one day, the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona in Tucson processed 323 detainees. Facilities and personnel are strained to the point that a courtroom has been converted to a processing center. Thanks to Chief Judge John Roll in Tucson and Judges Kathleen Cardone and Frank Montalvo in El Paso, both Director Clark and I returned to Washington better informed to help seek relief from Congress. Relief is needed, not only on the borders, but in district courts such as the Eastern District of Louisiana and the Middle District of Florida, where they are carrying substantially more than the national average of 480 weighted filings per judgeship, and in the Eastern District of California, where the weighted filings per judgeship are more than twice the national average.

We had a very successful legislative year in 2009. Congress provided us with a sound budget to operate our courts. We are grateful to those in Congress who helped us secure an open season in 2009 for our judges to participate in the Judicial Survivors' Annuities System. The open season began on September 11, 2009, and by the end of the year 191 judges made open season elections.

Finally, we were pleased in 2009 to coordinate with the Federal Judicial Center for one of its excellent programs on a Capital Markets Overview and to provide a condensed version of the program to over 70 staff members in Congress. It was educational and well received by the staff. It also helped us in our attempts to build better relationships with Congress.

These are a few of the highlights from 2009. The following report prepared by our staff at the AO provides a more indepth review of our accomplishments this past year.

Jim Duff