Annual Report 2022
The Judiciary can look back on 2022 as a year of progress on many critical fronts. Through the work of judges, court executives, and support staff, the courts will be safer and their information technology will be more user-friendly and secure. Courts are returning to pre-pandemic operations as the COVID-19 crisis recedes. New measures are ensuring greater transparency in the areas of ethics and personal financial disclosure. And the Judiciary continues to foster an exemplary workplace that is respectful, diverse, and inclusive. The entire Judiciary family can take pride in the many ways it has preserved and strengthened our independent third branch of government.
This report details key accomplishments for the Judiciary and the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts (AO) during the past year. I would like to highlight just a few of them.
We recognize that security on multiple levels is essential to fulfilling our constitutional mission of delivering fair and impartial justice. As Chief Justice Roberts said in his year-end report, “A judicial system cannot and should not live in fear.”
In December 2022, Congress passed the Daniel Anderl Judicial Security and Privacy Act, named in honor of New Jersey District Judge Esther Salas’s son, who was killed by a former litigant in July 2020. Judge Salas’s tireless leadership, augmented by the efforts of many judges across the country, were critical to passage of the legislation, which creates safeguards to protect judges’ personally identifiable information. Efforts are well underway at the AO to assist judges in protecting personal information that can be used to target them and their families where they are most vulnerable.
Courthouses must also be safe environments for judges, staff, litigants, and the public. The Judiciary is making good use of $112.5 million in emergency supplemental funding from Congress in 2022 for vital security enhancements, such as exterior doors and windows that are break resistant, barriers or fencing where appropriate, and other safeguards to harden courthouse exteriors.
Critical work is also taking place to bolster our digital systems against cyberattacks. During 2022, the Judiciary, through the work of its IT Cybersecurity Task Force and the Judicial Conference Committee on Information Technology, made significant strides in enhancing technology security across the court system as part of a multi-year modernization and cybersecurity strategy. The goal is a security-first enterprise that uses secure, modern, standardized technologies to meet rapidly changing needs.
An important related project is the modernization of the Judiciary’s digital case management system and the public access portal for court records, the Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) service. The new system under development incorporates today’s best practices in IT and will provide the public with modern search functionality aimed at making record searches easier and more intuitive. The AO also completed several phases of a new Probation and Pretrial Services Automated Case Tracking System, which will replace an aging system with one that is highly configurable and meets the needs of officers in the field.
Significant progress was made in other important areas.
After the difficult obstacles presented by the pandemic, the resilience of individual courts, their staffs, and the AO made it possible for courts to return to pre-pandemic operations. Case backlogs that resulted from the pandemic have also come down. Going forward, the Judiciary is focused on lessons learned from the many innovations that were developed during the COVID-19 crisis, particularly the greater efficiencies in our operations and improved public access to the courts created through expanded use of technology.
The Judiciary implemented legislation that requires judges to periodically report stock and other securities transactions, and it created an online database for judges’ financial disclosure reports, including the new periodic transaction reports. The system was launched two days before the statutory deadline, and future enhancements of the system are in the works.
The federal court system continues to foster an exemplary workplace for its 30,000 employees. The Federal Judiciary Workplace Conduct Working Group — a diverse and distinguished group of judges and senior executives — has made numerous recommendations that have been approved by the Judicial Conference and adopted in the courts.
Highlights include sweeping improvements to the Model Employee Dispute Resolution (EDR) Plan, the Codes of Conduct, and the Judicial Conduct and Judicial Disability Rules. A national Office of Judicial Integrity was created, and the circuits established Circuit Directors of Workplace Relations in addition to existing EDR coordinators at every court. This progress was described in a March 2022 report, which also included nine recommendations for further action.
The relevant Conference committees are considering the recommendations as part of the Judiciary’s normal policy-making process. In September 2022, the Conference approved a recommendation for conducting periodic national workplace surveys. The first is being administered in early 2023 and will provide the Working Group with a national overview of the workplace environment, illuminate how Judiciary workplace policies are working, and provide additional recommendations that may be appropriate.
Dedicated judges and staff who work in the courts have made countless other contributions. To name a few, federal defenders are training newly hired fellows to promote diversity in their ranks, policy specialists are finding ways to boost pretrial release rates while keeping communities safe, and financial planners are identifying cost control and reduction opportunities.
As always, the courts benefited immeasurably from the leadership and guidance of the judges who serve on the Judicial Conference of the United States. The Judiciary family showed its appreciation with a yearlong celebration of the Conference’s centennial — 100 years of building on Chief Justice William Howard Taft’s vision of an efficient and independent judicial branch.
Established by Congress in 1922, the Conference sets policy for the Judiciary through its 25 committees, which work on virtually every facet of the federal court system, including budget, court administration, facilities, human resources, the public defense function, information technology, judicial security, and rules of practice and procedure. The Conference has helped the Judiciary meet new challenges, including national emergencies such as the COVID-19 pandemic, and it has protected the Judiciary’s constitutional role and independence through effective self-governance.
At every level, in every court and court office, this past year and every year, our judges and employees share something in common — a fervent belief that their work matters. Whatever their role or responsibility, they can look back on the accomplishments of the past year with pride, knowing they did their best to fulfill their mission and to serve the public that depends on them for the fair and impartial delivery of justice in American democracy.