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Court Operations and Case Management – Annual Report 2018

The Judiciary is committed to innovative court management and administration that effectively addresses the changing needs of judges, court staff, the bar, and the public.

Southwest Border Conference and Joint Task Force

The Judiciary took several steps in 2018 to deal with a surge of immigration cases in courts on the U.S.-Mexico border stemming from the administration’s “zero tolerance” policy on illegal entry. The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts (AO) convened a conference of officials from the affected districts in Southern California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Western and Southern Texas. District judges, magistrate judges, federal defenders, district court clerks, and chief probation and pretrial services officers met to discuss how best to deal with the logistical and case management challenges of processing the flood of cases.

The Judiciary also formed a joint task force with the Justice Department called the Task Force on Southwest Border Issues. It grew from a meeting in June 2018 between the deputy attorney general and members of the Judicial Conference’s Committee on Defender Services to discuss issues related to increased border prosecutions. At the task force's initial meeting in July 2018, topics discussed included locating separated family members, returning identification documents and other critical property to defendants, interpretation needs, and improved communication on material changes to criminal case filings so resource needs could be anticipated. Participants included  judges from several Judicial Conference committees, a U.S. magistrate judge, two federal defenders, a panel attorney, and a chief probation officer. Executive branch participants included two U.S. attorneys and senior officials from U.S. Border Patrol, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and the U.S. Marshals Service. A second meeting was held in September 2018 in McAllen, Texas, and a third was planned for early 2019.

Increase in Daily Juror Payments

The daily attendance fee paid to federal jurors increased for the first time since 1990, rising from $40 to $50 per day. The new rate took effect May 7, 2018, and affected anyone serving on a jury in the federal courts, both grand jurors and those who serve on trial juries (petit jurors). The Judiciary had requested the increase for several years, and it was approved by Congress in 2018. The legislation left unchanged the courts’ discretion to increase attendance fees up to $10 per day for petit jurors serving more than 10 days and for grand jurors serving more than 45 days.

Redesigned Juror Qualification Questionnaire

In 2018, courts were using a new juror qualification questionnaire approved by the Judicial Conference. It was the first significant redesign of the national questionnaire in nearly two decades and reflected substantial input from the courts, form designers, and software programmers. The language in the questionnaire was simplified, and questions and instructions are now presented in side-by-side columns, with explanatory information moved to the front of the questionnaire.

New Online Presence for Bankruptcy Noticing Center

In an effort to make the bankruptcy process easier for filers, the Judiciary launched a new public website that provides a modern, interactive experience and heightened data security. The Bankruptcy Noticing Center’s website also allows online account access. The Judiciary has moved steadily in the direction of electronic bankruptcy transactions both to save money and to make the bankruptcy process easier for filers.  In fiscal year 2018, electronic bankruptcy noticing saved the Judiciary $7.6 million in postage and paper costs.

Next Generation Case Management

A major upgrade of the Judiciary’s electronic case management system progressed in 2018 with the addition of several courts to the system. By 2021, this multi-year effort will result in all federal courts migrating to the Next Generation CM/ECF, the Judiciary’s upgraded Case Management/Electronic Case Files System. The system allows Judiciary personnel and public users to provide a single login and password across courts and enables court staff to consolidate different views of case data in a single interface. By the end of 2018, all 13 courts of appeals had made the transition, and 61 district and bankruptcy courts were either up and running or in the process of implementation. An AO implementation team and court staff mentors who have already been through the process support the courts during the transition.

For courts of appeals, the new system improves the attorney filer interface and allows judges and staff attorneys to download and store pending matters and supporting documents on tablets. District and bankruptcy judges and chambers staff can automatically gather materials relevant to pending motions or other matters.

Supporting PROMESA Case Work

The AO continued providing support to the judges and the courts handling the petitions for relief filed by the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico under the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA). The act makes certain sections of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code applicable to Puerto Rico and addresses its debt by establishing an oversight board, a process for restructuring debt, and expedited procedures for approving critical infrastructure projects. The AO has been providing legal and policy guidance on case-related issues. It also helped coordinate efforts to keep the case on track after a devastating hurricane in the fall of 2017 caused massive property and infrastructure damage in addition to tragic loss of life. Puerto Rico has suffered chronic power shortages since the storm.

Access to Interpreters

Spanish is the most frequently used language in interpreting proceedings in the courts, comprising 97 percent of all reported interpreting events in fiscal year 2018. Federal courts used interpreters in 361,733 court proceedings in the 12 months ending Sept. 30, 2018. Overall, 130 different languages were used. The top 10 languages that required interpreting were Spanish (351,220), Portuguese (1,417), Mandarin (1,287), Russian (892), Arabic (811), Punjabi (570), Mixteco (413), Romanian (321), Haitian Creole (266), and American Sign Language (255).

Top 10 Languages Requiring Interpreting in FY 2018
Language Number of court proceedings
Spanish 351,220
Portuguese 1,417
Mandarin 1,287
Russian 892
Arabic 811
Punjabi 570
Mixteco 413
Romanian 321
Haitian Creole 266
American Sign Language 255