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Court Operations and Case Management – Annual Report 2019

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.

Implementing the First Step Act

In 2019, the Judiciary initiated a major effort to fulfill its obligations under the First Step Act of 2018, which made the most sweeping changes to the U.S. criminal justice system in a generation. The legislation reduces mandatory minimum sentences for certain offenses, requires recidivism reduction plans and prerelease assistance for thousands of inmates released early, and allows inmates to make motions for compassionate release directly to the courts.

The Judicial Conference and the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts (AO) began collaborating with the U.S. Sentencing Commission (USSC), the Department of Justice (DOJ), and the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to coordinate planning and execution of the multiple requirements of the First Step Act. The topics addressed include:

Executing the POWER Act

The AO and the courts worked in 2019 on developing legal and operational guidance on implementing the requirements of the Pro Bono Work to Empower and Represent (POWER) Act of 2018. The law requires the chief judge of each district to hold annual “empowerment events” to encourage lawyers to provide pro bono services to survivors of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking. To promote the provision of pro bono legal services for American Indian or Alaska Native victims, an additional biennial event is required for districts that include American Indian tribes or tribal organizations. The AO also developed a reporting system for chief district judges to submit the required annual reports on conducted events. To facilitate the sharing of ideas about the design of these events, the reporting system allows courts to see information on events conducted by other courts.

Southwest Border Issues

A third session of the Task Force on Southwest Border Issues was held in 2019 as the AO and the courts worked with executive branch officials to manage 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 AO created the task force in 2018 to provide an interagency forum for resolving issues that arose from increased prosecutions at the border. It held two sessions last year.

Topics addressed by the task force at its third session in April 2019 at the Thurgood Marshall Federal Judiciary Building in Washington, DC, included locating separated family members in district court proceedings, return of identification documents and other critical property before people are removed from the country, language and interpretation issues, and improved communication on material changes to criminal case filings to enable a more accurate anticipation of resource requirements.

The idea of a cross-agency task force emerged from discussions in June 2018 between the Judicial Conference Committee on Defender Services and the deputy attorney general. Judicial branch members of the task force include federal judges from several Judicial Conference committees, a magistrate judge, two federal public defenders, a Criminal Justice Act (CJA) panel attorney district representative, a chief probation officer, and AO staff. Executive branch participants include officials from the DOJ; U.S. attorneys from Southwest border districts; and senior officials from U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the U.S. Marshals Service. In late 2019, another session of the task force was planned for early 2020.

Next Generation Case Management

A large-scale, multi-year effort to upgrade the Judiciary’s electronic case management system advanced in 2019 with additional courts brought online. It’s expected that by 2021, all 94 federal district courts and the 13 courts of appeals will be up and running on the next generation (NextGen) Case Management/Electronic Case Files (CM/ECF) system, the Judiciary’s upgraded CM/ECF system. The upgrade 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 into a single interface. 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 mobile devices. District and bankruptcy judges and chambers staff can automatically gather materials relevant to pending motions or other matters.

By the end of 2019, all the appellate courts were on the NextGen system, and 32 district courts and 31 bankruptcy courts had been added. Approximately 62 percent of federal court units were either live or in the process of implementing the system in 2019. Another 67 courts are expected to be added in 2020. Implementation teams from the AO help courts migrate and provide on-site assistance, mentoring, training workshops, go-live weekend support, and post-migration follow-up.

Diversity and Implicit Bias Clearinghouse

The AO broadened its efforts to foster diversity and fairness within the branch in 2019. After months of research, Director’s Leadership Program Resident Tiana Sampson created a clearinghouse for judges and court employees to find information about programs that address implicit bias, fairness, diversity, and related topics. The clearinghouse provides descriptions, links, and sample materials for a range of Judiciary resources, including conferences, training programs, trial resources, and experts and presenters. It is housed on JNet, the Judiciary’s widely used intranet site, and will support the continued expansion and development of initiatives related to implicit bias, racial fairness, and diversity and inclusion in recruiting and employment, in federal defender operations, and in the delivery of justice in the courts.

Jury Diversity Initiatives

As part of the Judiciary’s strategic plan, federal courts evaluate their selection processes to ensure that the age, race, and socio-economic status of juror pools reflect the courts’ communities. Some courts modify their processes to improve diversity on their juries.

For example, the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, which covers nine counties and includes Philadelphia, is encouraging more people from underrepresented communities across the district to respond to jury summonses. To increase the number of names in its juror pool, the court enlarged the size of its master jury wheel, which is an automated database containing names randomly selected from voter registration rolls. To increase the response rate to juror qualification questionnaires, the court improved the accuracy of its mailing list by conducting more frequent address checks through the U.S. Postal Service. These and other methods have been used by district courts to improve the diversity of their jury wheels. In the Eastern District of Michigan, which encompasses Detroit, courts have employed community outreach and education programs, involving community and nonprofit organizations, religious institutions, law firms, and the media, with the goal of improving response rates in underrepresented communities.

Access to Interpreters

Spanish is the most frequently used language in interpreting proceedings in the courts, accounting for 97 percent of all reported interpreting events in fiscal year 2019. Federal courts used interpreters in 388,087 court proceedings in the 12 months ending Sept. 30, 2019. Overall, 128 different languages were used, and American Sign Language was used in 325 cases. The top 10 languages that required interpreting are displayed on the following table.

Top 10 Languages Requiring Interpreting in FY 2019
Language Number of court proceedings
Spanish 377,417
Mandarin 1,705
Portuguese 1,120
Russian 677
Arabic 622
Mixteco 589
Punjabi 485
Haitian Creole 348
Romanian 331
American Sign Language 325