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Court Operations – Annual Report 2022

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.

Staff of the Clerk’s Office for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit on the courthouse steps.

Staff of the Clerk’s Office for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit on the courthouse steps.

Back row (L to R): Jennifer West, Jason Woolley, Michael Ames, Joseph Liporace, Jarrett Perlow, Patrick Chesnut, and Katie Hempill. Middle row (L to R): Peter Marksteiner, Leekra Jones, Michael Lichtenberg, James Alvino, Philip Hoppes, Vincent Woodard, and Annette Young. Front row (L to R): John Paul, Elise Dumont, Sheila Saunders, Cristina Behen, Mila Hull, and Katie Heidrick.

Electronic Case Management Modernization

The Judiciary made progress in 2022 on a major modernization of its digital case management system and its public access portal for court records, the Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) service.   

The modernization of the Judiciary’s Case Management/Electronic Case Files system incorporates today’s IT development best practice principles: user-centered design and iterative agile development based on testing and user feedback. It will be cloud-based, shifting storage and operations to the cloud, and will implement modern data standards with a data catalog and data governance framework. 

The modernization is being guided by recommendations from 18F, a technology consultancy within the General Services Administration, which studied the current system and provided a series of recommendations on modernization. Additionally, the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts (AO) held discussions with federal agencies that recently have implemented new or upgraded enterprise systems. 

The top-to-bottom refurbishing of the Judiciary’s case management system will “significantly improve our cybersecurity posture and benefit not just the courts, but also litigants and the public who seek to access court records,” wrote Judge Roslynn R. Mauskopf, the AO Director, to the chairs of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees, in an October 2022 letter (pdf) updating Congress on the project. 

One of the first steps in the modernization project will be replacing the current version of PACER with a modern search functionality aimed at making records searches easier, more intuitive, and user-friendly. 

The new system will make it possible to search for records across court boundaries nationally in near real time. The unified search functionality will eliminate the need for users to search for records at individual federal courts. It will also enable full-text searches and searches by judges’ names – features that PACER users themselves have identified. The new system will take advantage of modern search technologies and algorithms, including “fuzzy” search logic so that misspellings and similar words are discovered. 

A 12-member Public User Group appointed by the AO will help provide feedback and test the new search functions, as will other internal court users of the technology.

Pandemic: Studying Lessons Learned

Federal courts by and large were able to resume pre-pandemic operations in 2022 after a prolonged period of disruption caused by the COVID-19 crisis. The focus for the Judiciary turned to lessons learned from the pandemic-imposed period of remote court proceedings. 

A subgroup of the Judiciary’s system-wide COVID-19 Task Force completed a comprehensive study of the use of remote technology to conduct court proceedings involving people in detention during the pandemic. The Virtual Judiciary Operations Subgroup (VJOS) worked with the Federal Judicial Center, the Judiciary’s research and education arm, to gather information from surveys, focus groups, and interviews related to the challenges and benefits of using virtual technology with people in detention.   

The VJOS’s work produced resources that the Judiciary can use to inform policy decisions during future emergencies, including a Federal Judicial Center report on virtual proceedings involving detainees and reference guides that document how eight individual courts adapted to the pandemic’s challenges using remote technology. The guides provide step-by-step instructions and contact information for individuals and offices. 

The VJOS group included judges and clerk’s office staff; IT specialists; federal defenders; probation and pretrial officers; court interpreters; court reporters; and representatives from U.S. attorney’s offices, the AO, the U.S. Marshals Service, the Bureau of Prisons, and the FJC. 

McGirt Decision Impact

A 2020 decision by the Supreme Court caused a surge in prosecutions and caseloads in Oklahoma, prompting the Judiciary to act quickly to provide emergency assistance to two affected court districts. In McGirt v. Oklahoma, the Supreme Court held that land affected by an 1832 treaty between the Creek Nation and the U.S. government remains “Indian Country” for the purposes of the Major Crimes Act. The decision was later extended to five additional Indian nations. It shifted the majority of prosecutions of serious crimes on tribal land from state court to federal or tribal court in much of the eastern part of Oklahoma. 

As a result of the McGirt decision, cases against defendants in the Eastern and Northern Districts of Oklahoma rose dramatically. As of September 2022, criminal felony filings increased by 66 percent in the Northern District of Oklahoma and by almost 54 percent in the Eastern District of Oklahoma compared to the same period in September 2020. The Department of Justice has estimated that in fiscal year (FY) 2023 the two districts will need to handle up to 4,400 additional felony defendants per year.   

The criminal caseload increases required an operational scale-up of personnel involved in federal criminal proceedings: chambers’ and clerk's offices staff, probation and pretrial offices, federal defenders, U.S. Marshals, U.S. attorney’s offices, and federal law enforcement agencies.  

Ninety-eight new federal defender positions were earmarked in the Judiciary’s annual budgets through FY 2023. While the federal defender offices work to fill the positions, 41 federal defenders outside of Oklahoma and panel attorneys from across the country accepted case appointments stemming from McGirt. 

The Judicial Conference authorized additional magistrate judge positions for the two districts, and visiting judges from other districts pitched in as well. The Tenth Circuit approved one additional law clerk to be shared between the districts, and the AO provided temporary funding for one shared pro se law clerk position and additional clerk’s office staffing for both districts.   

Making Better Use of Data

In 2022, the AO continued work on a major initiative to integrate data from the AO and the court system into a central location, called the Enterprise Data Warehouse (EDW). The EDW makes it possible to integrate, access, and analyze data from multiple sources. It is part of a larger effort to make the Judiciary more data-driven. User-friendly dashboards are being created to help managers and staff better understand the information in the course of making management decisions. For example, a dashboard created in 2022 for federal defender offices allows Defender Services Office managers and federal defenders to monitor spending and budget projections based on actual expense data. They may also easily view historical spending patterns to better understand funding requirements in the upcoming year. Several other data-related initiatives are underway. 

Implementing the Bankruptcy Administration Improvement Act

The Bankruptcy Administration Improvement Act of 2020 made several changes to bankruptcy law that were being implemented by the Judiciary throughout 2022. 

The legislation established a new method for paying Chapter 7 trustees up to $60 in additional compensation in each case. In 2022, bankruptcy courts began processing an additional $60 per case payment to eligible Chapter 7 trustees for applicable cases filed or converted in FY 2021. Applicable cases are defined as Chapter 7 cases filed on or after Jan. 12, 2021, through Sept. 30, 2021, or Chapter 11, 12, or 13 cases filed on or after Jan. 12, 2021, that were subsequently converted to Chapter 7 on or before Sept. 30, 2021.  

To receive the additional payment, eligible Chapter 7 trustees certify that they rendered services according to the regulations and file the proper form.  

For FY 2021, the Department of Justice transferred more than $13 million to the AO to pay Chapter 7 trustee compensation in 220,456 cases. As of October 2022, bankruptcy courts had distributed $12.5 million to trustees across the country. 

The new bankruptcy law also extended 25 temporary bankruptcy judgeships for an additional five years. There are 29 total temporary bankruptcy judgeships that previously had been authorized for five-year periods. The extensions, which began in 2021, are significant because they will ensure that no further temporary judgeships expire during a period when bankruptcy filings are expected to increase.  

Access to Interpreters

Spanish is the most frequently used language in interpreting proceedings in the courts, comprising 96 percent of all reported interpreting events in FY 2022. Federal courts used interpreters in 138,738 court proceedings in the 12 months ending Sept. 30, 2022. Overall, 123 languages were used, and American Sign Language was used in 169 cases. The top 10 languages that required interpreting are listed in the chart.

Top 10 Languages Requiring Interpreting in FY 2022
Language Number of court proceedings
Spanish 132,571
Mandarin 1,140
Arabic 559
Russian 444
Romanian 273
Korean 244
Vietnamese 218
Portuguese 204
Urdu 194
Cantonese 193