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Issue 1: Providing Justice

How can the judiciary provide fair and impartial justice in a more effective manner and meet new and increasing demands, while adhering to its core values?

Issue Description

Exemplary and independent judges, high quality employees, conscientious jurors, well-reasoned and researched rulings, and time for deliberation and attention to individual issues are among the hallmarks of federal court litigation. Equal justice requires fairness and impartiality in the delivery of justice and a commitment to non-discrimination, regardless of race, color, sex, gender, gender identity, pregnancy, sexual orientation, religion, national origin, age, or disability. Scarce resources, changes in litigation and litigant expectations, and certain changes in the law, challenge the federal judiciary’s effective and prompt delivery of justice. This plan includes three strategies that focus on improving performance while ensuring that the judiciary functions under conditions that allow for the fair, impartial, and effective administration of justice:

Strategy 1.1

Pursue improvements in the delivery of fair and impartial justice on a nationwide basis.

Background and Commentary. Effective case management is essential to the delivery of justice, and most cases are handled in a manner that is both timely and deliberate. The judiciary monitors several aspects of civil case management, and has a number of mechanisms to identify and assist stressed courts. These mechanisms include biannual reports of pending civil cases and motions required under the Civil Justice Reform Act of 1990, and identifying stressed courts and the categories of cases with the longest disposition times.

National coordination mechanisms include the work of the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation, which is authorized to transfer certain civil actions pending in different districts to a single district for coordinated or consolidated pretrial proceedings. The work of chief judges in managing each court’s caseload is critical to the timely handling of cases, and these local efforts must be supported at the circuit and national level. Circuit judicial councils have the authority to issue necessary and appropriate orders for the effective and expeditious administration of justice, and the Judicial Conference is responsible for approving changes in policy for the administration of federal courts. Cooperative efforts with state courts have also proven helpful, including the sharing of information about related cases that are pending simultaneously in state and federal courts.

Despite ongoing efforts, some pockets of case delays and backlogs persist in the courts. Some delays are due to external forces beyond the judiciary’s control, cannot be avoided, and do not reflect on a court’s case management practices. With this understanding, this plan calls for the courts, Judicial Conference committees, and circuit judicial councils to undertake reasonable, concerted, and collaborative efforts to reduce the number and length of preventable case delays and backlogs.

The fair and impartial delivery of justice is also affected by high litigation costs. High costs make the federal courts less accessible, as is discussed in Issue 6. Litigation costs also have the potential to skew the mix of cases that come before the judiciary, and may unduly pressure parties towards settlement. Rule 1 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure calls for the “just, speedy, and inexpensive determination of every action and proceeding,” and this plan includes a goal to avoid unnecessary costs and delay.

This strategy also includes a goal to ensure that all persons entitled to representation under the Criminal Justice Act are afforded well qualified representation through either a federal defender or panel attorney. Well qualified representation requires sufficient resources to assure adequate pay, training, and support services. Further, where the defendant population and needs of districts differ, guidance and support must be tailored to local conditions, subject to Judicial Conference policy.

In addition, this plan includes a goal to enhance the fair and effective management of all persons under supervision. Probation and pretrial services offices have led judiciary efforts to measure the quality of services to the courts and the community, including the use of evidence-based practices in the management of persons under supervision.

Other efforts to improve the fair and impartial delivery of justice must continue. For example, a number of significant initiatives to transform the judiciary’s use of technology are underway, including the development and deployment of next-generation case management and financial administration systems. The work of the probation and pretrial services offices has also been enhanced through the use of applications that integrate data from other agencies with probation and pretrial services data to facilitate the analysis and comparison of supervision practices and outcomes among districts.

Goal 1.1a:   Reduce delay through the dissemination of effective case management methods and the work of circuit judicial councils, chief judges, Judicial Conference committees and other appropriate entities.

Goal 1.1b:   Avoid unnecessary costs to litigants in furtherance of Rule 1, Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

Goal 1.1c:   Ensure that all persons represented by panel attorneys and federal defender organizations are afforded well qualified representation consistent with best practices for the representation of all criminal defendants.

Goal 1.1d:   Enhance the management of all persons under supervision to reduce recidivism and improve public safety.

Strategy 1.2

Secure resources that are sufficient to enable the judiciary to accomplish its mission in a manner consistent with judiciary core values.

Background and Commentary. The judiciary is facing an uncertain federal budget environment, with likely constraints on the ability of congressional appropriations committees to meet judiciary funding requirements. Multiweek government shutdowns have happened twice in the recent past (2013 and 2018/2019). The judiciary was able to remain open through reliance on fees and other no year balances, and by delaying contractual obligations not critical to the performance of constitutional responsibilities. However, judges, judicial employees, the bar and the public were impacted by the shutdown of many executive branch agencies and operations; by limits on normal court operations; and by time and resources being diverted to manage the effects of the funding lapse. Uncertainty and shortfalls, when they occur, present particular challenges to clerks offices, probation and pretrial services offices, and federal defender organizations in ensuring that operations are adequately staffed.

Another key challenge for the judiciary is to address critical longer-term resource needs. Many appellate, district and bankruptcy courts have an insufficient number of authorized judgeships. The judiciary has received very few Article III district judgeships, and no circuit judgeships, since 1990.

Resources are also needed for jurors. Compensation for jurors is limited and inadequate compensation creates a financial hardship for many jurors. While the judiciary has made progress in securing needed space — including the construction of new courthouses and annexes — some court proceedings are still conducted in court facilities that are cramped, poorly configured, and lacking secure corridors separate from inmates appearing in court. As the judiciary’s facilities continue to age, additional resources will be needed to provide proper maintenance and sustain courthouse functionality. The judiciary will need to continue apportioning resources based on priorities determined by the consistent application of policies across the courthouse portfolio.

Further, the judiciary relies on resources that are within the budgets of executive branch agencies, particularly the U.S. Marshals Service and the General Services Administration. The judiciary must continue to work with these agencies to ensure that the judiciary’s resource needs are met.

The ability to secure adequate resources serves as the foundation for a vast majority of the judiciary’s plans and strategies. For example, to ensure the well qualified representation of criminal defendants (Goal 1.1c), the defender services program requires funding sufficient to accomplish its mission. Additionally, to enhance the management of persons under supervision to reduce recidivism and improve public safety (Goal 1.1d), probation and pretrial services offices require sufficient funding. Strategy 4.4 and its associated goals focus on the importance of attracting, recruiting, developing, and retaining the competent employees that are required for the effective performance of the judiciary’s mission, and critical to supporting tomorrow’s judges and meeting future workload. Also, a goal under Strategy 5.1 urges the judiciary to continue to build and maintain robust and flexible technology systems and applications, requiring a sustained investment in technology.

Goal 1.2a:   Secure needed circuit, district, bankruptcy and magistrate judgeships.

Goal 1.2b:   Ensure that judiciary proceedings are conducted in court facilities that are secure, accessible, efficient, and properly equipped.

Goal 1.2c:   Secure adequate compensation for jurors.

Goal 1.2d:   Secure adequate resources to provide the judiciary with the employees and resources necessary to meet workload demands.

Strategy 1.3

Strengthen the protection of judges, court employees, and the public at court facilities, and of judges and their families at other locations.

Background and Commentary. Judges must be able to perform their duties in an environment that addresses their concerns for their own personal safety and that of their families. The judiciary works closely with the U.S. Marshals Service to assess and improve the protection provided to the courts and individuals. Threats extend beyond the handling of criminal cases, as violent acts have often involved pro se litigants and other parties to civil cases.

While judiciary standards for court facilities provide separate hallways and other design features to protect judges, many older court facilities require judges, court personnel, and jurors to use the same corridors, entrances, and exits as prisoners, criminal defendants, and others in custody.

Assuring safety in these facilities is particularly challenging. Protection for judges must also extend beyond court facilities and include commuting routes, travel destinations, and the home. A key area of focus for the judiciary has been raising the level of awareness of security issues, assisting judges in taking steps to protect themselves while away from court facilities, and educating judges on how they can minimize the availability of personal information on the internet.

The effective implementation of this strategy is linked to other efforts in this plan. Strategy 1.2 includes a goal to ensure that judiciary proceedings are conducted in secure facilities. In addition, Strategy 5.1 includes a goal to ensure that IT policies and practices provide effective security for court records and data, including confidential personal information.

Goal 1.3a:   Improve the protection of judges, court employees, and the public in all court facilities, and the protection of judges in off-site judicial locations.

Goal 1.3b:   Improve the protection of judges and their families at home and in non-judicial locations.

Goal 1.3c:   Provide continued training to raise the awareness of judges and judiciary employees on a broad range of security topics.

Goal 1.3d:   Improve the interior and exterior security of court facilities through the collaborative efforts of the judiciary, the U.S. Marshals Service, the Federal Protective Service, and the General Services Administration.

Goal 1.3e:   Work with the U.S. Marshals Service and others to improve the collection, analysis and dissemination of protective intelligence information concerning individual judges.