Support To Judges - Annual Report 2011
The Judicial Conference sets Judiciary policy to guide the administration of justice in an effective and timely manner. It assists and guides judges as they address changing and increasing workload demands, and as they face an austere federal budget. The Administrative Office works on behalf of the Conference, its committees, and federal judges across the country, helping to streamline business practices that support the Judiciary's mission.
Implementation of the Strategic Plan for the Federal Judiciary
The AO has supported Judicial Conference committee efforts to implement the Strategic Plan for the Federal Judiciary since its approval in September 2010. The Conference approved the Strategic Plan and a new planning approach to address Judiciary-wide challenges while preserving core values of equal justice, judicial independence, accountability, excellence, service, and fidelity to the rule of law. In a difficult financial climate, the Strategic Planhas provided a framework for evaluating cost-containment proposals, and served as a foundation for discussions about Judiciary priority-setting.
The Executive Committee is coordinating implementation of the plan, and has identified five immediate priorities: improving the delivery of justice, securing adequate resources, managing resources efficiently and effectively, harnessing technology, and improving public understanding of the Judiciary. To support the Strategic Planand these priorities, the AO has also worked to align its internal planning and management systems with the Judiciary plan.
Article III Vacancies, Nominations, and Confirmations
As of September 30, 2011, there were 94 Article III judgeship vacancies: 18 in the courts of appeals and 76 in the district courts. Fifty-six nominations were pending: 12 for the courts of appeals and 44 for the district courts. Since the 112th Congress convened in January 2011, 36 Article III judges have been confirmed. More current information about judicial vacancies can be found on uscourts.gov, under Judges and Judgeships.
At its June meeting, the Committee on the Administration of the Magistrate Judges System considered requests for five new magistrate judge positions in four district courts. The committee voted to recommend, and the Judicial Conference authorized, three new magistrate judge positions designated for accelerated funding effective April 1, 2012, in Wilmington, DE; Durham, NC; and Orlando or Tampa, FL. As approved by the Conference, the recommendations increase the number of full-time magistrate judge positions to 531 and leave unchanged the number of part-time magistrate judges (40) and combination magistrate judge/clerk of court positions (3). The Conference also approved the Committee recommendation not to authorize one district court to fill an upcoming magistrate judge position vacancy.
International Prisoner Transfer Program
On occasion, a magistrate judge is needed to conduct proceedings, as authorized by 28 U.S.C. § 636(g), to verify a convicted offender's voluntary consent to transfer to the country of which he or she is a citizen or national, to serve the remainder of his or her sentence pursuant to a prisoner transfer treaty. In FY 2011, magistrate judges conducted consent verification proceedings in Mexico, Hong Kong, Japan, Spain, Russia, and Bermuda.
The Judiciary uses intercircuit and intracircuit assignments of Article III judges to provide short-term assistance to courts with overwhelming caseloads. For the 12-month period ending June 2011, visiting judges participated in 3,619 appeals closed after oral hearing or submission of briefs. In the district courts, visiting judges closed 1,967 civil cases and criminal cases involving 370 defendants. During the same time period, the Committee on Intercircuit Assignments recommended, and the Chief Justice approved, 202 intercircuit assignments.
Conference-Recommended Judicial Wellness Committees
At the Judicial Branch Committee's recommendation, the Judicial Conference in March recommended that circuit judicial councils consider establishing judicial wellness committees charged with "promoting health and wellness among judges by creating programs (educational or otherwise), policies, and/or practices that provide a supportive environment for the maintenance and restoration of health and wellness; and providing information to judges on judicial retirement issues, including disability retirement." Chief circuit judges were notified of the Conference action and advised of programs already underway in some courts to promote judges' optimum health and wellness. Among other issues, the programs focus on the prevention or treatment of acute or chronic disease, including mental illness, physical disability, and occupational stress.
Financial Disclosure Electronic Filing System
In March 2011, the Committee on Financial Disclosure launched the first phase of the Financial Disclosure Online Reporting System (FiDO). As of September 30, 2011, 96 percent of all annual filers had registered for electronic filing, and 3,766 of the 4,085 annual reports received had been submitted electronically, representing 92 percent of all reports filed.
Delayed-Notice Search Warrant Reporting
In July 2011, the Administrative Office (AO) submitted its fourth annual report to Congress on actions taken by judges on requests for delayed-notice search warrants, pursuant to Section 114(d) of the USA PATRIOT Improvement and Reauthorization Act of 2005 (Pub. L. No. 109-177), codified at 18 U.S.C. § 3103a(d)(1). The statute requires the Administrative Office to submit annual reports to Congress summarizing the information it receives from judges.
The most recent report to Congress, with data for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2010, reflected twice the number of requests filed in 2009 and five times the number of requests filed in 2007, the first year of reporting. In fiscal year 2010, judges in 72 districts reported 3,970 requests for delay, including 2,395 requests for initial delay and 1,575 requests for extensions. Twenty of the applications reported were denied, 48 of the applications were granted as modified, and the rest were granted as requested.
Software modifications are underway to allow judges to report this data via the case management system, CM/ECF, starting in 2012.
Online Clerkship Application and Review
The Online System for Clerkship Application and Review (OSCAR) allows federal judges and staff attorney offices to post law clerk and staff attorney opportunities and accept electronic applications. In fiscal year 2011, OSCAR program participation increased to 1,564 federal judges, including 56 newly appointed judges. Twelve of the 13 appellate staff attorney offices used OSCAR to advertise staff attorney positions and accept applications. The AO enhanced its communication and training programs to judges, law schools, and courts, which, in turn, reduced the total number of help desk calls by 30 percent and improved the overall user experience.
Improvements to the Federal Rules
In April 2011, the Supreme Court adopted and transmitted to Congress a series of recommendations from the Judicial Conference to amend the Federal Rules of Evidence, Appellate Procedure, Bankruptcy Procedure, and Criminal Procedure. The Federal Rules amendments adopted by the Supreme Court took effect on December 1, 2011. More information about Federal Rules is available online.
Newly Restyled Federal Rules of Evidence
Included among the new rules amendments were stylistic amendments to Federal Rules of Evidence 101 through 1103. The restyled evidence rules represent the last chapter in a decades-long effort to make the federal rules clearer, more concise, and easier to use. The rules garnered prestigious awards even before taking effect, including the 2011 Burton Award for Reform in Law Award and a 2011 Clear Mark Award from the Center for Plain Language.
In implementing this comprehensive style revision, the Advisory Committee on Evidence Rules and the Committee on Rules of Practice and Procedure sought to preserve terms that have acquired special status from years of case law interpretation. Based on uniform drafting guidelines prepared by a legal-writing scholar, the Evidence Rules restyling project follows the successful restyling over the past 20 years of the Federal Rules of Appellate, Criminal, and Civil Procedure.
New Bankruptcy Rules Amendments
The new rule amendments also include, among other changes, significant changes to Bankruptcy Rules 2019 and 3001, a new Bankruptcy Rule 3002.1, and several new or amended official bankruptcy forms. The Rule 2019 amendments expand the scope of disclosure requirements in Chapter 9 and Chapter 11 cases by all committees, groups, or entities that consist of or represent creditors or equity security holders who are acting in concert.
As amended, Rule 3001 requires creditors to provide additional supporting information for certain proofs of claim in an individual debtor's case. In a Chapter 13 case, new Rule 3002.1 requires that a home mortgage creditor give notice of post-petition fees, expenses, or charges and advance notice of post-petition changes in the mortgage payment amount. The new rule also establishes a procedure for determining whether a Chapter 13 debtor has cured any default and is otherwise current on mortgage payments at the close of the case. Along with the rule amendments, amendments to several official bankruptcy forms, and three new official forms implementing the amendments to Rule 3001 and new rule 3002.1, took effect on December 1, 2011.
New Criminal Rules Take Advantage of Technological Advances
This new package of amendments to the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure includes revisions to Rules 1, 3, 4, 6, 9, 40, 41, 43, and 49, and a new Rule 4.1, which clarifies and regulates the use of technology in applying for and issuing certain documents and in conducting certain proceedings. The centerpiece of the amendments is new Criminal Rule 4.1. It brings together in one rule the procedures for using a telephone or other reliable electronic means for reviewing complaints and applying for and issuing warrants and summonses. The rule amendments recognize that technological developments have improved access to judges, reducing the need for government action without prior judicial approval.
Pending Rules Changes
In September 2011, the Committee on Rules of Practice and Procedure recommended, and the Judicial Conference approved, proposed amendments to the Bankruptcy Rules, the Bankruptcy Official Forms, and the Criminal Rules. The Supreme Court will review the proposed amendments, with the exception of the Official Bankruptcy Forms that took effect in December 2011. If approved, the amendments would then be transmitted to Congress by May 1, 2012.
Legislative Amendments to 28 U.S.C. § 2107
Under the direction of the Judicial Conference, the Standing Committee and the Advisory Committee on Appellate Rules, and with the active assistance of a number of judges, the Administrative Office secured essential, concurrent legislative amendments to 28 U.S.C. § 2107. These amendments make the statute consistent with the newly amended Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure. Section 2107 and Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 4 both address the time to appeal in a civil case. The new amendments to Appellate Rules 4 and 40, clarifying the longer 60-day appeal period, and the 45-day period to file a petition for panel rehearing, apply in cases in which an officer or employee of the United States is sued in an individual capacity for acts or omissions occurring in connection with duties performed on behalf of the United States.
Bankruptcy Appellate Rules
The Advisory Committee on Bankruptcy Rules is considering comprehensive changes to Part VIII of the Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure, which governs appeals from the bankruptcy court to the district court or bankruptcy appellate panel. The advisory committee held several conferences with the bench, bar, court staff, and academia, where strong support was voiced for modifying the rules. Among other things, the advisory committee is working on amendments that will clarify the rules, making them easier to read and understand; update the rules to reflect technological changes in the way appeals are currently handled; and harmonize the Part VIII Rules with the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure.
Procedures for Rules Committees
The Judicial Conference approved revisions to the procedures governing the work of the Committee on Rules of Practice and Procedure and advisory rules committees. The Procedures are posted on the federal rulemaking website and were first promulgated by the Judicial Conference in 1983. The revisions account for the impact of the Internet, propose ways to make the process more efficient, and follow many of the style protocols used in drafting the rules. They also address issues such as the standard for publishing proposed rules amendments; what comprises the official records of the committees, particularly with respect to correspondence; what records are to be posted on the rulemaking website and what records are maintained in the Administrative Office; whether transcripts should be prepared of public hearings; and when hearings on possible rules changes can be canceled due to insufficient interest.