Federal Judiciary:

How the Judicial Conference Assesses the Need for More Judges

GGD-93-31: Published: Jan 29, 1993. Publicly Released: Jan 29, 1993.

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Pursuant to a legislative requirement, GAO reviewed the Judicial Conference of the United States' policies, procedures, and methodologies for recommending district and appellate court judgeships, focusing on whether the Conference: (1) accurately measured the workload of existing federal judges; (2) consistently applied methodologies to district courts and courts of appeals; and (3) provided accurate indicators of the need for additional judgeships. GAO also reviewed efforts to: (1) improve case weight measurement of district judges' workload; and (2) develop a more accurate measure of appellate court workload.

GAO found that: (1) the Conference uses the current weighted workload to measure a district's need for additional judgeships; (2) in general, the Conference did not recommend additional judgeships if a district's current cases were below 400 per authorized judgeship; (3) the Conference has written guidelines for permanent, temporary, and roving judgeships; (4) the Conference is revising its 1979 case weight measurement system, but it will not be available before 1994; (5) 47 percent of the Conference's 1990 recommendations could not be justified by the Conference's written guidelines alone; (6) all but 4 of the 55 1990 district judgeship recommendations were supported by written and unwritten guidelines; and (7) the Conference used ancillary data to make its recommendation decisions, but it did not fully explain its use of the information. GAO also found that: (1) the recommendation process for appellate courts is simpler, mainly because there are fewer appellate courts; (2) the Conference usually grants an appellate court request for additional judges; (3) the Conference used the number of cases resolved on their merits, rather than on technicalities, as its measure of an appellate court's workload; (4) the Conference's benchmark of 255 merit dispositions per judge generally supported the need for more judges than the court requested, but the Conference only recommended the number of judges requested; (5) the merit dispositions measure excluded up to half of a court's caseload and did not take into account the time demands of different case types; and (6) the Conference and the Federal Judicial Center are assessing options for developing a better appellate court work-load measurement.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The Subcommittee on Statistics did not approve the Center's proposed initial methodology for the workload of courts of appeals judges. The Center has proposed a revised approach that is less work-intensive, and which the Subcommittee is reviewing.

    Recommendation: The Conference and the Federal Judicial Center should move to develop a better work-load measure for the courts of appeals.

    Agency Affected: Judicial Conference of the United States

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: New district court case weights were approved in 1993 and are being used for the report that will be sent to Congress in 1995.

    Recommendation: Until the new district court case weights are available, the Conference should indicate where its recommendations reflect its judgement that the 1979 case weights do not reflect the demands that particular types of cases, such as multiple defendant drug cases, place on district judges. The district court case weights should also be revised more regularly.

    Agency Affected: Judicial Conference of the United States

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Special circumstances are clearly identified to Congress when Conference recommendations for individual courts depart from the Conference's criteria. This process relates to the previous recommendation regarding providing Congress with written explanations for its recommendations. The Subcommittee on Statistics has agreed to provide this information in its report to Congress on the need for additional judgeships. The Judicial Conference will consider in late 1996 a recommendation from the Statistics Committee that a new methodology be developed for assessing appellate judge workload. No specific alternations were recommended.

    Recommendation: Where it finds that special circumstances in an individual court warrant departure from its general policies and criteria, the Conference should clearly explain the basis for its departure.

    Agency Affected: Judicial Conference of the United States

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In its report to Congress on judgeship needs, the Conference will fully explain its methodology, including the reasons for recommending new judgeships in districts that vary from its general workload threshold for recommending new judgeships.

    Recommendation: The Conference should provide to Congress all the policies and criteria it uses in making it judgeship recommendations.

    Agency Affected: Judicial Conference of the United States

  5. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The Subcommittee on Statistics did not approve the Center's proposed initial methodology for the workload of courts of appeals judges. The Center proposed a revised approach that is less work-intensive, which the Subcommittee reviewed and rejected. At this time, the Judicial Conference has no intention of altering the workload measure for courts of appeals judges anytime in the foreseeable future. Therefore, GAO is closing this recommendation.

    Recommendation: The Conference and the Federal Judicial Center should move to develop a better work-load measure for the courts of appeals.

    Agency Affected: Judicial Conference of the United States

 

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