Better Management Can Ease Federal Case Backlog

GGD-81-2: Published: Feb 24, 1981. Publicly Released: Feb 24, 1981.

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Actions necessary to deal with the civil case backlog in federal district courts were discussed. Processing a large volume of cases requires the development and enforcement of a case management system, the use of magistrates and clerks' offices, and an adequate number of judges. GAO found that the degree to which the courts experienced a backlog problem correlated with the extent to which these key requirements were satisfied. Improved court administration would minimize this problem.

Courts were not taking full advantage of magistrates or personnel from the clerks' offices to assist in processing civil cases. Courts and judges that used the clerks' offices for administering case management and docket control systems had fewer backlog cases. Many judges were unwilling to assign civil case duties to the magistrates because they: (1) believed that magistrates do not expedite the civil process since their decisions can be appealed to the court; (2) wanted full control of all cases; and (3) believed that the opportunities for settlement were greater if they presided over all conferences.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status:

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Judicial Conference of the United States should develop a proposed amendment to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure to include maximum timeframes for the various steps in the civil process and require each court to establish timeframes within these limits. The Federal Rules also should authorize a judge to waive the time limits for good cause shown, such as case complexity, and to establish alternate time frames where appropriate. The Judicial Conference of the United States should also encourage the district courts to better utilize their clerks' offices in the administration of the courts, particularly for case management and docket control systems, and encourage the district courts to make greater use of the magistrates as provided in the Federal Magistrate Act of 1979.

    Agency Affected: Judicial Conference of the United States


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