Courthouse Construction: Sufficient Data and Analysis Would Help Resolve the Courtroom-Sharing Issue

GAO-01-70 Published: Dec 14, 2000. Publicly Released: Dec 14, 2000.
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The judiciary is in the midst of a multibillion-dollar courthouse construction program. New courthouses are being built to house new judgeships created because of increasing caseloads and to replace obsolete courthouses occupied by existing judges. For years, there has been a debate about whether district judges could share courtrooms to save taxpayer dollars without compromising judicial administration. In 1997, GAO issued a report calling for better courtroom use data and analysis to enhance facility planning. In response, the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts (AOUSC) contracted with Ernst & Young to study the judiciary's facilities program in 1999. As part of the study, AOUSC asked Ernst & Young to analyze courtroom utilization, assignment, and sharing by judges. GAO found that the Ernst & Young study did not provide the type of data and analysis that GAO and other research organizations, such as the Rand Institute for Civil Justice and the Federal Judicial Center, have determined would be needed to help resolve the courtroom-sharing issue.

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Matter for Congressional Consideration

Matter Status Comments
Given the controversy surrounding the courtroom-sharing issue, the potential savings that could be derived if fewer expensive courtrooms are built, and AOUSC's reluctance to design and implement cost-effective research to help resolve the issue, Congress may wish to consider requiring AOUSC to provide persuasive courtroom use data and analysis, along with its views, to justify the number of courtrooms being requested in future courthouse construction projects before funding is approved.
Closed – Not Implemented
Congress has not required courtroom use data to the degree specified in our report.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Administrative Office of the United States Courts The Director, AOUSC, in conjunction with the Judicial Conference Committee on Courtroom Administration and Case Management, should design and implement cost-effective research more in line with GAO's 1997 report. These recommendations, which were similar to those made by Rand and the Federal Judiciary Center, were aimed at developing the type of data that would convincingly illustrate whether, and under what circumstances, opportunities for courtroom sharing exist.
Closed – Not Implemented
The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts (AOC) believes that the judiciary has studied this issue several times and that more statistics will not provide conclusive answers to the complex subject of courtroom sharing. Therefore, AOC does not intend to implement this recommendation. GAO continues to believe that the type of research GAO and others have recommended has not been done. This research is needed to reach a consensus on if, and to what extent, courtroom sharing could be instituted to reduce costs.
Administrative Office of the United States Courts The Director, AOUSC, should establish an advisory group made up of interested stakeholders and experts to assist in identifying study objectives, potential methodologies, and reasonable approaches for doing this work.
Closed – Not Implemented
AOC believes that the judiciary has already consulted with interested stakeholders and experts on the courtroom sharing issue and that repeating the process is not likely to generate agreement. GAO continues to believe that additional research is needed and that any such research would benefit from the input of interested stakeholders and experts.

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