This is an interesting piece on recent administrative changes made at the Criminal Term of the Brooklyn Supreme Court to combat backlog and process cases more efficiently. Efficiency in case processing is often overemphasized, and can be stressed to the detriment of other important factors of court productivity. But it is still a very visible part of court operations, and accordingly very important. Courts should be applauded for seeking out internal ways to handle their duties efficiently.
Facing a budget crunch, both court administrators and state legislators in Iowa are admitting the possibility that they might close or consolidate courthouses in the future, leaving some of Iowa’s counties without any courthouse at all. Technological advances might make some closings more palatable, as materials can be filed and hearings conducted electronically.
There is no plan in the works to consolidate court services, said State Court Administrator David Boyd, who is set to retire in September after four decades of working for Iowa’s court system. And there are state laws barring certain moves, such as creating regional litigation centers or moving clerk offices out of county seats.
But Boyd admits there may come a time when offering court services in all 99 counties could be reconsidered.
“I really do hope at some point we are in fact considered to be a separate and equal branch of government and properly funded,” he said. “That’s not to say that we have to continue to do things in a particular way just because we’ve always done it that way.”
State courts have increasingly tried to keep up with the growth of self-represented litigants. Concrete numbers are elusive, in part due to varying definitions of “self-represented.”* But studies undertaken by individual states clearly demonstrate the burgeoning self-represented population in probate, domestic violence, family law, and even run-of-the-mill civil cases. Federal courts, too, report that almost 86,000 civil cases were filed by a self-represented plaintiff in Fiscal Year 2016 (most of them prisoner petitions).
This interesting article discusses the efforts of the Minnesota state courts to address the growing numbers of self-represented parties:
It’s not uncommon for pro se litigants to arrive at court with paperwork that’s either the wrong form or filled out incorrectly. These kinds of mistakes can gum up the system, court officials say. Now judges can sometimes send people straight from the courtroom to a self-help center.
“It helps people feel like they’ve been heard,” District Judge Bethany Fountain Lindberg said. “It also eliminates unnecessary hearings.”
While the number of court cases overall in Minnesota has decreased since 2010, the percentage of litigants proceeding without a lawyer remains high. Excluding traffic and parking cases, nearly 80 percent of cases heard in Minnesota district courts last year involved a pro se litigant at some point, state data show.
The reason is often financial, court officials say. The rise of the do-it-yourself web culture may also be behind the trend.
“It used to be that everyone had attorneys,” said Mike Moriarity, 10th Judicial District administrator. “Now there’s a spirit that people want to try doing it themselves.
* The Court Statistics Project, maintained by the National Center for State Courts, tracks self-represented litigation through a common definition, but the numbers are not available for all states.
Buried in this story about the University of Delaware’s partnership with the state court system to create a fellows program for graduate students is a most interesting point:
In 2014, the judicial branch entered a 10-year partnership with the Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics to improve court operations using private-sector techniques.
As part of the effort, many in the courts were trained in Lean Six Sigma, a methodology focused on removing waste from the processes. The courts said this helped save the judicial branch and partner agencies more than 4,250 staff hours.
Courts have been looking to private sector organizations for management techniques for a century, when Chief Justice Taft began infusing the federal courts with “executive principle.” But until this story broke, I was admittedly unaware that Six Sigma techniques were being applied directly in state court systems.
More background on the court-university partnership is here.
Sometimes relatively insignificant events serve as a reminder of the organizational nature of courts. For example, they sometimes have unexpected snow days. And, like the rest of us, they have to catch up when they reopen.
On Tuesday, the Judicial Conference of the United States agreed to recommend to Congress to create 57 new federal judgeships — 5 in the circuit courts and 52 in the district courts. The Conference further recommended that eight temporary or part-time district judgeships be converted to permanent status.
In its press release, the Conference emphasized the growth of the federal courts’ overall docket since 1990, when the last comprehensive judgeship bill was enacted. In that quarter-century plus, district court filings have grown 38 percent (with nearly equal growth in criminal and civil filings), and appellate courts have grown by 40 percent.
But the recommendations are more narrowly tailored than a simply 40 percent boost in judges nationwide. Only one of the thirteen appellate courts (the Ninth) is a suggested recipient of more judges, and only 27 of the 94 district courts are deemed to need new judgeships.
An examination of some of these targeted districts, and why it matters, after the jump.
The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts has published its 2016 Annual Report and statistical tables. Although many of the most interesting tables are not publicly released, those that are released provide a wealth of information on federal court dockets and operations. I will likely have more to say about the 2016 statistics in the coming days, once I have a chance to go through the tables a bit.