The United States Courts will use court fees and reserve resources to operate during the current government shutdown. The Courts can continue to operate for about three weeks, until January 11, 2019.
Two stories coming out of India caught my eye this past week. The first was an op-ed discussing the ongoing debate about the use of MBA-qualified court managers to gain better control over the administration of the court system. Given the shocking backlog and delay in many of India’s courts, appointing special managers to help streamline the case management process makes good sense. But as is the case with most organizations, the introduction of “outsiders” to clean up an internal mess poses a threat to those already working within the system. Fixing this will require a cultural shift within the Indian court system, probably from the top down. But it will not be easy.
In an unrelated story, but one reflecting some of the same difficulties, an attorney was held in contempt of court and jailed for one month for making disparaging remarks about the court on Facebook. The court referred to the “judge bashing” as a form of browbeating, terrorizing, or intimidating judges.
I cannot find the exact social media post that instigated the contempt charge, so I cannot tell whether the lawyer’s actions were an anomaly or something more pervasive. But the whole story suggests an unhealthy relationship between court and counsel. Attacking the courts on Facebook is childish and unprofessional. But jailing a lawyer for a social media post is (at least seemingly) thin-skinned and cowardly. Unless the post called for violence against judges or the court system, a contempt proceeding would seem to do more harm to the courts than a Facebook post ever would.
UPDATE: The entire contempt order can be found here. It does appear that the lawyer’s Facebook comments were pretty obnoxious (although I am not culturally suave enough to decode them entirely). But the court’s 45-page defense of judicial independence and the “majesty of the law” also seems very over the top. Quoting Othello is a particularly odd, cloying touch. A shorter, sterner statement could have addressed the court’s concerns without making the judges appear so professionally and emotionally fragile.
I missed the press release from late July, but it’s worth noting that John Cooke, currently the Deputy Director of the Federal Judicial Center, will be promoted to be the Center’s eleventh director next month. He will replace Judge Jeremy Fogel, who is leaving the FJC to lead the new Berkeley Judicial Institute.
From the press release:
John Cooke joined the Federal Judicial Center in 1998 as its director of judicial education programs, and he later headed the Center’s Education Division. The Board selected Mr. Cooke as Deputy Director in 2005. Before his 20-year career at the Center, Mr. Cooke was a commissioned officer in the United States Judge Advocate General’s Corps, achieving the rank of brigadier general. In the course of his military career, he served as the Chief Judge of the U.S. Army Court of Criminal Appeals, the Judge Advocate for the U.S. Army in Europe, Academic Director of the Judge Advocate General’s School, and as a military trial judge. Mr. Cooke received a B.A. degree from Carleton College, a J.D. from the University of Southern California, and an LL.M degree from the University of Virginia.
Best wishes to the new Director!
Two remarkable, parallel stories broke this week, each involving the transfer of a state judge to another division within the court system. In Pennsylvania, Judge Lyris Younge was transferred from her longstanding seat in Philadelphia Family Court to the Court of Common Pleas Civil Division. It’s an odd move, given that Younge has almost no civil experience, and that the Civil Division is typically a landing spot for the state’s most highly competent judges. Insiders speculate that the transfer was an administrative effort to “hide” Younge in the Civil Division until an ethics probe related to her (apparently obnoxious) behavior in the Family Court is resolved.
In an eerily similar move in New York, Judge Armando Montano was reassigned from his longstanding seat on the Bronx Criminal Part to the Bronx Domestic Violence Part–a change that Judge Montano has characterized as a “disguised punishment.” Montano argues that moving him from felony cases to domestic violence cases is essentially a demotion. The court administrator disagreed, claiming that it was a “routine administrative reassignment” and that the domestic violence cases that Montano would be handling are “complex.”
The players in both stories seem to be hiding key facts here. Surely there was something specific motivating the transfer to Judge Montano, who is nearing retirement, to an entirely different division. And surely there is some internal reason for transferring Judge Younge to a division in which she has virtually no experience. And those reasons must be significant, since the outcome in both cases is worse for the litigants who are now slated to appear before the judge. Bronx DV litigants can look forward to a disgruntled Judge Montano, who believes that he is above having to rule on their cases. And Philadelphia litigants can hold their breath over Judge Younge’s competence to decide their matters–not to mention her own anger over reassignment. The judges, of course, are keeping mum about their respective behaviors that led to the reassignments.
These incidents keenly demonstrate the complexity of organizational management within a court system. Unable to completely remove judges (who, for reasons of competence, ethics, temperament, or some combination of the three) should not be on the bench, court administrators have to resort to reassignment mechanisms to reduce ongoing problems. When the issues are made public, there is often little they can say. But we can surely read between the lines.
Late last year, the Cook County (Ill.) Board ordered the termination of nearly 180 county court employees, in light of rampant financial problems throughout the county. That action spurred Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans to file a lawsuit against the Board to enjoin the layoffs. Chief Judge Evans argued that even though the Board had power to set the courts’ budget, it did not have the authority to target individual employees for layoffs.
The Lake County Circuit Court agreed in December, issuing a temporary restraining order against the county to prevent the layoffs. Now, nearly eight months later, the parties have reached a settlement.
Both sides are claiming victory. The Board is saying that the settlement amount is “much lower than what was initially demanded” and that it will promote efficiencies in the court system. Chief Judge Evans points to the loss of only 22 jobs (as opposed the the initial 180), and his belief that “the lawsuit made clear that the county board had no authority to lay off court employees.”
When I began this blog in February 2017, I hoped that its growth would coincide with a renewed interest in the organizational nature of court systems, as well as a renewed appreciation for the history of court administration and management. Whether by coincidence or design, that wish has come true in at least one respect: a batch of new scholarship on Chief Justice William Howard Taft.
In addition to Jeffrey Rosen’s fine new biography of Taft and my own piece on Taft’s role in setting the stage for federal procedural rulemaking, this year has seen the publication of Kevin Burns’s lucid assessment of Taft’s chief justiceship in The Journal of Supreme Court History. Burns sets out the historical context of Taft’s time in the center chair, and beautifully illustrates Taft’s efforts to turn the federal court system into a truly centralized, autonomous branch of government. It’s a terrific introduction for those who are new to Taft’s legacy, and a useful reference for those already familiar with his career.
Burns adds his own take as well, arguing that many of Taft’s reforms were motivated by the explicit desire to increase court access for the poor. This was not merely a manifestation of the Progressive ethos of the 1920s: Burns argues that Taft understood access, in the form of faster and less expensive litigation, to help the courts as well as the litigants. More efficient case processing would lead to more confidence in the courts and less cynicism that the courts were simply the protectors of moneyed interests.
While I do not believe that access to courts was the sole–or even the primary–motivation for Taft’s reforms, the value of access was certainly consistent with his work, and Burns is right to bring it to light. Access also fits nicely with other values that motivated Taft’s administrative efforts, such as increasing the courts’ legitimacy, instilling respect for the Constitution and the rule of law, and securing greater internal control over the management of court resources. Burns’s piece is well worth the read.
The New York Times reports on a walkout by some New York City public defenders, who left their jobs while court was still in session yesterday in order to protest courthouse arrests by federal immigration authorities. It was the second such walkout this week. Having warned the PDs not to leave their posts while court was in session, court administrators quickly reassigned ten cases to private attorneys. From the story:
The public defense organizations saw it as punishment for political advocacy; court administrators saw it as a matter of keeping the courts running.
“We say, ‘By you doing what you did, you are disrupting operations,’” said Lucian Chalfen, the spokesman for the O.C.A. “We won’t have that. It helps no one.”
The Legal Aid society argues that the reassignments were retaliatory, but at first blush it seems that the court administrators were in the right. Their job is to keep the criminal justice system moving, and assure that indigent defendants are adequately represented. Whatever one thinks of the policies motivating the walkout, the primary harm of the walkout is to the clients who need representation right then and there. Nor was the walkout directly tied to the PDs’ ability to represent their clients in New York State court; there was no direct benefit to their clients.* That this was the second walkout this week, and the fifth this year, justifies the court’s firm response.
* I recognize the argument that many of the PDs’ clients are the very people most susceptible to ICE raids. So there is certainly some overlap between the policies motivating the walkout and the needs of defendants who need public defenders. But the relationship is still indirect, and ultimately too tangential to warrant direct and continued disruption of court operations.