For some state judges, lobbying is part of the job description

One of the most important themes of judicial interdependence is resource dependence. By conscious design, courts cannot produce or directly obtain many of the resources that they need to operate. These resources include immediate, survival-level needs like adequate funding and staffing, but they also include less tangible resources like public trust and legitimacy, and long-term needs like enabling legislation.

For better of for worse, most of the courts’ needed resources are in the hands of the legislature. Congress and state legislatures allocate funds to the judicial branch, determine the number of judges that the courts will have and the conditions upon which those judges will be selected, enact statutes granting courts jurisdiction to hear cases and authority to manage their internal affairs, and set the public tone in the way they treat the courts and individual judges.

So it should not be surprising to see judges directly asking legislatures for resources from time to time. The U.S. Courts submit a formal budget request to Congress every year, and on several occasions federal judges have testified before Congress on bills that affect the judiciary’s operations. And at the state court level, it is all the more prevalent. Many state chief justices provide a formal State of the Judiciary speech to their respective legislatures at the start of a new year, in which they lay out the work of the state courts over the previous year and lobby for resources to sustain or improve operations. That lobbying process may coincide with the speech, but often starts beforehand and continues long into the legislative session.

Consider New Mexico. Chief Justice Judith Nakamura will present her State of the Judiciary speech on Thursday, but she has already set the groundwork for the courts’ legislative “ask.” Several days ago, she sat down with the editors of the Albuquerque Journal. That access enabled the Journal to report, with considerable depth, that the state judiciary would pursue two constitutional amendments and several statutory changes in the upcoming legislative session. The constitutional changes would affect the timing of participation in judicial elections and the court’s ability to effectuate administrative transfers among courts. The statutory changes would set aside certain requirements with respect to appeals and jury service in order to make those processes more efficient. And of course, the courts are asking for additional funding for specific projects.

Chief Justices bear significant administrative responsibilities: they are the CEOs of their court systems as much as they are judges. In that capacity, a little legislative lobbying–and lobbying in the media–is very much fair game.

The coming impact of the shutdown on the federal courts

The United States Courts will run out of funding this coming Friday, January 11. If the federal government is not funded and operating by that date, case processing will be immediately affected. While the likely impact will vary from district to district, it is certain that civil cases will suffer first, with trials and hearings being postponed as the courts dedicate their essential staff to criminal proceedings. Bloomberg Law has a good look at how the courts are handling the situation.

We are already starting to see some negative effects on civil cases in certain districts. Should the shutdown linger, one would expect to see existing civil cases settle at higher rates, and future cases filed either in state courts or in private arbitration settings. None of this, of course, is good business for the federal court system. Let’s hope there is a resolution soon.

 

Courts in India and Pakistan continue to struggle with congested dockets

Two recent end-of-year reports suggest that justice systems in India and Pakistan remain completely overwhelmed. In Pakistan, the docket of the apex court has more than doubled in five years, to more than 40,000 pending cases this year. This is unfortunately reminiscent of the terrible backlogs that India also continues to experience in its courts.

Part of the problem has to do with human resources: one report notes that India has fewer than 20 judges per million people, as compared to 51 judges per million people in the UK, and 107 judges per million people in the US. But it is also not appropriate to blame the docket crisis solely on not having enough judges. The court system needs to think more creatively–and frankly, work harder and smarter–about resolving cases efficiently.

Previous entries on India’s docket crisis can be found here, here, here, and here.

 

Federal courts will still operate during shutdown

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.

West Virginia Supreme Court supports legislative oversight of its budget

Earlier this week, members of the West Virginia Supreme Court voted to support a state constitutional amendment that would confer greater legislative oversight of the court’s budget. The decision comes in the wake of a series of spending scandals that rocked the court and led to the impeachment trials of four of its members.

Amendment 2 would allow the legislature to reduce the Court’s budget by as much as 15 percent in a given year. It will go to the voters in November.

The amendment has been publicly supported by Justice Beth Walker, who was publicly reprimanded in lieu of impeachment earlier this month, and Chief Justice Margaret Workman, whose own impeachment trial was blocked this week by a specially seated Supreme Court on separation-of-powers grounds. The public support is a smart legitimacy-restoring move for both Walker and Workman, who have been accused of facilitating abuse the Court’s finances.

Australian judge warns that overworked judges may contemplate suicide

In a remarkably stark assessment, New South Wales District Judge Robyn Tupman warned that docket pressure on Australia’s courts might drive some of her judicial colleagues to suicide.

Citing two recent, high-profile cases of Australian judges taking their own lives, Judge Tupman argued that a lack of resources in the courts put pressure on judges–especially newer judges–to keep up with rapidly expanding dockets. This is particularly concerning, Judge Tupman said, when docket pressure forces judges to make highly sensitive decisions under extreme time pressure. By way of example, she noted that she was scheduled to sentence seven different offenders on the day of her remarks, some of which were bound to draw significant public attention. The clear implication of her remarks was that pressure to get the sentence right was exacerbated by not having enough to time to properly consider it.

Judge Tupman described the her current caseload as “ridiculous, absurd and offensive to the people of NSW.”

Her comments follow other recent statements of concern about judicial mental health in Australia. Local bar leaders and NSW Attorney General Mark Speakman have committed to review the judge’s concerns.

 

Nevada, low on federal judges, faces growing caseload

One persistent theme on this blog is that courts are entirely dependent on other entities for their judicial staffing, and must scramble when those entities are not responsive to those staffing needs. This article offers yet another data point, discussing the ongoing federal judicial vacancies in Nevada, and the concomitant growth of the federal caseload in that jurisdiction.