From Mark Brnovich and Ilya Shapiro in the Wall Street Journal (may require subscription). Key grafs:
The Ninth Circuit has an astonishing backlog, accounting for nearly a third of all pending federal appeals. It takes an average of 13 months to decide a case, the longest of any circuit and almost five months more than the national median. Judge Richard Tallman, a Clinton appointee on the Ninth Circuit who favors a split, told the Senate last summer that a legal brief in a pending appeal “is frequently years old and contains stale case law, by the time we can get to it.”
A second problem is the court’s unpredictability. Federal appeals courts hear cases in three-judge panels. But the Ninth Circuit has 29 judgeships, meaning there are more than 3,600 combinations of three. Judges can go years before hearing cases with some of their colleagues.
The composition of the Ninth Circuit is, of course, as much a political question as a legal and organizational one. But it’s worth considering–as Brnovich and Shapiro remind us–that the question is not purely political. The circuit’s sheer size has a dramatic impact on its efficiency, predictability, and workload. Splitting it may well be the right thing to do.
From Scottish Legal News:
Less than a month after a warning by Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, that the English legal system was facing a ‘ticking time bomb’ in its failure to recruit judges, Scottish Legal News can reveal that Scotland too is facing such a crisis with top quality candidates spurning elevation to the bench.
Our enquiries among leading QCs found that most had no appetite to become judges citing hostile media coverage, lack of respect for the judiciary, relatively modest pay and pension packages, a backlog of distressing child sex abuse cases and concerns over judicial independence as well as the isolation and strenuous work load.
When incentives to enter a profession drop, the number of people seeking that profession drop as well.
The Luzerne County, Pennsylvania courts will not be scheduling criminal jury trials during the summer months, prompting concern from local officials about a potentially burgeoning prison population.
Scheduling criminal trials during the summer has become increasingly difficult because parties involved often have planned vacations, including attorneys, witnesses, experts who must provide testimony, and prospective jurors, Shucosky said.
Instead of being forced to continue proceedings due to scheduling conflicts, court officials opted to shift the focus and concentrate primarily on non-jury trials, guilty pleas and negotiated plea bargains during the two months, he said.
Court officials expect a large number of cases will be resolved through this effort, allowing some inmates to get out of prison or start serving sentences instead of awaiting adjudication. Many minor cases result in guilty pleas with a sentence of time already served, Shucosky noted.
El Paso County, Texas will convert one of its existing civil courts into a family court in 2019, in order to combat a significant backlog of family cases. The county is currently operating with 1.5 fewer full time family court judges than the number recommended by the state court administrator. It receives about 16,000 family court filings each year.
This is an excellent example of an interdependent court system engaging in proactive planning to combat resource deficiencies. The county knows that it is likely to receive many more family court cases than civil cases in the coming years, and cannot reasonably expect to receive more help in the form of full-time judges. The change both promotes efficient and effective administration of justice, and signals to the resource providers in the state legislature the need for more judgeships.
In another example of external decisions directly affecting internal court operations, the state courts located in Des Moines, Washington reported a 300 percent increase in case filings after the city implemented red light cameras.
The impact of the cameras was “much greater than we anticipated,” [Judge Lisa Leone] told [the city] Council.
The judge said she was “so impressed with every single” member of her staff.
“Just today (May 11) there was a line out the door … every clerk was on the phone taking the time for every one who has questions about the cameras or anything else.”
The problems surrounding the backlog sound rather extreme to American ears. First, the summer session is designed to address cases prior to January 1, 2000 — seventeen-and-a-half years ago. By contrast, federal civil cases in the U.S. are flagged after being in the system for three years. Second, the backlog has been exacerbated by the Calcutta court’s vacancy crisis — only 35 judges are sitting, although 72 are authorized.
The bar association has opposed the summer session, on the grounds that “lawyers also need some respite during the grueling summer.” No word on the opinion of the litigants who cases have been pending for nearly two decades.
This is a very interesting article on the increasing and intentional assignment of multi-district litigation (MDL) dockets to relatively new federal judges.