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Caseload Increases Stress Need for New Federal Judgeships

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"To enable the Judiciary to continue serving litigants efficiently and effectively, the judicial workforce must be expanded," a Judicial Conference representative today told Congress --noting that it has been more than two decades since Congress last passed a comprehensive judgeship bill.

Judge Timothy M. Tymkovich, chair of the Judicial Conference Committee on Judicial Resources, appeared before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Bankruptcy and the Courts, to testify on the Article III judgeship needs of the federal Judiciary and the process used to determine judgeship needs.

"Over the last 20 years the Judicial Conference has developed, adjusted, and refined the process for evaluating and recommending judgeship needs in response to both judiciary and congressional concerns," Judge Tymkovich told the subcommittee.

Every other year, the Conference conducts a survey of the judgeship needs of the courts of appeals and district courts. The latest survey was completed in March 2013 and the Conference has recommended that Congress establish 91 new judgeships in the courts of appeals and district courts. The Conference also recommended that eight existing temporary district court judgeships be converted to permanent status.

"The Conference attempts to balance the need to control growth and the need to seek resources that are appropriate to the Judiciary's caseload," Judge Tymkovich said. "In an effort to implement that policy, we have requested far fewer judgeships than the caseload increases and other factors would suggest are now required."

Nevertheless, many of the current judgeship recommendations reflect needs that have existed since the last omnibus judgeship bill was enacted in 1990.

Since that time, filings have risen 39 percent in federal district courts, and 34 percent in the courts of appeals. There are 28 district courts with caseloads exceeding 500 weighted filings per judgeship, and more than half of these courts have caseloads in excess of 600 per judgeship. In each appellate court in which the Conference recommends additional judgeships, the caseload levels substantially exceed the standard, averaging over 700 adjusted filings per panel.

Weighted filings statistics account for the different amounts of time judges require to resolve various types of cases. However, weighted filings alone do not determine where the Judicial Conference recommends the creation of new judgeships.

"Before a judgeship recommendation is transmitted to Congress, it undergoes careful consideration and review at six levels within the Judiciary," Judge Tymkovich told the subcommittee. He described a process in which courts requesting additional judgeships are asked about their efforts to make use of all available resources, including their use of senior and magistrate judges, the assignment of judges from outside and within the circuit to provide short-term relief, and the use of alternative dispute resolution. Caseload statistics are considered and weighed with other court-specific information to arrive at a sound measurement of each court's judgeship needs.

"While the Judicial Conference feels strongly that each of these judgeship recommendations are justified due to the growing workload in these courts, Judge Tymkovich said, "it is cognizant of the current economic realities and the prospective cost associated with the proposal." He acknowledged that prioritization within the recommendations may be necessary.

The Federal Judgeship Act of 2013, S. 1385, was introduced July 30, 2013, by Senators Christopher Coons (D-Del.) and Patrick Leahy(D-VT), and reflects the Judicial Conference Article III judgeship recommendations transmitted to Congress.