oversight

Courthouse Construction: Information on the Use of District Courtrooms at Selected Locations

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1997-05-19.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

United States
General Accounting          Office
wasllington,       D.C.   20548

General        Government     Division




B-275225

May 19, 1997

The Honorable Jay C. Kim
Chairman, Subcommittee on Public Buildings and
  Economic Development
Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure
House of Representatives

The Honorable James A. Traficant, Jr.
Ranking Minority Member
Subcommittee on Public Buildings and
  Economic Development
Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure
House of Representatives

Subject:              Courthouse Construction:  Information   on the Use of District
                      Courtrooms at Selected Locations

The General Services Administration    (GSA) and the federal judiciary have embarked
on a multibillion-dollar courthouse construction initiative that includes plans to
construct hundreds of new courtrooms to replace existing ones and to
accommodate future increases in federal judgeships. One of the issues that has
arisen during debates over this effort is whether the judiciary needs to continue its
current practice of providing one courtroom for each district judge. Over the last
few years, various Subcommittees and Members of Congress have become
increasingly concerned that courtrooms may be underutilized and that more costly
courtrooms than needed may have been, and continue to be, constructed.         Using
GSA data, we estimated that the cost to build a typical trial courtroom could range
from about $650,000 to $1.3 million depending on geographic location. The cost
Washington, D.C., was about $800,000.




                                                      GACVGGD-97-59R   District   Courtroom   Use
B-275225

On May 19 , 1997, the same date as this letter, we issued a report to you and others on
courtroom usage at seven courthouse locations-Dallas,    TX; Miami, FL; Washington,
D.C.; San Diego, CA; and Albuquerque, Santa Fe, and Las Cruces, NM.’ In that report,
we provided data that showed district courtroom usage for trial and nontrial activities
varied by judge and location, and trial courtrooms were not used for these purposes at
all for many days during 1995. We also noted that the judiciary does not have an
approach for collecting and analyzing usage data or criteria for measuring effective
courtroom utilization, and it may be missing opportunities to reduce construction
costs. We recommended that the judiciary take steps to examine courtroom usage
and the practice of providing a trial courtroom for each district judge.

In September 1996, while we were completing our fieldwork for our courtroom usage
report, you requested that we also compile and analyze courtroom usage data for
federal district courts in Denver, CO; Fresno, CA, Salt Lake City, UT; and Seattle,
WA. All of these locations are sites where new courthouse construction projects are
planned by the judiciary and are under congressional consideration.    This letter
provides information on the use of district courtrooms at these locations during the
21-month period beginning January 1, 1995, and ending September 30, 1996, and
 supplements the information contained in our courtroom usage report.

RESULTS

The data we compiled and analyzed on district courtroom usage in Denver, Fresno,
Salt Lake City, and Seattle showed that on average, overall courtroom usage for trial
and nontrial activities at these locations was similar to usage in the seven locations
discussed in our courtroom usage report. That is, on average, for a 21-month period
ending September 1996, trial courtrooms at these four locations were used for trial
and nontrial purposes about 58 percent of the days they could have been used-4
percent higher than the 54 percent usage rate for the 12-month period ending
December 1995 for the seven locations.2 Like the seven other locations, courtrooms at
these four locations were used for trials about one-third or less of the days they were
available, and total nontrial activity on many of the days took 2 hours or less.
Furthermore, all of the courtrooms at any of the four locations were often not used on
the same day. Finally, as with the other seven courthouse locations we examined,
senior judges, on average, used the courtrooms for trials and nontrial purposes


 COURTHOUSE CONSTRUCTION: Better Courtroom Use Data Could Enhance
 Facilitv Planning and Decisionmaking (GAO/GGD-97-39, May 19 , 1997).

 ‘According to the Administrative Office of the United States Court, trials are defined
 as any contested proceeding. Nontrial events include motion hearings, pretrial
 conferences, arraignments, and other proceedings.

 2                                                        GAO/GGD-97-59R   District   Courtroom   Use
B-275225

significantly less than other district judges.3 Appendix I contains three tables that
show our analysis of usage at each of the four locations. Appendix II discusses our
objective, scope, and methodology.

Our discussions with judges at the four locations were consistent with those at the
other seven locations in that most of the judges with whom we spoke prefer their own
courtrooms.   Likewise, judges and court officials generally said that senior judges
would be better able than district judges to share courtrooms because of their smaller
caseloads. In fact, senior judges at Fresno and Seattle shared courtrooms with other
judges. In Denver, Fresno, and Salt Lake City visiting district judges used available
 courtrooms that in some instances were assigned to other judges--suggesting there
may be opportunities to reduce costs through additional sharing assignments.4

As explained in our courtroom usage report, Administrative Office of the United States
Courts (AOUSC) officials believe that courtroom usage data like we developed have
limited application because the data do not capture such factors as (1) latent use of
the courtrooms whereby the threat of having a trial in an available courtroom can
leverage the disposition of a case before trial; and (2) the extent to which courtrooms
 are unused because of cases that settle just before a scheduled trial, leaving an empty
 courtroom that cannot always be rescheduled with another case. However, the
judiciary has not developed data to show how much of an effect these factors may
have on the number of courtrooms needed.

As mentioned earlier, this letter supplements, and the evidence further supports, the
message, conclusions, and recommendations in our courtroom usage report.
Therefore, we are not making conclusions and recommendations in this letter.



“U.S. district courts, the federal courts of general trial jurisdiction, have two categories
of district judges. The first is “active district judges” who carry full caseloads; and the
other is “district judges with senior status” who have resigned from active judgeships
but continue to carry out judicial duties, often with reduced caseloads. Senior status
can be achieved when a district judge reaches the age and service eligibility
requirement for retirement. In this letter, we refer to active district judges as district
judges and to district judges with senior status as senior judges. District courts also
have magistrate judges, who, according to the Federal Judicial Center, in some
instances, play an integral part in resolving cases.

‘A visiting district judge is either a district or senior judge who is on temporary
assignment to a U.S. district court to which he or she is not assigned. Although other
members of the judiciary, such as circuit judges, can also use district courtrooms as
visiting judges, we found no recorded use of district courtrooms by these judges.

3                                                          GAO/GGD-97-59R   District   Courtroom   Use
B-275225

AGENCY COMMENTS AND OUR EVALUATION

Written comments were provided on a draft of the courtroom usage report and this
related correspondence on April 7, 1997, by AOUSC and FTC, and on April 11, 1997,
by GSA. Most of the comments were directed at the courtroom usage report. Their
comments are reproduced in their entirety in that report. Their comments related to
this letter were technical in nature and we made changes where appropriate.



We are sending copies of this letter to the Chairman, Judicial Conference Committee
on Space and Facilities; Director, AOUSC; Administrator of GSA, Director, Office of
Management and Budget; and other interested parties. We will also make it available
to others on request. The major contributors are listed in appendix III. If you have
any questions, please contact me on (202) 512-8387.




Bernard L. Ungar
Director, Government   Business
 Operations Issues




 4                                                      GAO/GGD-97-59R   District   Courtroom   Use
B-275225

                                    CONTENTS

                                                                                      PAGE

LETTER                                                                                         1

APPENDIXES

         I                      COURTROOM USAGE                                               6

         II                      OBJECTIVE, SCOPE, AND METHODOLOGY                            11

         III                    MAJOR CONTRIBUTORS                                            14

TABLES
   1.1: Percentage of Days Courtrooms Were Not Used at All and Were Used for                  6
        Trials and Nontrial Purposes at Four Courthouses During the Period January
        1995 Through September 1996

   1.2: Number of Days All Courtrooms at a Location Were Used for Trial and                   8
        Nontrial Activities on the Same Day During the Period January 1995 Through
        September 1996

   1.3: Percentage of Days District and Senior Judges Did Not Use or Used          9
        Courtrooms for Trials and Nontrial Purposes at Four Courthouses During the
        Period January 1995 Through September 1996




                                                      GAO/GGD-97-59R   District   Courtroom        Use
APPENDIX I                                                                                    APPENDIX           I

                                       COURTROOM USAGE

Table 1.1: Percentage of Davs Courtrooms Were Not Used at All or Were Used for
Trials and Nontrial PurPoses at Four Courthouses During the Period Januarv 1995
Through Ser>tember 1996
                                                                                                                            1
       Location              Trial use        Nontrial use only -       Nontrial use only -                  No use         .
                                                2 hours or less         more than 2 hours
 Denvera
    1995                         27%                   21%                        5%                                 47%
     1996                        28                     24                           8                               40     I
     1995/1996                   27                     22                           7                               44
  Fresnob




     1995/1996                    22                    30                           10                               38
  Seattled
     1995                         27                    22                           7                                44
     1996                         28                     22                          8                                42
     1995/1996                    28                     22                          7                                43

 “The Denver Courthouse had 10 district courtrooms used by 6 district, 2 senior, and 3 visiting judges.
 Nontrial percentages also include a total of 83 days (58 in 1995 and 25 in 1996) of courtroom use during
 this 21-month period by magistrate, district, and visiting judges not included in JS-10 reports.

 bThe Fresno Courthouse had three district courtrooms used by two active and two senior district judges
 and one visiting judge.




                                                                    GAO/GGD-97-59R        District   Courtroom        Use
APPENDIX      I                                                                            APPENDIX         I

‘The Salt Lake City Courthouse had six courtrooms used by five active, two senior, and three visiting
judges.

dThe Seattle Courthouse had five courtrooms used by five district and one senior judge. Nontrial
percentages for 1996 and 1995/1996include a total of 6 days of courtroom use by magistrate judges.

Source:    GAO analysis of data obtained at four courthouse            locations.




7                                                                  GAO/GGD-97-59R    District   Courtroom       Use
APPENDIX      I                                                                        APPENDIX            I

Table 1.2: Number of Davs All Courtrooms at a Location Were Used for Trial and
Nontrial Activities on the Same Dav During the Period Januarv 1995 Through
September 1996


                                           January 1995           January 1996
                                              through                through                  Total - both
                                          December 1995         September 1996”                   periods
                                          Number of days         Number of days          Number of days
                         Number of         all courtrooms         all courtrooms          all courtrooms
  Location               courtrooms              used                   used                    used

  Denver            I        10       I          0          I            1                           1
  Presno             I        3       I         67          I           34                         101
  Salt Lake City              6                  10                     21                          31
 1 Seattle                    5                 23                      19                          42

@Ihe period from January through December 1995 had 250 workdays, and thk period
from January through September 1996 had 190 workdays except in Salt Lake City,
which had 249 and 189 workdays, respectively, because the federal courts were closed
for an additional state holiday.

Source:      GAO analysis of data obtained at four courthouse        locations.




                                                                  GAO/GGD-97-59R   District    Courtroom       Use
=             =         =


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                  202   E

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APPENDIX     I                                                                             APPENDIX I

“In January 1995, Denver had five district and two senior judges. One new district
judge took the bench in September 1995, and one of the senior judges retired from
 casework at the end of 1995. During 1996, Denver had six district judges and one
 senior judge.

bin January 1995 and continuing into 1996, F’resno had two district and two senior
judges. In May 1996, one of the district judges took senior status; thus, F’resno had
 one district and three senior judges.

“In January 1995, Salt Lake City had four district and two senior judges. In June 1995,
one senior judge retired from casework; and in August 1995, a new district judge took
the bench. During 1996, Salt Lake City had five district judges and one senior judge.

dThroughout the period January 1995 through September 1996, Seattle had five district
judges and one senior judge.

Source:   GAO analysis of data at four courthouse locations.




                                                                                                        ‘Y”’ :




 10                                                            GAO/GGD-97-59R   District   Courtroom   Use
APPENDIX    II                                                                APPENDIX         II

OBJECTIVE        , SCOPE, AND METHODOLOGY

Our objective was to determine how often and for what purposes district courtrooms
are used. We did our work primarily at Administrative Office of the United States
Courts (AOUSC) in Washington, D.C., and at four courthouse locations. Specifically,
we reviewed the use of the 10 district courtrooms in Denver, CO (District of
Colorado); the 3 district courtrooms in Fresno, CA (Eastern District of California); the
6 district courtrooms in Salt Lake City, UT (District of Utah); and the 5 district
courtrooms in Seattle (Western District of Washington).     We did our work at these
locations at your request, which was prompted by anticipated deliberations over
funding for new court construction projects at these locations. We focused our review
on district courtroom usage during the 21-month period beginning January 1995
through September 1996 because of time constraints, the volume of information and
records at each location, and the fact that AOUSC and individual courts do not
compile statistical data on how often and for what purposes courtrooms are used.

To do our detailed audit work, we first reviewed Monthly Reports of Trials and Other
Court Activity (JS-10) prepared by the courts for 1995 and the first 9 months of 1996
pertaining to all district and senior judges assigned to the locations we visited. We
also reviewed Monthly Reports of Visiting Judge Activity (JS-1OA) prepared by the
courts pertaining to all visiting judges who heard cases at these locations. The JS-10
is supposed to be used to report trials and other proceedings conducted by individual
district or senior judges on a monthly basis. The judiciary requires a JS-10 report for
each active district judge each month even if the judge did not have any trials or
proceedings that particular month. A JS-10 is also required for any senior judge
during each month that the judge had court activity. Likewise, the JS-1OA is supposed
to be used to report the court time of visiting judges who are temporarily assigned to
a court and is supposed to be completed by the court receiving the services.

According to AOUSC, the JS-10 was not designed to provide information on how often
courtrooms are used. AOUSC officials said the JS-10 was designed to provide
information on (1) the number and length of trials conducted in district courts and (2)
the amount of time judges spend on other court activities in which both sides of the
controversy were involved. AOUSC officials acknowledged that the JS-10 might allow
for an approximation of courtroom use data in some courts, but it does not provide a
satisfactory substitute for actual data on courtroom usage. They contend that much of
the time courtrooms are in use does not appear on the JS-10 because it does not
capture such things as use by other types of judges and time when the courtroom
must be available to enforce trial schedules or foster settlement of litigation.

Court officials at all locations we visited told us that (1) active district and senior
district judges are the primary users of the trial courtrooms and (2) the JS-10 is the


11                                                           GAO/GGD-97-59R   District   Courtroom   Use
APPENDIX   II                                                                  APPENDIX        II

best source for determining how often and for what purposes the judges used their
courtrooms.    From page 1 of the JS-10 reports, we were able to determine the date
that each trial began and the total number of hours and separate days that each judge
spent on each trial during the month. We were not, however, able to determine from
the JS-10 reports the specific dates that the judges used the courtrooms for trials.
Using page 2 of the JS-10 reports, we determined the number of hours and the specific
days that each judge spent conducting nontrial proceedings, such as
arraignments/pleas, motions, pretrial hearings, and other proceedings.5 While these
proceedings may have been held in either the courtrooms, the judges’ chambers, or
 other meeting rooms, we credited all of this time as courtroom usage time regardless
 of where the event occurred.

Todetermine     the specific days that the courtrooms were used for trials and because
of AOUSC’s concerns about the JS-10, we validated the courtroom usage information
taken from these reports by reviewing various detailed records. In general, we
analyzed the available judges’ and/or their courtroom deputies’ daily calendars. These
calendars provided the specific days and types of proceedings that the judges
conducted throughout the year. In some cases, we reviewed the minute orders or
clerks’ minutes maintained by the courts. Like the daily calendars, these documents
provided such details as the dates and type of hearings that were conducted by each
judge on a case-by-case basis. Finally, in some instances, we had to review case
histories from the Integrated Case Management System, which is an automated
 docketing system that keeps track of case events, such as hearing dates and the
 particular judge who conducted the hearings.

Our detailed analyses of the various daily records showed that the JS-10 data was
generally accurate; but when we found errors, we made corrections before recording
the data into our database of courtroom usage. Identifying errors with the JS-10 data
was possible because our detailed analyses allowed us to determine all the days that
the senior, district, and visiting judges held trials and nontrial proceedings that could
have taken place in a courtroom.

 Also, we requested and reviewed court management statistics and other data, where
 available, that showed the use of trial courtrooms by individuals other than federal
 district judges. This included use by magistrate judges and administrative law judges
 as well as various ceremonial uses of the courtrooms.   Court officials in Denver and



 5At the district court in Fresno, automated JS-10 reports did not show the specific
 days on which nontrial events occurred, but they showed totals for nontrial hours and
 proceedings for the month. Using daily court calendars and other records, we were
 able to identify the specific days during which nontrial activities occurred.

 12                                                           GAO/GGD-97-59R    District   Courtroom   Use
APPENDIX      II                                                                   APPENDIX         II

Seattle were able to provide documentation on miscellaneous usage, which is
reflected in our overall calculations. Court officials in the other locations did not have
readily available data to document miscellaneous usage, but they said that such usage
was insignificant.

After examining all the data, we credited each courtroom with a full day of usage for
all days that the records showed that it had any activity in it. We considered it a trial
day if it had any trial activity, regardless of any nontrial activity that also may have
occurred. We determined the percentage of days6 that courtrooms were used by
comparing actual usage with the maximum number of workdays the courtrooms could
have been used (250) in 1995 and the maximum number of workdays courtrooms
could have been used during the first 9 months of 1996 (190).7 We also determined,
on a location-by-location    basis, how many courtrooms were in use on every working
day during the period. This analysis allowed us to identify the number of days when
at least one courtroom was vacant at each location. Once we completed our data
collection and analysis for each location, we provided the results of our work to the
individual courts. We considered their comments when finalizing our work.

We cannot project the results of our work to the universe        of district courtrooms
nationwide, within the districts where they were located,       or to the locations we visited
in other time periods. We did our work between October           1996 and April 1997 in
accordance with generally accepted government auditing          standards.




‘Throughout        this letter, percentages may not add due to rounding.

‘In Utah, the number of workdays the courtrooms could have been used was 249 in
1995 and 189 between January and September 1996. This was because the federal
courts were closed in observance of a state holiday.

13                                                                GAO/GGD-97-59R   District   Courtroom   Use
APPENDIX III                                                                      APPENDIX        III

                                MAJOR CONTRIBUTORS

GENERAL GOVERNMENT           DIVISION, WASHINGTON,        D.C.

Gerald Stankosky, Assistant Director,     Government   Business Operations    Issues
John F. Mortin, Assignment Manager
William J. Dowdal, Senior Evaluator

DALLAS FIELD OFFICE, DALLAS, TEXAS

Sherill H. Johnson, Assistant Director,   Government   Business Operations        Issues
James G. Cooksey, Evaluator-in-charge
J. Paul Rodriguez, Senior Evaluator
Patricia Sari-Spear, Senior Evaluator
Dorothy M. Tejada, Evaluator




                                                                                                             ,,
                                                                                                                  ‘,




 (240223)

 14                                                              GAO/GGD-97-59R     District   Courtroom   Use
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