oversight

Federal Judiciary: Information on the Weighted Filings Assigned to Senior District and Magistrate Judges in Fiscal Year 1997 in 21 District Courts

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1999-03-26.

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

      United States

GAO   General Accounting
      Washington,
                           Office
                    D.C. 20548

      General     Government         Division



      B-281739

      March 26,1999

      The Honorable Charles E. Grassley
      Chairman, Subcommittee on Administrative
        Oversight and the Courts
      Committee on the Judiciary
      United States Senate

      Subject: Federal Judiciarv: Information on the Weighted Filings Assigned to Senior District
      and Magistrate Judges in F’iscal Year 1997 in 21 District Courts

      Dear Mr. Chairman:

      As you requested, this letter discusses the extent to which the cases assigned to senior
       district judges and to magistrate judges may have reduced the cases assigned to nonsenior
       district judges in 21 of the 23 district courts that have judgeship requests pending before
       C0ngress.l Specifically, you requested that we determine the impact on nonsenior district
      judge workload of the fiscal year 1997 (1) weighted filings assigned to senior district judges
      and (2) weighted civil consent cases assigned to magistrate judges in each of the districts that
      had judgeship requests pending before Congress on March 31,199s. Weighted filings
      represent the average expected amount of judicial time that a district court’s civil case tilings
       and criminal defendant filings may require.2 The Judicial Conference of the United States3
      uses weighted filings to assess the need for additional district judgeships in each district
       court. Civil consent cases-referred to throughout this letter as consent cases-are those
       civil cases that both parties agree to have a magistrate judge, rather than a district judge,
       decide.


      ?he U. S. federal court system is divided into 94 judicial districts, each of which has a district court As of March 31,1998,23
      district courts had judgeship requests pending before Congress. In May 1998,we provided information on the assignments to
      senior district and magistrate judges in the districts of Florida Middle and Florida Southern These districts requests were
      included in a bii that was passed by the House of Representatives in March 1998,but was not enacted. The remaining 21 district
      courts are Alabama Middle and Northern; Arizona; Cahfomia Eastern and Southern; Colorado; Indiana Southern; Kentucky
      Eastern; Nevada; New Mexico; New York Eastern, Northern, and Westem North Carolina Westem Oregon; South Carolina;
      Tennessee Eastern; Texas Northern and Southern, Vnginia Eastern; and Washington Western.
      “With some exceptions, a weight is assigned to each civil case tiled in a district court and to each criminal defendant charged
      with a felony in district court. Generally, felonies are those cximes that carry a term of imprisonment of more than 1 year. There
      may be more than one defendant per crhninaI felony case Sled. Weights are assigned to all civil cases or felony defendants
      counted as original filings, removals from state courts, or interdistrict transfers (transfers from one district to another). Weights
      are not assigned to cases remanded to the district courts from the courts of appeals, reopened cases, or multidistrict litigation
      transfers-cases transferred to a single district from a number of districts for disposition, such as asbestos or breast implant
      litigation.
      3TheJudicial Conference is the federal judiciary’s principal p0Iicymak.Q body. It consists of 26 judges plus the Chief Justice of
      the United States, who presides over the Conference.




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District judges-nonsenior and senior-exercise the full judicial authority vested in the
district courts. Nonsenior district judges are measured in two ways-authorized judgeships
 (the number of judgeships authorized by statute) and active judges (the number of authorized
judgeships filled at any specific time). Senior district judges are district judges who have
retired from regular, full-time, active service but remain on the bench and perform such
judicial duties as they are willing and able to accept. Magistrate judges, appointed for a fixed
term of years, exercise the judicial duties permissible by statute and the Constitution that the
 district courts delegate to them.

The effect of senior district and magistrate judges’weighted filings on the weighted filings
that must be decided by the nonsenior district judges in the district depends upon (1) the
number of senior district judges in the district and the weighted filings that they, collectively,
are willing and able to undertake; (2) the total weighted civil cases in which the parties
consent to having the case heard and decided by a magistrate judge; and (3) the number of
authorized judgeship vacancies in the district and the duration of those vacancies.

Results in Brief
In iiscal year 1997, the weighted filings assigned to senior district and magistrate judges
varied widely among the 21 districts whose case %.lingswe reviewed-ranging from about 3
percent to about 50 percent of the total weighted filings per authorized judgeship in each
district. Authorized judgeships are the number of judgeships authorized by statute. Each
weighted filing decided by a senior district judge or magistrate judge in a district reduces by
one the total weighted filings that must be decided.by nonsenior judges in the district.
Consequently, nonsenior judges were assigned from about 3 percent to about 50 percent
fewer weighted filings than would have been the case had no weighted filings been assigned
to senior district or magistrate judges in each district.

Under the written policies of the Judicial Conference of the United States, a district court
may generally be considered for additional district judgeships if its weighted filings are at
least 430 per authorized judgeship. Deducting the weighted tilings assigned to senior district
 and magistrate judges brought the fiscal year 1997weighted filings per authorized judgeship
 below this general 430 threshold in either 3 or 6 of the 21 district courts, depending upon the
-case weight value assigned to certain categories of cases that have 2 possible case weights4

Age is one factor that may affect the case filings that senior district judges are willing and
able to accept. As of September 30,1997, the number of senior district judges who were age
76 or older in each of the 20 districts that had senior judges ranged from 0 to 3.5 Senior
district judges who were age 76 or older represented from 0 percent (5 districts) to 100


 ‘One of the 21 district courts provided us with the data necessaryto determine which of the 2 civil case weights should be
 assigned. Therefore, for the remaining 20 district courts, we calculated 2 totals for the weighted filings assigned to senior district
 judges and magistrate judges. One total used the lower possible weight for all cases with two potenCal weights, and the second
 total used the higher possible weight for all such cases.

 ‘Tennessee Eastern did not have any senior judges as of September 30,1997.




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percent (3 districts) of the senior district judges in each district that had senior judges. The
number of senior district judges in a district may also change at any time. For example,
between September 30,1997, and March 31,1998, two districts each gamed one senior district
judge, and in one district a senior judge died.

Background
Generally, there are 3 categories of judges-district judges, senior district judges, and
magistrate judges-among the 94 district courts to address their nonbankruptcy caseload.’
District judges-nonsenior and senior-exercise the full authority vested in the district
courts, and, with the exception of the three territorial courts, are appointed for life.’
Magistrate judges, appointed by the district court for fixed terms, perform the judicial duties
delegated to them by the district court. Magistrate judges may be appointed to full- or part-
time positions.*

Although their duties vary by district, magistrate judges generally assist with a variety of civil
and criminal cases that are ultimately decided by district judges. Magistrate judges also
decide, without the assistance of district judges, certain categories of cases, such as criminal
misdemeanors9 and civil consent cases. Consent cases are the primary category of case
filings decided by magistrate judges that are included in the weighted tilings used to assess
the need for additional district court judgeships.” Some types of civil cases can have two
different case weights, generally depending upon whether the case originated in state or
federal court. Only 1 of the 21 districts provided the data necessary to determine whether the
higher or lower case weight should be assigned for such cases. Therefore, our results for the
other 20 districts are reported with two estimates-low and high-of the impact of senior
district and magistrate judges’weighted filings on the weighted filings of nonsenior judges.
The low range uses the lower case weight for all cases with two possible weights; the high
range uses the higher case weight for all such cases.

In March 1997, the Judicial Conference of the United States sent a request to Congress for 36
additional judgeships (24 permanent and 12 temporary)” in 23 district courts. This request

-‘By statute, the district courts retain original jurisdiction over bankruptcy cases. However, with few exceptions, the district
 courts have adopted a policy of referring all bankruptcy matters to the bankruptcy courts within their respective districts. The
 Judicial Conference uses a separate process to assessthe need for bankruptcy judgeships. This process is discussed in Federal
 Judiciarv: BankmutcvJudgeshio Reouests. 1993-1997(GAO/T-GGD-97-193,Sept 22,1997).

‘District judges in the U.S. territories of Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, and the Virgin Islands do not hold life tenure.
District judges in these district courts are appointed for IO-yearterms.
‘?ull-time magistmte judges are appointed for S-yearterms, serve district courts full time, and may not practice law. Part-time
magistrate judges are appointed for 4year terms, serve part time, and may, within certain limitations, practice law.

“Generally, criminal misdemeanors are criminal offenses for which a term of imprisonment is 1 year or less.

‘The district court case weights exclude ckninal misdemeanors but include crhninal felonies.

“A temporary judgeship is a position that is statutorily created, generally for a minimum of 5 or 10 years. A temporary judgeship
expires when the first judicial vacancy occurs after this minimum number of years has elapsed. The next vacancy to occur after
this time cannot be tilled. It is important to note that it is the position, not the judge appointed to the position, that is temporary.
Judges appointed to temporary district court judgeships hold lifetime tenure.




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included five permanent and one temporary judgeships for the districts of Florida Southern
and Florida Middle. These two district courts’ requests were included in a bill that was
passed by the House of Representatives in March 1998 but not enacted. In May 1998, we
provided summary information on the case assignments of senior district and magistrate
judges in those two distri~ts.‘~ For the 21 districts included in this letter, the Judicial
 Conference.had pending before Congress a request for 20 permanent and 10 temporary
judgeships as of March 341998.

The Judicial Conference’s policy is to base its assessment of the need for additional district
judgeships in each district court on the weighted filings per authorized district judgeship.
Under the Judicial Conference’s written policy, a general standard of 430 or more weighted
 tilings per authorized district judgeship is considered an indication of the need for 1 or more
 additional judgeships. In assessing the need for additional district judgeships, it is the
 Judicial Conference’s policy to review trends in district workload to determine if a district
 has a sustained workload of 430 or more weighted filings per judgeship.

The Judicial Conference may recommend an additional permanent district judgeship if an
additional judgeship would leave current weighted filings above or near 430 per authorized
judgeship, and there are no other factors suggesting that a temporary judgeship or no
judgeship is the appropriate recommendation. For example, if a district currently had eight
 authorized judgeships and had requested an additional judgeship, its current weighted filings
 per judgeship would be recalculated using nine judgeships. If its weighted filings per
judgeship remained above or near 430 with 9 judgeships, it would generally meet the
 weighted filings standard for an additional judgeship.

The Judicial Conference’s policy is generally to recommend an additional temporary district
judgeship when an additional judgeship would reduce the weighted filings per authorized
judgeship to between 350 and 430. The Conference has also established a policy for
 considering temporary judgeships in small courts-a term the Conference’s written policy
 does not define. If the addition of a judgeship in a small court would lower the weighted
 filings per authorized judgeship to near or below 300, the Conference’s policy is generally to
 recommend an additional temporary judgeship orAy if the current weighted filings are in
 excess of 500 per authorized district judgeship.

The computation of weighted filings the Judicial Conference has used to assess the need for
district court judgeships has included cases for which case weights are assigned that were
Bed in a district during a 12-month period,13whether or not any of these cases were assigned
to senior or magistrate judges for disposition. However, the Judicial Conference’s policies
allow for judgmental considerations of such factors as the district’s management practices
and the use of senior district and magistrate judges.


 ‘?Thedata collected and reported for these 2 districts were less detailed than the data reported in this letter for the remaining 21
 districts.
 ‘%I its assessmentof district court weighted caseloads, the Judicial Conference may examine data for several different E-month
 repoting periods, such as calendar years and fiscal years.




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In our analysis, we used four different measures of the number of judges available to a
district court to address its caseload-authorized district judgeships, active district judges,
senior district judges, and magistrate judges. The Judicial Conference used authorized
district judgeships to assessjudgeship needs for its district court judgeship request submitted
to Congress in 1997. The total number of active district judges, senior district judges, and
magistrate judges represents the maximum number of judges actually available to address a
district court’s nonbankruptcy caseload at any specific time.

Objective, Scope, and Methodology
Our objective was to determine the impact on nonsenior district judges’ workload of (1) the
weighted filings assigned to senior district judges and (2) the weighted civil consent cases
decided by magistrate judges in 21 of the 23 districts that have judgeship requests pending
before Congress. As requested, we provided data on the estimated workload of senior judges
and magistrate judges in the remaining two districts in May 1998.

To meet our objective, we obtained data on (1) each district’s weighted filings for the fiscal
year ending September 30,1997; (2) the number of senior district judges in each district as of
 September 30,1997, and March 31,1998; (3) the number of part-time and full-time magistrate
judges in each district as of September 30,1997; (4) the number of active district judges in
 each district as of September 30,1997, and March 31,1998; (5) the number of civil cases filed
by nature-of-suit code that were assigned to senior district judges in fiscal year 1997; (6) the
number of criminal felony defendants commenced by criminal offense codeI that were
 assigned to senior district judges in fiscal year 1997; and (7) the number of civil consent cases
by nature-of-suit code assigned to magistrate judges that were filed in fiscal year 1997.
 Because the age of senior district judges is one factor that may affect the number of case
Glings they are willing and able to undertake, we also obtained the birth dates of the senior
 district judges in each district.

We obtained the weighted filings per authorized district judgeship for each’district from the
Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts (AOUSC) publication, Judicial Business of the United
States Courts. 1997. To obtain the remaining data, we contacted the chief judge in each of the
21 district courts. We requested data on consent cases filed in fiscal year 1997 because the
weighted filings are based on cases filed in the fiscal year, whether or not the case is disposed
(closed) in that fiscal year. AOUSC’s statistical data on consent cases are based on the year
in which the case was disposed, not filed.

We compared the nature-of-suit and criminal offense codes each district provided to the
nature-of-suit and criminal offense codes used to assign case weights. We checked with


‘“Nature-of-suit codes are assigned to categories of civil cases filed, and each code carries a specific case weight. Criminal
offense codes are assigned to categories of felony crinkal defendants “commenced” in federal court, and each offense carries a
specific weight These nature-of-suit and miminal offense weights represent the relative amount of judicial time-compared to
other civil or criminal categories-that the civil case or criminal defendant may require. Total per judge weighted filings
represent the average expected amount of a district judge’s tune the district’s total weighted filings may require for disposition,
assuming that the total weighted filings are divided equally among all district judges in the district.




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districts to clarify codes that did not have a match in the list of nature-of-suit codes used to
assign case weights or that were not in the 1995 AOUSC criminal offense citation manual. We
discussed any discrepancies with the district courts, and checked our case weight assignment
codes with the Federal Judicial Center, which conducted the study on which the case weights
were based. Ahhough we discussed discrepancies in the codes with the district courts, we
did not verify the district courts’ data.

In determining the impact of the weighted filings assigned to senior district and magistrate
judges, we followed the Judicial Conference’s method of determining weighted filings per
authorized district judgeship. We weighted senior district judges’ filings and magistrate
judges’ consent case filings using the same case weights used to compute weighted filings per
 authorized judgeship. Twelve natureof-suit codes had two postible case weights, generally
 depending upon whether the case originated in state or federal court. Twenty of the 21
 districts did not provide the additional information needed to determine the origin of the
 affected eases; therefore, we could not determine the appropriate case weight. Consequently,
for these 20 districts, we weighted the affected cases using both weights. This resulted in two
 case weight totals-one high and one low-for these cases. We then calculated the total low
 and total high weighted filings per authorized district judgeship and active district judge, after
 deducting the weighted case filings assigned to senior district and magistrate judges. We
 used the birth dates of the senior district judges to calculate their ages as of September 30,
 1997, and to determine the distribution of the ages of the senior judges in each of the 21
CliStiCtS.

We requested comments on a draft of this letter from the Director of the AOUSC. AOUSC’s
oral comments are discussed near the end of this letter. We conducted our work from April
1998 to December 1998 in accordance with generally accepted government auditing
standards.

Judgeships and Active Judges in 21 District Courts as of
September 30,1997
Table 1 shows the number of (1) authorized district judgeships, active district judges, senior
district judges, and full-time and part-tune magistrate judges as of September 30,1997, and (2)
-&strict judgeship requests pending before Congress as of March 341998, in the 21 district
courts. Eleven of the 21 districts had all of their authorized district judgeships filled as of
September 30,1997. The 10 districts with vacant authorized district judgeships had either 1
or 2 vacancies. The number of senior district judges ranged from zero (Tennessee Eastern)
to seven (California Southern). The number of magistrate judges in each district court ranged
from 3 in North Carolina Western to 13 in Texas Southern. The number of senior district
judges equaled or exceeded the number of active judges in 5 of the 21 districts. The number
 of senior district and magistrate judges exceeded the number of active district judges in 18 of
the 21 district courts.

 The Judicial Conference has pending before Congress requests for a total of 30 additional
 district judgeships for these 21 district courts, including 10 temporary judgeships.




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Table 1: Number of Authorized District Judgeships, Active and Senior District Judges, and Magistrate
Judges as of September 30,1997, and Judgeships Pending Before Congress on March 31,1998, for 21
District Courts
                                                         Number of
                                                                 Magistrate judges           Judgeship
                    Authorized         Active        Senior                                    requests
District           judgeships         judges        judges       Full-time       Part-time      pending
Alabama, M                              3              3                2                 4               0                  1P
Alabama, N”                             7              5                6                 4               0                  1P
Arizona                                 8              8                5                 7               1                  2P
 California, E”                         7              5                5                 7               4             lP, 1T
 California, S                          8              7                7                 7               1                  2P
Colorado                                7              7                1                 5               1             lP, 1T
 Indiana, S                             5              4                1                .4               2                  1T
 Kentucky, EC                        4.5             4.5                1                 4               0                  1T
 Nevada                                 4              4                1                 5               0                  2P
 New Mexico                             5              5                3                 6               2             lP, 1T
 New York, E                          15              15                5               12                0                  3P
 New York, N”                           5              4                2                 4               1                  1T
 New York, W                            4              3                3                 4               0                  1T
 North Carolina, W                      3            -3                 1                 3               0                  2P
Oregon                                  6              4                5                 5               2                  1P
South Carolina                          9              9                4                 5               1                  IT
Tennessee, E                            5              5                0                 4               0                  1T
Texas, N                              12              10                3                 7               3                  1P
Texas, S                              18              16                1               13                0                  1P
Virginia, Eb                          10               9                6                 8               1                  1P
Washington, W                           7              7                2                 4               2                  1T
Legend 1: E = eastern; M = middle; N = northern; S = southern; W = western
Legend 2: P = new permanent judgeship; T = new temporary judgeship
“Alabama Northern originally requested, and the Judicial Conference recommended, the conversion of an existing temporary
judgeship to a permanent position. However, in May 1996! the temporary judgeship position lapsed with the retirement of a
judge. The pending request for one permanent judgeship IS to restore the lost judgeship and make it permanent.
bin October 1997, Congress extended temporary judgeships in 11 districts (P.L.105-53, enacted Oct. 6, 1997), including 3 of
the districts shown in this table-California Eastern, New York Northern, and Virginia Eastern. The numbers in this table reflect
the effect of this statute on the judgeships pending before Congress as of March 31.1998.
‘Includes a judgeship shared with another district.
Source: GAO analysis of AOUSC and district data.


linpact of Senior District and Magistrate .Judges on Authorized
District Judgeship and Active District Judges
The case filings assigned to senior district and magistrate judges reduced the caseload of
nonsenior judges- whether measured as authorized judgeships or active judges-in all 2 1
district courts. As table 2 shows, the fiscal year 1997 weighted filings per authorized district
judgeship in the 21 districts, assuming that all filings were assigned to nonsenior judges,
ranged from about 453 in New York Northern to about 814 in California Southern. The low
 estimated value of the weighted filings assigned to senior district and magistrate judges
resulted in a reduction that ranged from about 17 weighted filings per authorized judgeship in
Texas Southern to about 199 in New York Western. Using this low estimate of the reduced
 caseload for nonsenior judges, the weighted filings per authorized district judgeship fell
below the general standard of 430 in 3 districts-Kentucky Eastern (383), New York Western
 (297), and Oregon (409).



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Table 2: Weighted Filings Per Authorized Judgeships, including and Excluding the                Lower Estimated
Value of the Weighted Filings Assigned to Senior District and Magistrate Judges in              Fiscal Year 1997
                                   Weighted filings per authorized district
                                                   judgeship”                                        Differenceb
                                                                    Excluding
                                    Including weighted        weighted filings
                     Number of       filings assigned to          assigned to
                     authorized       senior district and senior district and
District            judgeships        magistrate judges magistrate judges                        Number            Percent
Alabama, M’                        3                       755                     626                  127             17
Alabama, N                         7                       594                     434                  160             27
ArkoH  .-
                                   A
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                                                                                                          “V             IL
                                                                                                                        13
        mia. SE
C,alifamia’
Califol                                                       601                   475                 126
                                                                                                         .--            21
--...-.... -, -                      R                        isi                  -iii
                                                                                    .e .”               IRK
                                                                                                         a-.,           9;
                                                                                                                        -I
Colorado”                            7                        iii-;                 556                   21               4
Indiana, S                           5                        594                   520                   74            13
Kentucky, E                        4.5                        480                   383                   97            20
Nevada”                              4                        696                   640                   56               8
New Mexico’                          5                        643                   494                 149             23
New York, EC                        15                        614                   493                 121             20
New York, N                          5                        453                   434                    19              4
New York, W                          4                        496                   297                 199             40
North Carolina, w”                   3                         760                   635                125              16
Oregon                               z                         521                   409                112             21
South Carolina’                                                545                   463                   82            15
Tennessee, E                          5                        548                   519                   29              5
Texas, N                            12                         524                   471                   53            10
Texas, S                            18                         527                   510                   17              3
Virginia, E                         10                         578                   443                 135             23
Washington, w”                        7                        508                   489                   19              4
Legend: E = eastern; M = middle; N = northern; S = southern; W = western
“Assumes all authorized judgeships are filled. Results shown were rounded to nearest whole number.
%esults shown were rounded to nearest whole number.
‘Districts with no authorized judgeship vacancies as of September 30,1997.
Source: GAO analysis of AOUSC and district data.
Table 3 shows the results per authorized judgeship after deducting the higher estimated value
of the weighted filings assigned to senior district and magistrate judges. The reduction in
weighted fihngs per authorized judgeship ranged from about 21 weighted filings in
Washington Western to about 246 in New York Western. This reduction resulted in weighted
Iilings falling below the general standard of 430 per authorized judgeship in 6 districts-
Alabama Northern (389), Kentucky Eastern (382), New York Northern (429), New York
 Western (250), Oregon (375), and Virginia Eastern (423). Multidistrict litigation transfers are
 not counted as weighted filings, and this may have affected the results for Alabama Northern,
 the district to which all breast implant filings have been transferred for disposition.




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Table 3: Weighted Filings Per Authorized Judgeships, Including and Excluding the Higher Estimated
Value of the Weighted Fifings Assigned to Senior District and Magistrate Judges in Fiscal Year 1997
                                   Weighted filings per authorized district
                                                    judgeship”                      Differenceb
                                                                     Excluding
                                    Including weighted         weighted filings
                     Number of       filings assigned to           assigned to
                     authorized       senior district and senior district and
District            judgeships        magistrate judges magistrate judges          Number       Percent
Alabama, MC                           3                       755                   571              184       24
Alabama, N                            7                       594                  .389              205       34
Arizona’                              8                       734                   623              111       15
California, E                         7                       601                   457
                                                                                     ,a
                                                                                                     -IdO
                                                                                                     .   .-
                                                                                                                75
California, S                         8                       814                   63 15            179       22
P.-.lnr~Arr=
““l”l  cl””                           k-7                     E77I
                                                              d,
                                                                                    cc ‘4
                                                                                    G2                   23     4
Indiana, S                                                    594                                    102       17
Kentucky, F                        4.5                        480                   382                  98    20
Nevada’                                4                      696                   624                  72    10
New Mexico’                            5                      643                   494              149       23
New York, E”                        15                        614                   460l”            ‘I.45     24
New York, N                            5                      453                   42-‘9                24     5
New York, W                           4                       496                   25n              BAG       Fin
North Carolina, W                      3                      760                   57L              IiD0
Oreaon                                 6                      621                   375              146       zi
South Carolina”                        9                      545                   449               96        18
Tennessee, F                           5                      548                   514               34         6
Texas, N                            12                        524                   458               66        13
Texas, S                            18                        527                   504               23         4
Virginia, E                         10                        578                   423              155        27
Washington, W                         7                       508                   487               21         4
Legend: E = eastern; M = middle; N = northern; S = southern; W = western
“Assumes all authorized judgeships are filled. Results shown were rounded to nearest whole number.
bResults shown were rounded to nearest whole number.
‘Districts with no authorized judgeship vacancies as of September 30, 1997.
Source: GAO analysis of AOUSC and district data.
Because 10 of the 21 district courts did not have all of their authorized judgeships filled as of
September 30,1997, they were not operating with a full complement of authorized judgeships.
To determine the impact of vacancies on the weighted f%ngs per active district judge, we
 determined the weighted filings using the number of active district judges in each of the 10
 district courts. As shown in table 4, the weighted Elings per active district judge in the
 d&-&s with vacancies ranged from about 566 in New York Northern to about 930 in
 California Southern-noticeably higher than the weighted filings per authorized district
judgeship (see table 2 or 3). Using our low estimate, the weighted filings handled by senior
 district and magistrate judges reduced the weighted filings per active judge by about 19 in
Texas Southern to about 265 in New York Western (see table 4). Based on our high estimate,
the reduction in weighted filings per active judge ranged from about 26 in Texas Southern to
 about 329 in New York Western (see table 5).




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Table 4: Weighted Filings Per Active Judge in the 10 Districts With Judgeship Vacancies, Including
and Excluding the Low Estimated Value of the Weighted Filings Assigned to Senior District and
Magistrate Judgesin Fiscal Year 1997
                                 Weighted filings per active district judge”       Difference”
                                                                   Excluding
                                    Including weighted       weighted filings
                                     filings assigned to         assigned to
                    Number of        senior district and senior district and
District         active judges        magistrate judges magistrate judges         Number       Percent
Alabama. N                         5                                     -.-.w                       --
 -.--------7


California, E                      5                          841       666              176         21
California, S                      7                          930       738
                                                                         --^
                                                                                         192
                                                                                          --
                                                                                                     21
                                                                                                     .^
Indiana, S                         4                          743
                                                                        fmJ               YY         1Y
New York, N                        4                        566         .543              23          4
New York.
.----    ----7 W
               ~-                  3                        661         396              265         40
Oregon                             4                        %ii         614              168         21
Texas, N                         10                          629         565              64         10
Texas, S                         16                          593         574              19          3
Virginia, E                        9                         642         492             150         23
Legend: E = eastern; N = northern; S = southern: W = western
“Results shown are rounded to nearest whole number.
Source: GAO analysis of AOUSC and district data.


Table 5: Weighted Filings Per Active Judge in the 10 Districts With Judgeship Vacancies, including
and Excluding the Higher Estimated Value of the Weighted Filings Assigned to Senior District and
Magistrate Judges in-Fiscal Year 1997
                                 Weighted filings per active district judge”       Difference”
                                                                   Excluding
                                    Including weighted       weighted filings
                                     filings assigned to         assigned to
                    Number of         senior district and senior district and
District         active judges        magistrate judges magistrate judges         Number       Percent
Alabama, N                            5                        832       545             287          34
^ ..e . -                                                      - __      _^^             ^^^          ^-
r;alitomia, t                                                  641       BYZ             2UY          25
California, S                         ;                        930       725             205          22
Indiana, S                            4                        743       615             128          17
New York, N                           4                        566       536              30            5
New York, W                           3                        661       333             329          50
Oregon                                4                        782       563             218          28
Texas, N                            10                    .    629       549              79          13
Texas, S                            16                          593      567              26            4
Virginia, E                            9                        642      470             172          27
Legend:
  -        E = eastern; N = northern; S = southern; W = western
“Results shown are rounded to nearest whole number.
Source: GAO analysis of AOUSC and district data.


 Level of Senior District Judge Assistawe Can Change at Any
 Time
 For the 20 districts that had senior district judges, those judges helped to reduce the caseload
 of nonsenior district judges-whether measured as authorized district judgeships or active
 district judges in fiscal year 1997. However, the assistance that senior district judges provide
 at any specik time is a function of both the number of senior district judges in the district


 Page 10                                                              GAOSGD-99-37R Federal District Courts
B-281739


and the case assignments that they are willing and able to accept. The number of senior
district judges in a district and the case assignments that they are collectively willing and able
to accept can vary from year to year or within a fiscal year for several reasons. Eligible active
district judges may decide to take senior status, adding to the number of senior district judges
in the district. Senior district judges may, at their discretion, increase or reduce their
workload at any time or retire from the federal bench entirely. Judges who retire from the
federal bench entirely are not eligible to perform federal judicial duties. Age is one factor
that may either affect the number of case filings a senior judge is willing and able to accept,15
or that may affect a senior judge’s decision to retire from the bench entirely. Between
September 30,1997, and March 31,1998,2 of the 20 districts that had senior judges-Nevada
and Washington Western-each gained 1 senior district judge; a senior judge died in California
Eastern.

 Generally, judges must be at least 65 years of age to take senior status. As of September 30,
 1997, senior district judges in 20 of the 21 districts ranged in age from 6016to 90. One district-
Tennessee Eastern-did not have any senior district judges. The average age of senior judges
was about 75. The range of ages of senior district judges in each district as of September 30,
 1997, is shown in table 6. At least 50 percent of the senior district judges in 11 of the 20
 districts that had senior judges were age 76 or older. Five districts did not have any senior
judges age 76 or older. The actual workload that any individual senior district judge accepts
would depend upon factors other than age alone, such as the judge’s overall health. Four of
the 20 district courts reported that each had a senior judge who did not take any cases due to
 illness.




“A 1994 AOUSC study, for example, found that the median workload of senior district court judges generally declined as the
judges’years of senior status increased. Actual workload would vary among the individual judges, of course.

“‘One district judge in Colorado, who retired because of disability and subsequently returned to duty on senior status, was age 60.




Page 11                                                                           GAO/GGD-99-37R       Federal   District   Courts
B-28 1739




Table 6: Ages of Senior District Judges in 21 District Courts, September 30,1997
                                                                  Aae 81 or Total number                        Percent aae
District          Age 6570         Age 71-75      Age 76-80        - more’       of judges                      76 or old;p
Alabama, M                 cl              0               2              0                2                             100
Alabama. N                 3               2               0              1                6                              17

  ...--. .- E
.California,
 California, S
 Colorado’
 Indiana, S
 Kentuc h. E
 Nevada
 New M~XIWJ
 New York, E
 New York, N                    0                  2                0                 ‘0                  2                   0
 New York, W                    1                  0                2                  0                  3                  67
 North Carolina, W              0                  1                0                  0                  1                   0
 Oregon                         2                  2                1                   0                 5                  20
 South Carolina                  1                 0                2                   1                 4                  75
 Tennessee, E                   0                  0                0                   0                 0                   0
 Texas, N                        0                 1                2                   0                 3                  67
 Texas, S                        0                 0                1                   0                 1                 100
 Virginia, E                    2                  1                3                   0                 6                  50
 Washington, W                   0                 1                1                   0                 2                  50
 Legend: E = eastern; M = middle; N = northern; S = southern; W = western
The oldest judge was 90 years of age.
%ounded to nearest whole number.
‘One judge, who retired because of disability and subsequently returned to duty on senior status, was age 60.
Source: GAO analysis of district court data.


Agency Comments
On February 16,1999, we provided a draft of this letter to the AOUSC for comment. On
February 17,1999, AOUSC notified us that the fiscal year 1997 weighted filings per authorized
judgeship for the district courts had been revised since we had obtained the data. AOUSC
provided us the revised data, which generally showed lower weighted filings per authorized
judgeship in each district in our analysis. We subsequently revised our analysis as needed
 and provided the revised analyses to AOUSC for review. On March 5, 1999, the Chief of the
 Analytical Services Office provided oral comments on the draft that consisted of technical
 changes, which we have made as appropriate.

                                                   -    -    -    -     -

 We are sending copies of this letter to Senator Robert G. Torricelli, Ranking Minority Member
 of your subcommittee; Senator On-in G. Hatch, Chairman, and Senator Patrick J. Leahy,
 Ranking Minority Member, Senate Committee on the Judiciary; Representative Henry J. Hyde,
 Chairman, and Representative John Conyers, Jr., Ranking Minority Member, House
 Committee on the Judiciary; and Representative Howard Coble, Chairman, and
 Representative Howard L. Berman, Ranking Minorily Member of the Subcommittee on Courts



 Page 12                                                                          GAO/GGD-99-37R      Federal   District   Courts
B-281739


and Intellectual Property, House Committee on the Judiciary. We are also sending copies of
this report to Mr. Leonidus Ralph Mecham, Director, Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts;
The Honorable Julia Smith Gibbons, Chair, the Judicial Conference Committee on Judicial
Resources; and The Honorable W. Harold Albritton, The Honorable Sam C. Pointer, Jr., The
Honorable Robert C. Broomfield, The Honorable William B. Shubb, The Honorable Marilyn L.
Huff, The Honorable Richard P. Ma&h, The Honorable Sara Evans Barker, The Honorable
Henry R. Wilhoit, Jr., The Honorable Howard D. McKibben, The Honorable John E. Conway,
The Honorable Charles P. Sifton, The Honorable Thomas J. McAvoy, The Honorable David G.
Larhner, The Honorable Graham C. Mullen, The Honorable Michael R. Hogan, The Honorable
C. Weston Houck, The Honorable R. Allan Edgar, The Honorable Jerry L. Buchmeyer, The
Honorable George P. Kazen, The Honorable Claude M. Hilton, and The Honorable John C.
Coughenour, Chief Judges of their respective districts. Copies will also be made available to
others upon request.

Major contributors to this letter include William Jenkins and Katrina Moss, General
Government Division; Jeanne Barger, Dallas Field Office; and Geoffrey Hamilton, Office of
the General Counsel. If you have any questions about this letter, please contact me on
512-8777.

Sincerely yours,


 +kch-y-


Richard M. Stana
Associate Director
Administration of Justice Issues




Page 13                                                     GAOKGD-99-37R   Federal   District   Courts
Page 14   GAO/GGD-99-37E   Federal   District   Courts
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