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November 12, 2012

TRAC documents "striking judge-to-judge differences" in federal criminal caseloads

This new release from the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) reports on new research that "has found wide variations in the criminal caseloads of individual federal district court judges, in some instances even among the judges serving in the same courthouse."  I doubt many federal practitioners will be surprised by this story, though some of the data is truly "striking":

TRAC's latest judge-by-judge analysis — using newly updated sentencing records on over 400,000 defendants — followed the criminal caseloads of 909 federal district court judges for the past 70 months.... Among the 909 district court judges whose records were examined, however, about half had not actively served during the entire 70-month study period. Thus, in the interest of better comparability, this report focuses on the 430 judges who had actively served for the entire 70 months....

[E]ven when the analysis was limited to the active judges who had served for the entire study period, the data disclosed surprising workload variations.  In ninety separate courthouses there were two or more active judges, allowing for a comparison of the variation in caseloads within the courthouse.  Among these ninety, there were four courthouses where the criminal caseload for one or more of the judges serving in them was twice the caseload of their colleague(s)....

There was also enormous variation in the volume of criminal cases a judge was required to handle that depended upon the courthouse at which the judge served.  While on average active judges sentenced 615 defendants during the study period, this average caseload level varied from a low of 147 criminal defendants in the District of Columbia federal court to a high of 7,020 in the Las Cruces, New Mexico district courthouse.

November 12, 2012 at 10:42 AM | Permalink

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Comments

If criminal cases were the only matters that federal judges see I could think this finding has some importance. But since criminal cases are not the end all and be all of the federal docket I do not find it at all surprising that there is such variation.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Nov 12, 2012 12:02:16 PM

what i thought was striking was this

" Among the 909 district court judges whose records were examined, however, about half had not actively served during the entire 70-month study period. Thus, in the interest of better comparability,"

so half of the 909 judges didn't even see a case in 70 months? Sounds like time to fire their asses. Then either replace em. Or as the sytem seems to still be running in their absent. Toss the positions and save some damn money. Plus let's not forget thier entire staffs as well.

Posted by: rodsmith | Nov 12, 2012 12:51:52 PM

Rod,

I read that language as saying that there is lots of turnover in the ranks of federal judges, not that existing judges take inordinate amounts of time away from the job.

Given the numerous articles we see about judgeship vacancies I would not find it at all surprising that over a 70 month period (more 5 3/4 years) that there is close to 50% turnover in federal judges. Especially when the cutoff for the study period includes a change in party in who holds the presidency.

While I certainly see a need for a study like this to look at more than one year I do have to wonder if the difference would be so striking if more recently appointed judges were included. Also 70 months seems like a highly arbitrary selection point, to the point that I have to wonder if it was chosen to accentuate the desired result.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Nov 12, 2012 7:49:24 PM

Could be didn't look at that part of it. Sounds like the judges aren't the only screw up's the ones doing the study are as well.

Posted by: rodsmith | Nov 12, 2012 11:19:06 PM

Federal Judges do not retire - they just see fewer and fewer cases as they go into the twilight.

Posted by: beth | Nov 13, 2012 12:22:55 PM

Maybe, just maybe, there should be a REAL study to see how many federal judges we actually need. I think if we eliminate 50% of the vacancies and the resulting staff and overhead, we wouldn't see a bit of difference to our current JUST US system.

Posted by: albeed | Nov 13, 2012 5:23:54 PM

LOL albeed i said the same thing earlier about the rescent elections. Just skip it one cycle. Leave the spots empty come january and then at the next cycle look and see if we really really needed them. If NO...drop the slots and move on.

Posted by: rodsmith | Nov 13, 2012 7:16:04 PM

rodsmith:

You are more eloquent and precise in your language than many of the so-called legal eagles who respond to this site. I especially enjoyed your comment to a previous blogpost dated Nov 9, 2012 at 11:34:38 AM.

Keep up the good work.

Posted by: albeed | Nov 13, 2012 10:48:24 PM

Too bad Rod doesn't know what he's talking about in this instance or bother to find out. (Sorry Rod - nothing personal, but you are way off base). Federal judges who continue to serve even after they are entitled to retire with FULL SALARY AND BENEFITS take "senior" status. That is, they do volunteer work. Understand that? Volunteer. They don't have to work, they just do.

So, a lot of judges that otherwise would have been active (albeit senior) retired because they were ALREADY WORKING PAST RETIREMENT AGE. Thus, the study notes that "A total of 159 out of the 909 judges had retired before the study period began yet they handled fully 10 percent of the criminal caseload in the nation."

The study clearly states that it includes only those judges who were not retired at any point. If you take a look here you can see that every judge who actively served saw cases - an average of 462.

I appreciate the perspective you bring here, but you'd do better if you didn't spout off without bothering to read what you're commenting about. If you don't think federal judges have enough work to do - you're flat-out crazy or completely uninformed.

The relevant definitions from the first page of the study:

[3] The study covered all district court judges who had sentenced at least 50 defendants during the period October 2006 through July 2012. The category of active judges covered those who had been appointed before October 2006 and had not retired at any time prior to July 2012. Judges who split their time between districts were excluded from district comparisons. In addition, because the study period was longer than the one used for TRAC's March report, slightly fewer active judges qualified for inclusion because more judges had retired.

[4] The Constitution forbids Congress to diminish a federal judge's salary. Thus they continue to receive their full salary after they retire unless they resign from office. Despite retirement, however, many senior judges volunteer their time to shoulder some of the court's caseload without extra compensation for this work. Indeed, in our study 301 of the 909 district court judges had retired before or during the study period. They handled 27 percent of the criminal caseload during this same period. A total of 159 out of the 909 judges had retired before the study period began yet they handled fully 10 percent of the criminal caseload in the nation. See Appendix Tables A and B.

Posted by: Gray R. Proctor | Nov 15, 2012 9:41:38 AM

hmm

" The Constitution forbids Congress to diminish a federal judge's salary. Thus they continue to receive their full salary after they retire unless they resign from office."

Horse shit! Sorry but once you retire your not a judge. Your a retired judge. So we can and should reduce thier pay. This creative interpetation was probably brought to us by the same fucktard govt stooge who came up with the creative interpetation of "NO expost" to "NO expose EXCEPT in civil and sex crimes"

Sorry to normal americans it's a non-starter.

Posted by: rodsmith | Nov 15, 2012 11:13:42 AM

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