February 24, 2014

Efficient Administration Of Justice

Guest column submitted by U.S. Senator Mike Crapo

Ranking fifth in the nation, the Idaho Federal District Court was named one of America's most productive courts.  The court has consistently ranked as one of the most productive and efficient district courts in the country despite having only two judges and a very high caseload. 

Bench presence and cases tried by an active district judge were among the factors considered in determining the court's overall productivity ranking.  The District of Idaho ranks eighth in the nation for the number of hours spent on the bench and fifth for the number of trial hours. 

The court is achieving this output even though it is operating with one fewer judge than most other districts serving this population.  This also further constrains court resources since the number of judicial officers in each court affects the allocation of funding to the districts.  As Idaho has only two district judgeships and no senior judges, despite the clear need for more due to caseload and population growth, the District of Idaho is significantly impacted.  Idaho is one of only three states (North Dakota and Vermont are the others) with only two authorized judgeships for the entire state.  In contrast, the Central District of California and the Southern District of New York each have 28 authorized judgeships.

Since the second district judge was authorized 60 years ago, Idaho's population has grown substantially, and the court indicates that its caseload has doubled.  This leaves Idaho at a disadvantage compared to other similarly sized states.  According to data from the court, in the twelve month period that ended in June of 2013, 1,074 cases were filed in the court.  This results in 537 filings per judgeship, which far exceeds the average filings of 303 cases per judgeships in comparable courts, with more judges, across the nation.  Additionally, the pending cases per judge in the District of Idaho increased 30 percent from 2007-2013, and total case filings have jumped 26 percent during this time period. 

The need for an additional judge in Idaho has been widely recognized for years.  In its 2003 biennial report to Congress, the nonpartisan Judicial Conference of the United States first recommended an additional judgeship for Idaho.  In each subsequent report, including the most recent in March 2013, it has included Idaho in its recommendations for a new judgeship.  Unfortunately, Congress has not authorized any new judgeships for any state since 2002.  That means that, since a new judgeship for Idaho was first recommended by the Judicial Conference in 2003, no new judgeships for any state have been authorized by Congress.

Nevertheless, along with other members of the Idaho Congressional Delegation, I continue to press for the addition of a third judgeship.  Due to this significant need, fellow Idaho Senator Jim Risch (R-Idaho) and I introduced legislation to add a judge to Idaho's federal court system.  Fellow Idaho congressional delegation member Representative Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) introduced equivalent legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives. 

We must have timely and efficient administration of justice.  The District of Idaho has been working to meet the needs of the district while facing growing personnel and financial challenges.  Advancing this productivity by adding an additional judgeship to the court would help ensure effective access to justice for Idaho's increasing population.   

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