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Indiana gets new federal magistrate

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For the first time since the early 1980s, the Southern District of Indiana has gotten approval to hire a new full-time federal magistrate.

The U.S. Judicial Conference, which is the policy-making arm of the federal court system, approved during its annual fall meeting on Tuesday the Indianapolis-based magistrate spot along with three others throughout the country.

“We are very pleased about this, and it’ll certainly help our magistrates process their work even more efficiently,” said Chief Judge Richard Young, a member of the Judicial Conference that approved the measure. “We have one of the highest weighted caseloads in the country, and so this will help us process our work more quickly and get the litigants through the system a little quicker.”

Congress had previously authorized the Judicial Conference to create these new positions, and the funding for the magistrate begins April 1, 2011. The conference’s Committee on the Administration of the Magistrate Judges System had agreed in June that the Southern District of Indiana should get an additional magistrate since it’s one of the busiest courts nationally. Chief Judge Young sat on that committee, as well.

With ongoing budget and economic woes, the chief judge said it’s not likely that Congress will approve any new judgeships in the near future and that means other judicial help is needed. Chief Judge Young said the magistrate would be based in Indianapolis where space is available, and that one of the points the committee had considered was how the District wouldn’t have to find or rent space as a budget expense.

Applications for the position will be accepted in the coming weeks, according to Chief Judge Young. Once those applications are received, a merit-selection panel will review the applications and interview the individuals who apply before recommending five finalists for the District judges to consider.

The process will mirror what happened earlier this year when the District received 52 applications for a magistrate vacancy, created when U.S. Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson was elevated to a federal judgeship. In August, the court selected Indianapolis attorney Mark Dinsmore to take that position, and he’s currently awaiting a background check before he begins his work.

Chief Judge Young said this process is different only in that the court will be operating at full judge and magistrate capability and not trying to fill a vacancy. The new magistrate will join current full-time Magistrate Judges Tim Baker, Debra McVicker Lynch, William Hussman, and Dinsmore; as well as part-time Magistrates Craig McKee and Mike Naville who handle search warrant and criminal matters; and recalled Magistrate Kennard Foster.

Aside from that magistrate addition, the Southern District is also watching for possible impact from another Judicial Conference action that created a pilot project allowing cameras in some District Courts. The Southern District was part of a similar project in the early 1990s and that could make it a contender for this new project, though which courts will be allowed to participate hasn’t been decided.

What has been determined is that participating courts will record proceedings at the trial judge’s discretion, and that all parties must give their consent. The Federal Judicial Center will conduct a study on the pilot and provide reports during the first two years and the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts will pay for any equipment and training that’s needed. The conference’s Committee on Court Administration and Case Management will flush out the details and logistics, though no timeline exists for now.

“Technology has changed so much and you just didn’t have social media networks and things like Facebook in the 90s,” Chief Judge Young said. “We want to see how this plays out now, in this new world of public access.”

In addition to the cameras and magistrate actions, the Judicial Conference also:

- Approved a new strategic plan for the federal judiciary that focuses on enhancing court accessibility, timeliness and efficiency, as well as attracting and retaining judicial and court executive talent, and efforts for increased education and training for judges and staff on various court issues. The plan is available online.

- Found a continuing need for all authorized bankruptcy judgeships -- 316 permanent and 36 temporary positions, and recommended that Congress not eliminate any of them in light of a 20 percent increase in filings between June 2009 and June 2010. The Senate is considering a bill that would create 13 additional bankruptcy judgeships and convert 22 existing temporary ones into permanent spots.

- Approved the creation of a public access program involving the Government Printing Office, American Association of Law Libraries, and Administrative Office of U.S. Courts that would offer free training and education to the public about the Public Access And Court Electronic Records (PACER) system. The program would also exempt from billing the first $50 of quarterly usage by a participating library.
 

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