ILNews

No relief in sight for busy Southern District judges

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

Judges of the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of Indiana are among the nation’s busiest. They have been for years, and that’s unlikely to change anytime soon.

Among the 94 U.S. District courts, Southern District judges carry the sixth-heaviest load based on weighted cases, with each handling an average of 724 cases.

Chief Judge Richard Young said the workload continues to increase even though the need for help has been apparent for decades. The Judicial Conference has authorized another judgeship for the Southern District since at least 1997.
 

Busy-photos-003-15col.jpg Chief Judge Richard Young, U.S. District Court of the Southern District of Indiana (IL Photo/ Dave Stafford)

“The Judicial Conference can authorize 50 new judgeships,” Young said. “If Congress doesn’t fund them, it doesn’t mean anything.”

Young said the District’s workload “absolutely” argues for funding an additional judgeship, but odds are against it. “Congress is not outlaying funding of these new judgeships very often.”

John Maley, a Barnes & Thornburgh LLP partner who practices in federal courts around the country, isn’t optimistic either. “In the current environment, in the last

seven to eight years, it seems to be even more challenging to get that funding,” he said. “I don’t think we’re going to see relief from the nation’s capital.”

Young in December presented an overview of the court’s work at a Federal Civil Practice Update in Indianapolis. The statistics show a rising number of civil filings are increasing the caseload per judge. Civil filings in the District, for example, have risen from just under 2,500 in 2009 to more than 2,800 last year.

busy-map.png

Roughly half of the Southern District civil caseload involves prisoner petitions or civil-rights claims, which on average make up about one-third of claims in districts nationwide. Prisoner petitions, particularly habeas matters, are assigned the heaviest weights.

But even when cases are tallied without weighted measures, the District’s judges remain among the nation’s busiest. The five active judges and one senior judge carry a total average caseload of 700, compared to a national average of 579. On that metric, the District judges rank as the nation’s 12th busiest.

Southern District Clerk Laura Briggs said that in addition to the judgeship already authorized, Judicial Conference guidelines recommending a maximum load of 430 weighted cases would allow authorization of a second additional judgeship.
“If we had seven authorized judgeships, we’d still be over 430,” Briggs said.

Young said part of the reason the District judges’ caseload statistics have hovered near the top of the federal judiciary is that the District for years has had just one senior judge, Larry McKinney. Other districts have the benefit of multiple senior judges who can relieve heavy caseloads.

“We don’t have that luxury at this time,” Young said.

Northern District of Indiana

Chief Judge Philip P. Simon of the Northern District of Indiana said he’s grateful to have three senior judges, two of whom carry full caseloads and one who carries half a caseload. That keeps the Northern District judges’ workloads closer to the level recommended by the Judicial Conference. At 494 weighted cases per judgeship, the Northern District of Indiana ranks as 39th busiest in the nation on that measure.

Because federal judges after age 65 are entitled to retirement at full salary, Simon said the cases they take dilute the caseloads for active judges. “It really is true to say they’re donating their time to the public,” he said of senior judges.

Without the contributions of Senior Judges William Lee, Rudy Lozano and James T. Moody, the caseload of judges in the Northern District would be closer to those of their Southern District colleagues.

“We’re not under near as big an emergency as they are,” Simon said of the Southern District. “They have a real emergency.”

Indiana University Maurer School of Law professor Charles Geyh said federal judges facing heavy caseloads invariably will have less time to focus on civil matters because criminal cases take precedent.
“The consequences for the administration of justice are not good,” Geyh said. “That isn’t to say crises or catastrophes 

are going to occur, it’s simply to say there are only so many hours in a day and judges are having to spend less time on each case and having to do triage.”
Meanwhile, Geyh said there’s no reason to believe case filings will decline, so the caseload per judge will likely continue to increase. “It’s a simple problem without a simple solution,” he said.
 

Southern District judges handle the fifth-highest number of civil cases nationwide, according to federal court statistics. The average of 595 civil cases handled by each judge in the District last year compares to the national average of 420.

While caseloads have risen, Young said the District judges have worked to shorten the average duration of cases and reduce the number of cases that are more than three years old.

Maley said statistics bear out how the District Court has structured itself to handle a heavy volume with tight resources. Magistrate judges, for instance, are effectively employed, and the court has a high success rate in fostering settlements, he said.

“Even though they have a higher caseload, they’re holding their own nationally” in efficiently processing cases, Maley said.

For the year period ending in September 2013, the median time between case filing and resolution was 8.8 months, down from the 9.5 months for the prior year period, and closer to the 2013 national average of 8.5 months.

As of September 2013, there were just 53 cases lingering more than three years in the District. That continues a decline dating to 2008, when there 195 cases more than three years old.

“What that means is we’re working pretty hard,” Young said. “We’re cranking it out as best we can.”•

ADVERTISEMENT

Post a comment to this story

COMMENTS POLICY
We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
 
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
 
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in Indiana Lawyer editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
 
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
 
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.
 

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by
ADVERTISEMENT
Subscribe to Indiana Lawyer
  1. Im very happy for you, getting ready to go down that dirt road myself, and im praying for the same outcome, because it IS sometimes in the childs best interest to have visitation with grandparents. Thanks for sharing, needed to hear some positive posts for once.

  2. Been there 4 months with 1 paycheck what can i do

  3. our hoa has not communicated any thing that takes place in their "executive meetings" not executive session. They make decisions in these meetings, do not have an agenda, do not notify association memebers and do not keep general meetings minutes. They do not communicate info of any kind to the member, except annual meeting, nobody attends or votes because they think the board is self serving. They keep a deposit fee from club house rental for inspection after someone uses it, there is no inspection I know becausee I rented it, they did not disclose to members that board memebers would be keeping this money, I know it is only 10 dollars but still it is not their money, they hire from within the board for paid positions, no advertising and no request for bids from anyone else, I atteended last annual meeting, went into executive session to elect officers in that session the president brought up the motion to give the secretary a raise of course they all agreed they hired her in, then the minutes stated that a diffeerent board member motioned to give this raise. This board is very clickish and has done things anyway they pleased for over 5 years, what recourse to members have to make changes in the boards conduct

  4. Where may I find an attorney working Pro Bono? Many issues with divorce, my Disability, distribution of IRA's, property, money's and pressured into agreement by my attorney. Leaving me far less than 5% of all after 15 years of marriage. No money to appeal, disabled living on disability income. Attorney's decision brought forward to judge, no evidence ever to finalize divorce. Just 2 weeks ago. Please help.

  5. For the record no one could answer the equal protection / substantive due process challenge I issued in the first post below. The lawless and accountable only to power bureaucrats never did either. All who interface with the Indiana law examiners or JLAP be warned.

ADVERTISEMENT