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No relief in sight for busy Southern District judges

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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.”•

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  1. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  2. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

  3. Diversity is important, but with some limitations. For instance, diversity of experience is a great thing that can be very helpful in certain jobs or roles. Diversity of skin color is never important, ever, under any circumstance. To think that skin color changes one single thing about a person is patently racist and offensive. Likewise, diversity of values is useless. Some values are better than others. In the case of a supreme court justice, I actually think diversity is unimportant. The justices are not to impose their own beliefs on rulings, but need to apply the law to the facts in an objective manner.

  4. Have been seeing this wonderful physician for a few years and was one of his patients who told him about what we were being told at CVS. Multiple ones. This was a witch hunt and they shold be ashamed of how patients were treated. Most of all, CVS should be ashamed for what they put this physician through. So thankful he fought back. His office is no "pill mill'. He does drug testing multiple times a year and sees patients a minimum of four times a year.

  5. Brian W, I fear I have not been sufficiently entertaining to bring you back. Here is a real laugh track that just might do it. When one is grabbed by the scruff of his worldview and made to choose between his Confession and his profession ... it is a not a hard choice, given the Confession affects eternity. But then comes the hardship in this world. Imagine how often I hear taunts like yours ... "what, you could not even pass character and fitness after they let you sit and pass their bar exam ... dude, there must really be something wrong with you!" Even one of the Bishop's foremost courtiers said that, when explaining why the RCC refused to stand with me. You want entertaining? How about watching your personal economy crash while you have a wife and five kids to clothe and feed. And you can't because you cannot work, because those demanding you cast off your Confession to be allowed into "their" profession have all the control. And you know that they are wrong, dead wrong, and that even the professional code itself allows your Faithful stand, to wit: "A lawyer may refuse to comply with an obligation imposed by law upon a good faith belief that no valid obligation exists. The provisions of Rule 1.2(d) concerning a good faith challenge to the validity, scope, meaning or application of the law apply to challenges of legal regulation of the practice of law." YET YOU ARE A NONPERSON before the BLE, and will not be heard on your rights or their duties to the law -- you are under tyranny, not law. And so they win in this world, you lose, and you lose even your belief in the rule of law, and demoralization joins poverty, and very troubling thoughts impeaching self worth rush in to fill the void where your career once lived. Thoughts you did not think possible. You find yourself a failure ... in your profession, in your support of your family, in the mirror. And there is little to keep hope alive, because tyranny rules so firmly and none, not the church, not the NGO's, none truly give a damn. Not even a new court, who pay such lip service to justice and ancient role models. You want entertainment? Well if you are on the side of the courtiers running the system that has crushed me, as I suspect you are, then Orwell must be a real riot: "There will be no curiosity, no enjoyment of the process of life. All competing pleasures will be destroyed. But always — do not forget this, Winston — always there will be the intoxication of power, constantly increasing and constantly growing subtler. Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — forever." I never thought they would win, I always thought that at the end of the day the rule of law would prevail. Yes, the rule of man's law. Instead power prevailed, so many rules broken by the system to break me. It took years, but, finally, the end that Dr Bowman predicted is upon me, the end that she advised the BLE to take to break me. Ironically, that is the one thing in her far left of center report that the BLE (after stamping, in red ink, on Jan 22) is uninterested in, as that the BLE and ADA office that used the federal statute as a sword now refuses to even dialogue on her dire prediction as to my fate. "C'est la vie" Entertaining enough for you, status quo defender?

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