Southern District to ‘borrow’ judges to ease judicial emergency

Two Wisconsin district court judges will begin lending their services to the Hoosier state Wednesday as part of a pilot partnership designed to ease the caseloads of the judges of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, consistently ranked among the 10 busiest federal district courts.

After Judge Sarah Evans Barker assumed senior judge status in June 2014, her vacant seat on the Southern District bench, which has yet to be filled, prompted the beginning of what the U.S. Courts Administrative Office terms a “judicial emergency” within the court. In the 12-month period ending June 30, 2016, the weighted filings per judgeship in the Southern District were 717, and the district had the seventh-highest number of total case filings and fourth-highest number of civil filings of any of the nation’s 94 district courts that year.

But through the new “borrowing and lending” partnership that will launch tomorrow, Chief Judge William C. Griesbach and Judge Lynn S. Adelman of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin will begin taking a “discrete number” of civil case assignments from the Indianapolis docket for the next three months.

The Judicial Conference of the United States Committee on Intercircuit Assignments identified the Indiana Southern District as a potential pilot court for the new program, which was officially approved by the Judicial Conference last September. Earlier this month, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals entered a designation to allow Griesbach and Adelman to perform duties in the Southern District.

Even before Barker assumed senior status is June 2014, the Southern District of Indiana carried the sixth-heaviest weighted caseload, with each of the judges handling an average of 724 cases. President Barack Obama nominated Winfield Ong to succeed Barker, but the chief of the criminal division of the Southern District U.S. Attorney's office never received a confirmation vote in the Senate.

“We’ve been, according to weighted caseload measures set up by the Administrative Office, short a judge for 20 years, but it’s highly unlikely we’ll get a new judgeship created,” Chief Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson told Indiana Lawyer in late 2016.

In announcing the pilot partnership, the Southern District said it continues to seek a more permanent solution to its judicial emergency. In every study it has conducted since 2005, the Judicial Conference has recommended that Congress create an additional judgeship to ease the caseload in Indiana’s Southern District.

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