Judicial leaders reiterated the urgent need for additional judgeships in the Southern District of Indiana and elsewhere before a House subcommittee Thursday. The Southern District is struggling under the weight of increasing caseloads and saw a 30 percent increase in cases in 2017.
Chief Judge Lawrence Stengel of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania testified on behalf of the Judicial Conference at a hearing examining the need for new federal judges before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property, and the Internet. Stengel identified Indiana’s Southern District as one of five facing an urgent need for more judges. The others are the Eastern District of California, District of Delaware, Southern District of Florida, and the Western District of Texas.
Stengel, chair of the federal judiciary’s Judicial Resources Committee, is joined on the policymaking body by Eastern District of New York Judge Roslynn Mauskopf, chair of the Judicial Statistics Subcommittee; and Southern District of California Judge Dana Sabraw.
In March, the Judicial Conference recommended that Congress create five new judgeships in one court of appeals and 52 new judgeships in 23 district courts. The conference also recommended that eight existing temporary judgeships be converted to permanent status. Since the last comprehensive judgeship bill was enacted for the U.S. courts of appeals and district courts, the numbers of cases filed in those courts have grown by 40 percent and 38 percent, respectively.
An increase of 219 cases in 2017 made Indiana’s Southern District one of the four that had surges of more than 100 weighted civil filings per judgeship. The growth is being attributed to cases related to health care/pharmaceuticals and personal injury/product liability.
The swell in the Southern Indiana District’s filings came from civil cases, which grew 33.2 percent while criminal defendants accounted for just a 1.1 percent increase.
“Before a judgeship recommendation is transmitted to Congress, it undergoes careful consideration and review at six levels within the Judiciary,” Mauskopf said. “Courts requesting additional judgeships are specifically asked about their efforts to make use of all available options.”
Caseload and other court-specific information are considered, as well as several additional factors, including the number of senior judges, the availability of magistrate judges to assist on cases, and any unusual caseload complexities.