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Caseloads Vary Widely Among U.S. District Judges

The Transactional Records Clearinghouse (TAC) performed an analysis of available data on U.S. district judges' criminal caseloads from October 2006 through July 2012, excluding judges who resigned, retired or were appointed during the analysis period, TRAC found disparities in criminal caseloads among judges assigned to the same courthouse with some judges having over twice the caseloads of others. It also found disparities of up. to 4775% among the average number of criminal cases assigned to judges in one district compared to judges from another district.

Among the 25 districts with the greatest same-courthouse disparity, the ratios of the judge with the most assigned criminal cases to the judge with the least assigned criminal cases varied from a low of 1.32 to a high of 2.28. Three districts had ratios exceeding 2.00: Los Angeles, California (2.28); Beaumont, Texas (2.08); and Camden, New Jersey (2.04).

The average number of criminal cases assigned to district judges within a single district varied from a low of 147 in the District of Columbia to a high of 7,020 in Las Cruces, New Mexico. The average number of criminal cases assigned to district judges throughout the nation was 615.

The study looked at 909 district judges, but the statistical analysis was limited to the 430 judges from 179 courthouses who were active during the entire study period. It also excluded magistrate judges and senior judges, retired judges who voluntarily heard cases without compensation. The shortage of judges nationwide, but especially in the Southwest, is so acute that 159 of the 909 judges studied were senior judges who retired before the study period began. These senior judges handled 10% of the nation's criminal caseload.

One explanation for the stunning differences in criminal caseloads between different districts might be that the civil caseload of one district is higher than another, requiring more judges and leaving fewer criminal cases per judge. This explanation falls apart when one examines the imperfect measure of the weighted combined civil and criminal caseload per judgeship published by the Administrative Office of the United States Courts. This Shows that D.C. judges have less than half the combined criminal and civil caseload of New Mexico judges. Indeed, New Mexico ranked 84th in civil cases per judgeship while the District of Columba is ranked lower, at 86th. Thus, civil caseload alone cannot explain the disparity in criminal caseloads.

The Southwest has a shortage of judges and the Administration has stepped up criminal immigration prosecutions, explaining some of the large criminal caseload in the Southwest--the location of 19 of the 25 courthouses with the highest criminal caseloads. h difference in the complexity of cases usually encountered in a district may also help explain differences. For instance, challenges to the constitutionality of a law or the actions of a federal agency in the D.C. courts or litigation related to the financial industry in New York might tie up courts in civil litigation for long periods and help explain the low criminal caseloads in those districts.

The two judges assigned to the courthouse in Beaumont, Texas said the intra-district disparity was caused by their division of labor regarding which group of subsidiary courthouses each one visited. In Camden, New Jersey, the disparity between judges was explained by two judges who were newly appointed former prosecutors when the study began and could not take part in many criminal cases during the first years of the study period.

Even with these explanations, the disparities in caseload beg the question of whether federal criminal defendants are really getting equal justice under the law nationwide.

Sources:; Associated Press

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