Wednesday, May 18, 2011
Senators Back Legislation to Create More U.S. Judgeships
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Eight U.S. senators, including California Democrats Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, yesterday introduced legislation designed to ease the burden on federal courts here and around the nation.
“When our courts become overburdened, we leave criminal matters in limbo, and civil litigants without resolution to their disputes,” Feinstein said in a statement . “What this means is that individuals and businesses must wait months, or even years to have their legal issues resolved.”
The Emergency Judicial Relief Act of 2011 would grant permanent status to the temporary judgeship that now exists in the Central District of California. Without congressional action, one vacancy occurring as soon as 2013 would not be filled, reducing the number of authorized judgeships in the district to 27.
The bill would also create four new judgeships in the Eastern District of California; two in the District of Arizona; two in the Western District of Texas; one in the Southern District of Texas; and one in the District of Minnesota. Additionally, the bill would convert a temporary judgeship to permanent status in the District of Arizona.
The Eastern District of California “faces far and away the worst caseload crisis in the nation,” Feinstein noted in her statement. Statistics show that at the end of last year, that district was managing 1,133 weighted filings per authorized judgeship —300 more than any other and almost three times the threshold at which the Judicial Conference recommends additional judgeships.
“The Emergency Judicial Relief Act of 2011 is a narrow, emergency measure to provide relief in the handful of Districts that need it the very most,” Feinstein said.
Ninth Circuit Chief Judge Alex Kozinski and the chief judges of two affected districts issued statements in support of the bill.
“This legislation extends a lifeline to courts that are struggling to stay afloat amidst
overwhelming caseloads,” Kozinski said. “....We are hopeful the bill will be passed and these new judgeships filled swiftly.”
The Office of the Ninth Circuit Executive said in a release that the District of Arizona has the third highest criminal caseload in the nation, which it attributed to illegal immigration and drug smuggling across the U.S.-Mexico border. Criminal cases have increased 65 percent since 2008, the office said, when the federal government greatly expanded its law enforcement efforts along the border.
The release also noted that the district has been shorthanded since its chief judge, John Roll, was killed in the mass shooting in Tucson in January.
“The circumstances in the District of Arizona are truly dire,” current Chief Judge Roslyn O. Silver said. “We need help badly.”
Silver has taken the rare step of declaring a judicial emergency to temporarily suspend time limits under the Speedy Trial Act.
“Felony caseloads in the court’s Tucson division have doubled in the past two years,” she said. “Since the killing of Judge Roll, each of the active judges are assigned 1,200 criminal cases each, which is just not tenable.”
Chief Judge Anthony W. Ishii of the Eastern District of California said his district “desperately needs additional district judgeships because of our crushing caseload.”
Besides Feinstein and Boxer, the bill is co-sponsored by Arizona Republicans Jon Kyl and John McCain, Texas Republicans John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchison, and Minnesota Democrats Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken.
Copyright 2011, Metropolitan News Company