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Federal judges across the country are hoping that the path to securing some relief for the overburdened federal judiciary will be smoother with the White House and Congress controlled by a single party. The federal courts have been in a state of emergency for more than a decade, with an ever-growing workload and static resources. In the D.C. area, the judges of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia carry massive caseloads that seem unlikely to decline. In the 12-month period ending Sept. 30, 2002, there were 674 weighted filings for each of the court’s 11 active judges. But that’s not the worst case. In the Southern District of California, which has perennially had the dubious distinction of being the most overburdened trial court in the nation, there were 1,021 weighted filings per district court judgeship the same year. And even that wasn’t the most exceptional situation: Judges in the Southern District of Mississippi were each saddled with 1,175 weighted filings. In Virginia’s Eastern District, efforts to increase the size of the bench in recent years have been to no avail, so at their districtwide meeting in November, the judges decided to move into action. They turned to Judge Henry Hudson, who sits in Richmond. Hudson is now working on a plan asking for two more judgeships that he and Chief Judge Claude Hilton will present to Virginia’s Republican senators, John Warner and George Allen. “We have a high volume of difficult cases. And the Eastern District of Virginia is the preferred venue for a lot of government cases because of the speed and dispatch with which we handle cases,” Hudson says. “The current volume necessitated that we move forward at this time.” Hudson, the newest judge in the district, is also arguably the most politically attuned. With a career that includes turns as U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia and as head of the U.S. Marshals Service, Hudson is an old hand at addressing politicians. Hudson says the presentation should be complete within the next 30 days. The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts has determined that the maximum number of weighted cases a federal trial judge can effectively handle in one year is 430. Giving “weight” to a filing is a means of accounting for the complexity of the case. A patent case counts more than a simple traffic case on a federal road, for example. And senior judges are not factored into the calculations. Vacant seats, likewise, are not considered. Nationwide, there are 15 federal trial courts where weighted case filings per judgeship exceed 600 — considered a “judicial emergency” and in dire need of additional seats. The problem is separate from the issue of chronic vacancies for seats already in existence, but is considered no less a stumbling block to the administration of justice. Last November, Congress authorized 20 new district court judgeships nationwide in the largest single addition to the federal judiciary in more than a decade. Those seats are expected to be funded in the 2003 budget that Congress is still trying to complete. Gaining those seats was a great win for the judiciary, though it was far short of the 44 permanent district judgeships sought by the Judicial Conference of the United States, the governing board of the federal courts. “We got five [new judgeships], and we still need five more,” says Southern District of California Chief Judge Marilyn Huff. “And even with those five more we could ask for seven more.” The Eastern District of Virginia is expected to gain a 12th district judgeship when the 2003 budget bill passes. The Department of Justice authorization bill for fiscal year 2002 converted a temporary judgeship to a permanent seat. Judge Henry Morgan Jr. has filled that temporary position for 10 years and his post was about to expire, so the bill did not add a judgeship so much as it prevented the disappearance of one. Morgan will retain the seat on the bench. In the Southern District of Florida, where each judgeship averaged a total of 667 weighted filings in the period ending Sep. 30, 2002, Congress approved one temporary judgeship. Clerk of the Court Clarence Maddox says that the court is seeking four additional judgeships. The U.S. Judicial Conference will consider the Florida request and those of others at its meeting in March. Of course, for some courts, the statistics are less staggering. The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, for example, has 266 weighted filings per judgeship. The District of Maryland is also in decent shape, with 444 weighted filings for each seat, though two of its judges have taken senior status since June. While judges are supposed to put politics aside when they take the bench, the judiciary has to argue its case for resources like any other government entity. And to many on the bench it seems like a good time to strike: Republican control of the White House and Congress would smooth away some of the political fights that often obstruct new judgeships. Elliott Mincberg of the liberal People for the American Way points out that during the Clinton administration when the GOP controlled the Senate, with a few exceptions, “bills with additional judgeships on them were considered D.O.A.” He adds, “Now it’s a different situation.” The role of the war against terrorism should also not be overlooked, says Paul Rosenzweig, senior legal research fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation. Strengthening the courts could be viewed as a means of fighting terrorism, he says, noting that by making the push for judgeships now, the judiciary, like many state and federal agencies, has recognized that “the anti-terror campaign is also a great gravy train.” The Eastern District of Virginia may not be the busiest court in the country, but it does get more than its share of exceptional cases. It has had 18 capital murder cases in the last seven years, more than in any other jurisdiction. It is the venue for the prosecutions of alleged terrorist conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui, accused spy Brian Regan, convicted spy Robert Hanssen, and “American Taliban” John Walker Lindh. And those are just the criminal cases. On the civil side, the Eastern District gets a heaping portion of securities fraud cases, Internet domain name disputes, and other intellectual property litigation. In 1998, 31 patent or trademark cases were filed in the Eastern District of Virginia; in 2001, there were 142. In the past 10 years, Judge Hudson says, the court has experienced a 51 percent increase in filings. Reasons for the increases throughout the country begin with population. The Southern and Southwestern border states have been most affected by the steady migration of people, but Virginia, too, has experienced a dramatic population boom. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 6,187,358 people lived in Virginia in 1990. By 2000, an additional 700,000 called the Old Dominion home. Chief Judge Huff of the Southern District of California says that in addition to huge population growth, changes in modern life and the law have contributed dramatically to the surge in case filings. The last time Congress passed a comprehensive judgeship bill, in 1990, she notes, “there wasn’t the Internet. And there wasn’t litigation on the parameters of the Internet. And the Americans With Disabilities Act was just coming into being.” The federalization of crimes once prosecuted almost exclusively in state courts has also played a major role in the proliferation of federal court filings. Federal legislation stemming from the war on drugs now brings thousands of drug cases to federal court every year. And in the Eastern District of Virginia, Project Exile brings to federal court the prosecution of firearms violations — charges that were mostly brought in state courts before 1997. The Southern District of Mississippi’s caseload jump is due primarily to the filing of 1,563 cases under the Fair Labor Standards Act last year, according to the A.O. The Heritage Foundation’s Rosenzweig says that “one way of looking at it is that while federal district court filings have gone up 30 percent since 1990, and 25 percent of federal offenses have been added since 1980, judgeships have gone up only 2.5 percent.”

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