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Chicago-The new chief judge for the Northern District of Illinois may seek more judgeships to reduce the district’s reliance on senior judges. In May, senior judges in the Illinois district, which includes Chicago, handled 152 cases of the 629 filed, or 32%-which is nearly twice the national average of 17%. The court, which currently has 12 senior judges, 21 active judges and one vacancy, has already asked Congress to boost its allowed number of active judgeships to 23. Judge James Holderman, the new chief judge, didn’t specify how many more seats he may seek. “I will push for that additional judgeship and maybe even try to see if it’s possible to go beyond that,” Holderman said. “We are blessed by the number of senior judges that we have, but that could be ephemeral.” Active judges would have a “substantial amount of additional work” without the senior judges, he said in an interview this month after taking the court’s top post. Senior judges, who must be at least 65 years old, qualify to retire with the same salary and benefits, but most choose to keep taking cases-usually at about half the caseload level of active judges. The system works well in that it allows senior judges, whose age and years of service must equal at least 80, to make a contribution to the justice system at a reduced pace, said Steven Lubet, a law professor at Northwestern University focusing on judicial ethics. Still, vacancies and unmet requests for more judges may shift too much burden onto senior judges, he said. “The empty judgeships create a lot of pressure on the senior judges to work more than they might prefer,” Lubet said. District courts have asked Congress for 56 more permanent and temporary judgeships, including the one in Holderman’s court. The process of getting approval for the slots has slowed in the past 15 to 20 years, Lubet said. Judge Charles Kocoras, who became a senior judge when he turned over the chief judge position to Holderman, said the contribution of senior judges can also cut against the argument that a court needs to add slots on its bench. Senior Judge Milton Shadur, the eldest judge on the Illinois court at 82 years old, has kept a full plate of cases. While he doesn’t think his court is in need of additional judges, he acknowledges that it would be “calamitous” to lose the service of senior judges. As for his own service, he has no plans to slow down.

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