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Judge Richard Roberts is no stranger to criticism for his snail-paced resolution of cases and motions on his docket. “It’s important to me that we decide cases fairly and correctly, as well as efficiently and quickly,” he told Legal Times in 2002. “I hope I will see all these goals achieved.” Four years later, Roberts is no closer to that goal. According to statistics released this month by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, Roberts had 47 civil cases pending for more than three years as of March 31.That figure was nearly double that of the 13 other active judges on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. He also had 141 motions still pending, nine more than the total number of motions pending for the three active judges with the next-highest counts. Roberts could not be reached for comment, and a court spokesman declined to comment. Those who know Roberts, a former federal prosecutor who was part of the team that convicted then-D.C. Mayor Marion Barry, say he is a fair and thorough judge. And though Roberts joined the court in 1998 without any judicial experience, he started with a disadvantage, inheriting much of the docket of Judge Harold Greene, who fell ill. By March 2003, Roberts had whittled his pending motions to a low of 86. Since then, his docket has expanded. Between September 2005 and March 2006, his pending motions jumped 20 percent. Though Roberts’ numbers stood out, he was not the only one with a significant lag in disposing of motions. Judge Gladys Kessler had 64 outstanding motions, double the number she had six months earlier. Her explanation: copious time devoted to her 1,742-page opinion in the mammoth tobacco case, which she decided in August. “I’ve never had anything that high,” Kessler says. “I expect to make good headway in the next six months.” With 43 motions still pending, Judge Paul Friedman came in third. Though he said the total was higher than he wanted, Friedman pointed to a backlog stemming from a complicated patent trial in the summer of 2005. What’s more, his count is down from 61 a year before. “Numbers don’t tell the whole story,” says Friedman. “Some issues are harder than others, some cases are harder than others.” Yet Chief Judge Thomas Hogan and Judges Ellen Huvelle, John Bates, and Ricardo Urbina managed to clear all of their motions. And Huvelle had just one case pending more than three years.
Emma Schwartz can be contacted at [email protected].

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