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The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia is known for its collegiality, its heady docket, and its motions. Its many, many motions. New data released by the Administrative Office for the U.S. Courts show that, on average, D.C. district judges had more motions pending for six months or longer than judges on any other court. The court’s 261 pending motions averaged out to 13 per judge, according to the report, which is current as of March 2007. And 13 was also the average number of civil cases pending before each judge for more than three years — the third most in the country. But judges say, and data confirm, that the court’s proximity to the federal government means it handles more administrative records and issues more — and lengthier — opinions than any other court. Judge Richard Roberts, who led his colleagues in both categories with 38 pending cases and 71 pending motions, makes no excuses. “I am mindful of this ongoing backlog,” Roberts says. “We’ve cut it some, and we’re continuing.” Roberts, a nine-year veteran of the court, ranked No. 8 in the country among judges with 50 or more motions pending, according to the office’s latest report. In motions, he beat his nearest colleague, Senior U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler, by 20, and he showed 17 more pending cases than the next judge, Richard Leon. But Roberts has added plenty of grease to his docket since the last reporting period, ending in September 2006, when his 106 pending motions were the third most in the country. And his chambers report that, as of September 2007, the judge had whittled down those 71 motions to 51, a number that would still require some explanation but not reproof. “I’m going to keep pushing,” says Roberts, who was a career federal prosecutor before his appointment to the federal bench in 1998. Chief U.S. District Judge Thomas Hogan says he “got concerned a while ago” about the backlogs, but the numbers are dropping. He says the court is nevertheless predisposed to mass motions. More than 100 detainees at the naval base in Guant�namo Bay, Cuba, are challenging their confinement in the court, and the vast majority of Freedom of Information Act cases land there, Hogan says. As chief, he’s put more emphasis on the Administrative Office reports, and he credits the other judges with pitching in when their colleagues are bogged down in long trials, pounded with motions, or working in other capacities, as with the three judges on the court who also sit on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. “We do take steps,” Hogan says. U.S. District Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle, whose single pending case was lowest in the court, is reluctant to explain her triumph. In fact, she laughs at the insinuation. “I think every judge here works very hard, and sometimes for a variety of reasons you can get in a hole and it’s hard to get out,” Huvelle says.
Joe Palazzolo can be contacted at [email protected].

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