HD15 - Virginia Judicial Workload Assessment Final Report – November 2017
At the request of the Virginia General Assembly, the Supreme Court of Virginia contracted with the National Center for State Courts (NCSC) to perform a comprehensive update, extension, and improvement of the existing Virginia judicial weighted caseload system in line with state-of-the-art practices. A clear and objective assessment of court workload is essential to establish the number of judges required to resolve in a timely manner all cases coming before the court. The primary goals of the study were to:
• Develop a valid measure of judicial workload in all circuit and district courts, accounting for variations in complexity among different case types, as well as differences in the non- case-related responsibilities of judges in single-jurisdiction and multi-jurisdiction circuits and districts;
• Evaluate the current allocation of judicial resources;
• Establish a transparent and empirically driven formula for the Supreme Court and the General Assembly to use in determining the appropriate level of judicial resources in each circuit and district.
To provide oversight and guidance on matters of policy throughout the project, Chief Justice Donald W. Lemons appointed an 18-member Judicial Needs Assessment Committee (JNAC) consisting of 15 judges and three court clerks representing circuit, general district, and juvenile and domestic relations district courts across the Commonwealth. The workload assessment was conducted in two phases:
1. A time study in which all judges and retired/substitute judges - who were being used to hear cases beyond the capacity of the court’s regularly sitting judges - recorded all case- related and non-case-related work over a six-week period. The time study also measured differences in the amount of judge time spent on cases with and without an interpreter as well as whether cases involved self-represented litigants. The purpose was to provide an empirical description of the amount of time currently devoted to processing each case type, as well as the division of the workday between case-related and non-case-related activities.
2. A quality adjustment process that ensured that the final weighted caseload models incorporated sufficient time for efficient and effective case processing. The quality adjustment process included a statewide sufficiency of time survey asking judges about the amount of time currently available to perform various case-related and non-case- related tasks; site visits with 27 circuit, general district and juvenile and domestic relations district courts; and a structured review of the case weights by panels of judges from across Virginia.
Applying the final weighted caseload model to current case filings shows that the current judicial workload exceeds the capacity of the existing complement of judges. There is currently a need for a total of 170 circuit court judges, 130 general district court judges, and 135 juvenile and domestic relations district court judges in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Additional judges are needed to enable Virginia's trial court judiciary to manage and resolve court business effectively and without delay while also delivering quality service to the public.
The weighted caseload model adopted by the Judicial Needs Assessment Committee provides an empirically grounded basis for analyzing judicial workload in each of Virginia’s trial courts. The following recommendations will help to ensure the integrity and utility of the judicial workload model over time.
The revised weighted caseload model clearly illustrates the changing character of judicial workload in Virginia. When applied, the new case weights adopted by the Judicial Needs Assessment Committee provide an accurate means to determine the number of judges needed in each circuit and district court. In some jurisdictions, the current number of judges is insufficient to effectively resolve the cases coming before the court. The Virginia General Assembly should consider authorizing new judgeships in the circuit courts, general district courts, and juvenile and domestic relations district courts where the weighted caseload model shows a need for additional judges.
The calculations of judge need in this report are based upon a three-year average of case filing data. NCSC recommends that circuit court, general district court, and juvenile and domestic relations district court judge need be recalculated on an annual basis using the same methodology set forth in this report and updated with year-end case filing data. The application of the workload formula to the most recent filings will reveal the impact of any changes in caseloads or caseload composition on judicial workload and judge need. OES should continue to make improvements in data quality and consistency in automated case management systems to better track and record use of interpreters and alternative attorney configurations in all cases.
The availability of support personnel, especially law clerks/staff attorneys and court clerks, has a profound impact on judges’ ability to perform their work efficiently and effectively. Judges across the state stressed the importance of strong support staff and dedicated court clerks, and stated that if they had access to a law clerk or a judicial secretary to assist with tasks such as preparing case summaries, taking notes during hearings, and assisting with drafting opinions and orders that would enable judges to make more timely decisions, and therefore save judges time and increase the court’s efficiency. NCSC recommends that workload assessments be conducted or updated for law clerks/staff attorneys, judicial assistants, circuit court deputy clerks, and district clerks of court and deputy clerks. The OES currently maintains and routinely updates a weighted caseload staffing model and workload assessment for district court clerks, while staffing and development of staffing models for law clerks/staff attorneys, judicial assistants and circuit court deputy clerks are the responsibility of localities and/or the Virginia Compensation Board. The development of or an update to existing staffing models for these groups would provide the information needed to evaluate the adequacy of staffing levels to ensure the quality processing of cases.
Over time, the integrity of a weighted caseload model may be affected by multiple influences, such as changes in legislation, case law, legal practice, and technology. Regular updates are necessary to ensure that a weighted caseload model remains an accurate representation of judicial workload. A systematic review of the model should be conducted every five years.