Bench Presence 2014: An Updated Look at Federal District Court Productivity
15 Pages Posted: 10 Dec 2014 Last revised: 19 Mar 2015
Date Written: December 8, 2014
Last year, we unveiled a new way of thinking about the productivity of the federal district courts. Whereas most studies have equated court productivity with administrative efficiency, we argued that productivity must also account for the effectiveness of court services, as measured by the procedural fairness afforded to the parties and the accuracy of decisional outcomes. We further explained that a district court’s commitment to procedural fairness could be measured in a rough but meaningful way by tracking its “bench presence”; that is, the amount of time that its judges spend in the courtroom, adjudicating issues in an open forum.
Subsequently, we examined real-world bench presence data from Fiscal Years 2008 through 2012. The data showed a steady year-over-year decline in total courtroom hours during that period, culminating in a national drop in courtroom time of more than eight percent during the five-year span of the study.
In this Article, we provide new data on bench presence in the federal district courts for Fiscal Year 2013. Overall courtroom time continues to fall, but we find reasons to remain optimistic that the trend can be reversed. We also briefly address a series of challenges that commentators have raised with respect to the bench presence measure, and our productivity model more generally. We close with some additional thoughts on bench presence and the importance of courtroom activity at the start of the twenty-first century.
Keywords: Bench presence, productivity, federal courts, federal district courts, efficiency, procedural fairness, court resources, accuracy, court rankings
JEL Classification: K40, K41
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation