U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

Governance of Trial Judges

NCJ Number
Law & Society Review Volume: 31 Issue: 1 Dated: (1997) Pages: 3-30
H Jacob
Date Published
28 pages
This article examines some of the informal constraints curbing the authority of judges that emanate from the sponsoring organization of multijudge trial courts in large urban areas.
Because the role of the bench as the sponsoring organization of trial judges largely remains a mystery to political science, the author borrows the metaphor of loose coupling from organizational theory and explores the tension between elements of loose and tight coupling within the sponsoring organization of judges and consequences of that tension for the distribution of services to trial court clients. Using the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois, as the setting, the author notes tightly and loosely coupled elements of the bench originate from different features of the court's structure. The most strategic element of tight coupling comes from the statutory authority of the chief judge to assign judges to particular tasks. This creates the potential for coupling performance with rewards or punishment, despite the absence of pay differentials and promotions. Following a discussion of tight and loose coupling and the assignment process and the dialectic between tight and loose coupling, the author identifies three sets of consequences of such coupling in the sponsoring organization of judges: (1) locus and style of innovation is acutely circumscribed by tension, and assertive leadership and punctuated change are less likely than conciliatory leadership and incremental change; (2) juxtaposition of loosely and tightly coupled elements promote responsiveness to powerful client interests; and (3) responsiveness to powerful client interests leads to a distribution of resources that disproportionately affects less influential clients. 35 references