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Visiting Judges in Federal District Courts

NCJ Number
D Stienstra
Date Published
40 pages
This report discusses issues that arise when a judge visits another court: steps taken to plan and organize the caseload, arrangements for accommodation and travel, orienting the judge to the court, and the impact of the vist on court staff and facilities.
Data were gathered through contacts with visiting judges and questionnaire responses from clerks or division managers in 18 Federal district courts with considerable experience with visiting judges. These courts had received over 100 hours of trial time from visitors in 1983 or over 100 hours of procedural and trial time combined. The courts varied in the ways they used visiting judges. Some used many visitors for several short trials, while others used a few visitors for a few trials. Overall, a visit of a week or less was the norm. Courts typically had a month or two to prepare for a visiting judge, but few had adopted any formal procedures, special guidelines, or standard forms. All but the most burdened courts tried to tailor the selection of cases to the visitors' desires, which appeared to be fairly well-defined. In general, courts assigned visitors to the oldest cases, including criminal cases facing Speedy Trial Act deadlines, and less complicated ones. Almost all were assigned only cases that were ready for trial. Although visitors usually preferred short cases, many clerks found it easier to manage a long case since fewer calendar adjustments, jury selections, and attorney notifications were required. The courts did not offer a formal orientation, but most clerks spent considerable time before the visit discussing court procedures with the visitor or the visitor's staff. The clerks handled all logistic arrangements, but the courtroom deputies fielded questions about procedures once the visitor arrived. Judges usually invited visitors to their meetings and entertained them, thus facilitating exchanges of information. Although management of a visiting judge made great demands on a court's staff, any problems were more than outweighed by the visitors' contributions in disposing of protracted caseloads. Essential elements for a successful visit are highlighted. A visiting judge checklist and the survey questionnaire are appended.