Common Pleas Judicial Needs Assessment Project: Report to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
The Common Pleas Judicial Needs Assessment is a statewide study that uses data to help to determine the ideal allocation of judicial resources needed to manage and resolve current Common Pleas Court caseloads.
But a judicial needs assessment is not a simple metric that indicates whether a judicial district has the right amount of judges, too many or too few. It is really the beginning of the analysis and discussion for decision-makers to examine judicial resources necessary to meet the needs of traditional and specialized caseloads.
As the work of the trial courts continues to evolve and become more complex they require more innovative services to keep pace with society and fulfill the judiciary’s mission. Going forward, the study will serve as a component of ongoing year-to-year measurement and analysis.
- Overall, Pennsylvania’s Courts of Common Pleas are sized correctly. That means that counties have the right number of judges to do the job. The calculation is based on a time study.
- In 2013, the AOPC contracted with the National Center for State Courts (NCSC) to begin the statewide judicial needs assessment – an evidence-based study to calculate how many Common Pleas Court judges are needed to handle the workload in each judicial district. The study was funded by the State Justice Institute. Studies of this kind are also known as weighted caseload studies since they measure not only the number of cases handled by each court, but also the amount of a judge’s time needed to perform the various tasks related to a case.
- In the past 20 years, the NCSC has completed judicial workload assessments in more than 30 states and three countries.
- A Judicial Needs Assessment Committee (JNAC) was assembled for the purpose of helping define study parameters and assisting the NCSC. Members included judges from judicial districts large and small, urban and rural, and AOPC staff.
- To ensure utilization rates were not skewed by an unusually heavy or light caseload in a given district in a given year, the study used a three-year average of calendar years 2013, 2014, and 2015.
- A utilization rate greater than one indicates that the judges in that district need to work more than average to meet their caseload. The statewide average over the past three years was 1.28 – meaning the average judge works the equivalent of just more than one and a quarter judges to get the job done.
- Most of the judicial districts in the state have the correct number of judges needed to handle their caseload.
- Unfilled judicial vacancies and reduced staffing persists largely due to fiscal constraints. There are 451 authorized common pleas judgeships; as of December 31, 2015, there are 423 commissioned judges and 28 vacancies.
- The Judicial Needs Assessment model should be recalculated annually using annual case filings, judge complement, judge vacancies and senior judge use from the previous year. Case weights are valid for five to eight years; with a new study recommended after such time or when factors affecting the study change significantly.