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Last month the Judicial Conference received from its Committee on Long Range Planning a comprehensive long range plan for the federal Judiciary.
Acting at its semiannual meeting in Washington, the Conference voted to approve a procedure whereby specific recommendations and strategies in the proposed plan be referred to appropriate committees by April 11, 1995, for additional study and a report to the September 1995 session of the Conference. [See the next issue of The Third Branch for a list of items referred to committees.]
The plan, which contains 101 different recommendations and 77 implementation strategies, follows more than three years of study and consultation with interested parties in all three branches of government, lawyers, and many others who have interest in the federal courts. Three public hearings were conducted late last year to solicit comments on a draft of the plan.
The long range plan is organized in chapters addressing the central elements of the federal courts' mission and function, including jurisdiction, adjudicative structure and procedure, internal governance, judicial and other resources, and the broader society in which the courts operate. Within each area, the plan makes recommendations and, where appropriate, provides strategies for implementation.
The plan is premised on a future in which the federal courts conserve the core values that exist today-the rule of law, equal justice, judicial independence, limited jurisdiction, excellence, and accountability-while maintaining the flexibility to respond to new challenges. The plan also acknowledges that a different, much less desirable, future looms if current workload trends continue and incremental reforms are unsuccessful. These alternative outlooks, which emphasize the importance of a farsighted approach to policy- making, provide a unifying framework for the plan.
In its final report in April 1990, the Federal Courts Study Committee, which was chaired by Judge Joseph F. Weis, Jr. (3rd Cir.), had recommended that a long range planning capability be established within the Judicial Conference.
The nine judges who serve on the Long Range Planning Committee have a total of 170 years of combined judicial experience. The committee is chaired by Judge Otto R. Skopil, Jr. (9th Cir.).
In other action, the Conference:
-- Approved a recommendation of its Executive Committee stating that, The Judicial Conference clarifies that the Court Administration and Case Management Committee is not prohibited from proposing pilot programs or conducting other studies necessary to the making of further recommendations on cameras in the courtroom in civil cases which differ from those disapproved by the Judicial Conference at its September 1994 session.
At its September 1994 session, the Conference had declined to approve an expanded use of cameras in the courtroom in civil proceedings. From July 1, 1991, until December 31, 1994, two courts of appeals and six district courts participated in a Conference pilot, which permitted photographic, electronic recording, or live broadcast of civil proceedings only.
-- Approved an advisory note to the fee schedule with respect to granting exemptions from electronic public access fees. The note will state, in part, that courts may exempt persons or classes of persons from the fees in order to avoid unreasonable burdens and to promote public access to such information. Exemptions should be granted as the exception, not the rule. The exemption language is intended to accommodate those users who might otherwise not have access to the information in electronic form. (See box below.)
Because of the increase in the number of courts offering electronic access to court data, the Conference also voted to reduce the $1 per minute fee for users to 75 cents per minute. In the Judiciary's 1990 appropriations act, Congress directed the Conference to prescribe reasonable fees for the electronic access to court data. The funds collected are to offset the cost of administering the electronic access system.
-- Agreed to adopt a policy to allow for the waiver for victims of natural disasters of certain miscellaneous bankruptcy fees associated with obtaining copies of discharge orders and other documents required by the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) in applying for emergency aid.
Waivers of certain bankruptcy fees were granted in August 1993 for Midwest flood victims and in August 1994 for Southeast flood victims. While the Judiciary historically has been reluctant to grant exceptions to the collection of fees, the circumstances arising from natural disasters are so unusual that the exemptions granted have had minimal financial impact on the Judiciary
-- Voted to modify the proposed amendments to Rule 26 (c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure by deleting the words on stipulation of parties. Subsequently, the Conference voted to recommit for further consideration the proposed amendment to Rule 26(c) to the Standing Committee on Rules of Practice and Procedure.
-- Adopted a resolution stating that invidious discrimination has no place in the federal Judiciary and encouraging the circuit judicial councils to study whether bias exists in the federal courts based on gender, race or other invidious discrimination, and whether additional educational programs are necessary.
The Conference previously had adopted resolutions encouraging each circuit to sensitize judges, supporting personnel, and attorneys to concerns of bias and the extent to which bias may affect litigants, witnesses, attorneys, and all those who work in the judicial branch. All circuits have addressed this issue in some fashion.
-- Agreed to adopt a process for prioritizing courthouse construction and alteration projects requiring congressional authorization, utilizing a set of criteria based on urgency, which includes recommendations by circuit judicial councils and the Committee on Security, Space and Facilities, and the approval of the Judicial Conference.
-- Elected to the board of the Federal Judicial Center, Judge Bruce M. Selya (1st Cir.), replacing Judge Edward R. Becker (3rd. Cir.); and Chief Judge Richard P. Matsch (D. Col.), replacing Judge Martin L.C. Feldman (E. D. La.).
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