Roberts’s Year-End Report Praises District Court Judges

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By Melissa Heelan Stanzione and Tera Brostoff

U.S. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.'s annual year-end report recognized “the crucial role” federal district court judges play in the third branch’s operation, as well as “the press of” district judges’ dockets.

They “face far more severe time and resource constraints than their appellate brethren,” Roberts said.

Like a ‘Lumberjack.’

Roberts highlighted the vital role a district judge plays is in “early and effective case management,” which the revised Federal Rules of Civil Procedure address, Roberts said.

The FRCP’s procedural reforms accomplish several goals, he said. They encourage district judges to:

  •   meet promptly with the lawyers after the complaint is filed;
  •   confer about the needs of the case;
  •   develop a case management plan; and
  •   expedite resolution of pretrial discovery disputes.
The reforms are working, he said.

Just as a “lumberjack saves time when he takes the time to sharpen his axe,” greater judicial involvement in docket management “will pay dividends down the road,” Roberts said.

Pilot Programs Get Nod

John M. Barkett, partner at Shook Hardy and Bacon in Miami, is pleased with Roberts' nod to the district judges and the amendments. Barkett currently sits on the Advisory Committee on Civil Rules, which drafted the amendments.

“I have recognized throughout my legal life the extraordinary work that district court judges perform, and I was extremely pleased that the Chief Justice chose to recognize that effort in his year end report,” Barkett told Bloomberg BNA Jan. 6. “Having served for five years on the Advisory Committee, I was doubly pleased that he reminded the bench and the bar of the 2015 amendments to the Civil Rules because I echo as strongly as I can the Chief Justice's emphasis on the importance of the district court in providing early and effective case management.”

Barkett said there's no question that the amendments will make a difference in reducing the cost of federal litigation and increasing the speed of resolution without compromising justice “if there’s early and effective case management from judges, cooperation among council and proportionality in discovery.”

To that end, the Chief Justice included in his report a request that judges participate in pilot programs that will focus on active case management. Barkett co-drafted two of the pilot programs that were discussed this week in the Standing Committee's meeting in Phoenix.

A program focused on mandatory disclosures will require lawyers to disclose information that is not only relevant to a claim or defense, but also adverse to their position. A pilot program focused on expedited procedures is designed to test whether more active use of certain case-management measures “that employ the existing civil rules can expedite the resolution of civil cases in a more just, speedy and inexpensive manner.”

The programs are described in the Standing Committee's agenda book for January 2017.

Solo Service

Judges are confronted daily with difficult decisions and packed schedules, and they “stand alone, and unassisted,” Roberts said, quoting Judge David Sewall, appointed the first district judge for the U.S. District Court for the District of Maine in 1789.

They make “our society more fair and just” by volunteering outside of the courtroom with institutions such as the Federal Judicial Center, providing training for new judges, and the U.S. Sentencing Commission, helping to develop and revise guidelines.

For all these duties and roles, our nation “is justly proud of our current judges and grateful for their service,” Roberts said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Melissa Heelan Stanzione in Washington at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jessie Kokrda Kamens at, Carol Eoannou at

For More Information

Full text of Year-End Report at Full text of Agenda Book at

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