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American Trial Judges - Their Work Styles and Performance

NCJ Number
J P Ryan; A Ashman; B D Sales; S Shane-DuBow
Date Published
298 pages
Suitable for judicial personnel, students, and researchers of the judicial process, this book applies social science research methods and an analytical perspective to describe the styles and performance of trial judges nationwide.
A survey was mailed to all the 3,032 trial judges in the 50 States and the District of Columbia who serve in courts of general jurisdiction; 63 percent of the judges responded. Information was also obtained by observing activity in the chambers and courtrooms of 40 judges in 8 States. An organizational model, which draws upon the dominant contemporary perspectives on trial courts, was adopted to explain variations in judicial work. Primary attention is devoted to the organizational influences that are external to the judge but nevertheless a part of the court system. These influences include elements of court structure, characteristics of attorneys, and the availability of human resources in the courthouse. Also examined are the individual-level influences that inhere in the judge as a professional worker or human being. These include personal background and experiences, on-the-job learning and adaptation (socialization), and perceptions of the work environment (morale). Discussion covers the work patterns of judges across the country; the diversity of trial court structures--size, specialization, circuit-riding, and case assignment systems; and the characteristics of attorneys, including adversariness, skill, and courtroom tenure. Next, a description of the range of courthouse and courtroom personnel whose services are potentially available to trial judges gives special attention to the role of law clerks in facilitating legal research. In addition, judges' individual characteristics, attributes, and perceptions of their work and their work environment are explored in relation to their performance. Other chapters offer selective views of judicial performance, limited either by task area or by community. Analysis further encompasses judicial styles of negotiation in criminal and civil cases, and the impact of political, social, and legal environments is examined in a comparison of judges in Chicago, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia. The final chapter provides a summary of major findings, as well as a discussion of the theoretical and policy implications of the study. Tables, reference notes, an index, and a selected bibliography of about 35 references are provided. A note on observing trial judges, information about the mail survey, and the survey questionnaire are appended. (Author abstract modified)


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