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Judicial Workload Estimates: Redefining the Concept of "Judicial Work"

NCJ Number
Date Published
January 2001
46 pages
This report presents the methodology and findings from a pilot research project that addressed expanding judicial workload theory and methods beyond traditional weighted caseload approaches in child-abuse/neglect cases.
Much of the past research that has examined judicial workload has ignored the inherent complexities of the judicial role by focusing on time-on-task issues. Moreover, judicial workload studies have rarely examined the workload of juvenile and family court judges generally and the workload associated with child abuse/neglect cases specifically. Because performance standards serve as the boundary for balancing quality and timeliness concerns, this pilot research was developed to incorporate and reflect the best-practices standards of the "Resource Guidelines: Improving Court Practice in Child Abuse and Neglect Cases," "The Adoption and Permanency Guidelines: Improving Court Practice in Child Abuse and Neglect Cases," and the Federal Adoption and Safe Families Act. The contemporary legal framework for child-abuse/neglect cases has shortened time frames to permanency for children while the number of hearings required per cases have increased. This is occurring in the context of burgeoning caseloads and limited court resources. The maintenance of quality decision-making under such conditions requires changing implicit values and expectations that underscore the assessment of judicial time and work in traditional workload studies, as well as changing the methods used to make such assessments. This report recommends that judicial workload assessments expand the concept of "judicial work" beyond the traditional view of "judge as legal decision-maker" to recognize the importance of the leadership and student dimensions of judicial practice. Other issues addressed include a reconceptualization of tasks associated with the key values of permanency planning and the time involved in such planning; a more systemic approach for determining appropriate time-estimate and practice standards; continual judicial training and education; and the recognition of the judicial leadership role in workload estimates. Recommendations are offered for changes in the methodological approach to calculating judicial time and judicial workload. Overall, judicial workload studies must value time differently and redefine and expand what constitutes legitimate "judicial work." 5 figures