Bench Presence: Toward a More Complete Model of Federal District Court Productivity Penn State Law Review Online Companion Penn State Law Review

Bench Presence: Toward a More Complete Model of Federal District Court Productivity

Hon. William G. Young & Jordan M. Singer

ABSTRACT

This Article considers what it means for a federal district court to be productive, and how such productivity might be assessed.  Previous studies have focused almost exclusively on the speed of case processing, equating a court’s productivity (explicitly or implicitly) with the court’s rate of docket clearance or a case’s average time from filing to disposition.  This thin definition of “productivity,” however, is not consistent with either classical economic understandings of the term or common public expectations of the courts.  In particular, analyzing the speed or efficiency of a court says nothing about whether the parties or the public view the adjudicative process as accurate, fair, transparent, and dignified.

We seek to bridge the disconnect between existing measures of court productivity and real-world expectations of the district courts by offering a more robust model of district court productivity that explicitly incorporates measures of accuracy and procedural fairness.  We then introduce a new metric for procedural fairness called bench presence.  Bench presence is a measure of the time that a district judge spends on the bench, presiding over the adjudication of issues in a public forum.  Bench presence provides a rough but meaningful proxy for many components of procedural fairness, by quantitatively capturing the degree to which parties and the public are directly exposed to the judge’s practices and procedural safeguards.  It also refocuses the discussion of court productivity on the core role of the district judge:  presiding over trials and open hearings.

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preferred citation: William G. Young & Jordan M. Singer, Bench Presence: Toward a More Complete Model of Federal District Court Productivity, 118 Penn St. L. Rev. 55 (2013).

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