Administrative Office of the United States Courts

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Administrative Office of the United States Courts

The Administrative Office of the United States Courts is the administrative headquarters of the federal court system. It was created by congressional act on August 7, 1939 (28 U.S.C.A. § 601), and since November 6, 1939, it has tended to the nonjudicial business of the U.S. courts. The Administrative Office helps Congress monitor the state of affairs within the federal judiciary. It arranges clerical and administrative support to federal district courts and their subdivisions, and it provides for the various benefits available to the federal judiciary. Furthermore, by gathering and analyzing statistics and data and reporting the findings to Congress and the Judicial Conference of the United States, the Administrative Office plays an important part in determining the extent and character of the very support it provides.

The Director

The director of the Administrative Office is the administrative officer of all the federal courts except the Supreme Court. The Judicial Conference of the United States—the federal agency charged with overseeing federal judicial matters—supervises and guides the director's work. The director and the deputy director are appointed by the Supreme Court of the United States.

The director is required to perform a variety of tasks. First and foremost, the director must supervise all administrative matters relating to the offices of clerks and other clerical and administrative personnel of the federal courts. These administrative matters can range from performance policies and pay scales to guidelines on clerical procedures.

The director is charged with providing many reports to various governmental bodies. With the aid of the deputy director and the Audit Office and other operatives, the director must examine court dockets, determine the needs of the various courts, and report the results four times a year to the chief judges of the circuits. This allows the federal courts to analyze and plan for their own clerical and administrative costs. This information is also used when the director prepares and submits to Congress the budget of the federal courts.

The director must submit a report of the Administrative Office to the annual meeting of the Judicial Conference of the United States. At least two weeks before the conference, the director prepares an overview of the activities of the Administrative Office and the state of the business of the courts, together with certain statistical data submitted to the chief judges of the circuits. This report also contains the director's recommendations on administrative efficiency. The director submits the report, data, and recommendations to Congress, and makes all these materials available to the public.

The director is responsible for many financial matters of the federal courts. The director must fix the compensation of employees of the courts whose compensation is not otherwise fixed by law, regulate and pay annuities to the surviving spouses and dependent children of judges, disburse monies appropriated for the maintenance and operation of the federal courts, examine accounts of court officers, regulate travel of judicial personnel, and provide accommodations and supplies for the courts and their clerical and administrative personnel.

The director must also establish and maintain programs for the certification and utilization of court interpreters and the provision of special interpretation services in the courts. Other duties may be assigned to the director by the Supreme Court or the Judicial Conference of the United States.

Probation Officers

The Probation Division of the Administrative Office supervises the accounts and practices of the federal Probation offices. However, primary control of probation practices and procedures is left to the district courts served by the probation offices. The Probation Division establishes pretrial services in the federal district courts according to the Pretrial Services Act of 1982 (18 U.S.C.A. § 3152). The pretrial service offices report to their respective courts with information on the pretrial release of persons charged with federal offenses. These offices also supervise criminal defendants released to their custody.

With the Bureau of Prisons of the department of justice, the Administrative Office publishes a magazine entitled Federal Probation. The magazine, issued four times a year, is a journal "of correctional philosophy and practice."

Bankruptcy Act

The Administrative Office has special responsibility for Bankruptcy courts. The Bankruptcy Amendments and Federal Judgeship Act of 1984 (28 U.S.C.A. § 152) established bankruptcy judges as distinct units of the federal district courts. Under the Bankruptcy Amendments Act, all cases under Title 11 of the United States Code and all proceedings related to federal statute 28 U.S.C.A. § 1334 are to be brought before federal district courts. Such a case arises when a person seeks to discharge his or her debts through judicial proceedings. When a suit is filed under Title 11, the federal district court will refer the case to its bankruptcy judges, as authorized by 28 U.S.C.A. § 157.

The bankruptcy judges are appointed by the federal courts of appeals and serve a 14-year term as judicial officers of the district courts. The number of bankruptcy judges is controlled by Congress, but the bankruptcy courts are overseen by the Administrative Office.

The director of the Administrative Office has specific duties related to the bankruptcy courts. The director must make recommendations to the Judicial Conference on logistical concerns such as the geographic placement of bankruptcy courts. The director must consider whether additional bankruptcy judges should be recommended to Congress; the director is also in charge of determining the staff needs of bankruptcy judges and clerks.

Federal Magistrates

Under the Federal Magistrates Act as amended in 1979 (28 U.S.C.A. § 631), the director of the Administrative Office must answer to Congress and the Judicial Conference on the affairs of federal magistrates. Federal magistrates are appointed by federal district court judges, and their job is to whittle each case to its essence before it reaches the district courts. Federal proceedings are expensive; by ruling on pretrial motions and issuing various orders at the pretrial stage, federal magistrates help preserve judicial resources.

Federal magistrates do not have the full range of judicial powers available to other federal judges. For example, they cannot preside over felony trials. Federal magistrates may conduct civil or misdemeanor criminal trials, but they normally conduct pretrial proceedings in both criminal and civil cases. Owing to their special function, federal magistrates operate separately from the district courts and maintain a separate budget.

With the guidance of the Judicial Conference, the director supervises the administrative matters of federal magistrates through the Magistrate Division of the Administrative Office. The director prepares legal and administrative manuals for the use of the magistrates. In addition, the Administrative Office must conduct surveys of the federal judiciary to ask questions on court conditions. With these surveys, the director makes recommendations as to the number, location, and salaries of magistrates. The expansion of magistrate offices depends significantly on the availability of funds appropriated by Congress.

The director of the Administrative Office compiles and evaluates information on the magistrate offices and reports the findings to the Judicial Conference. The director must also report to Congress every year on the general affairs of federal magistrates.

Federal Defenders

The Administrative Office also assists and oversees the offices of federal public defenders. Under the Criminal Justice Act (18 U.S.C.A. § 3006A [1964]), the federal district courts are required to appoint counsel to criminal defendants who are unable to afford adequate representation. The act also authorizes the district courts to establish federal public defender and federal community defender organizations. This can be done in districts where at least two hundred persons annually require the appointment of counsel. Two adjacent districts may be combined to reach this total.

Each defender organization submits to the director of the Administrative Office an Annual Report of its activities along with a proposed budget. Because they rely on grants and not regular funding, community defender organizations submit grant proposals to the Administrative Office for the coming year. The director then submits the proposed budgets and grants to the Judicial Conference of the United States for approval. After budgets are determined, the director pays the defender organizations. The director also compensates private counsel appointed to defend individuals charged in federal court.

In wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the Administrative Office relied on its newly created Office of Emergency Preparedness. This office worked with courts around the United States to develop crisis response plans to deal with emergency evacuations, relocations, and the continuation of court business. The office also arranged for the testing of courthouses for hazardous materials.

Further readings

Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts Website. Available online at <> (accessed November 10, 2003).

U.S. Government Manual Website. Available online at <> (accessed November 10, 2003).


District Court; Federal Courts; Justice Department; Magistrate.

West's Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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