The practices, procedures, and offices that deal with the management of the administrative systems of the courts.
Judicial administration, also referred to as court administration, is concerned with the day-to-day and long-range activities of the court system. Every court in the United States has some form of administrative structure that seeks to enhance the work of judges and to provide services to attorneys and citizens who use the judicial system. Since the 1970s the administration of the courts has played a central role in the judiciary's response to increased court filings and shrinking budgets.
The administration of the courts has traditionally been concerned with overseeing budgets, selecting juror pools, assigning judges to cases, creating court calendars of activities, and supervising nonjudicial personnel. Often administrative decisions are made by judges, either individually or as a group. Clerks of court, now more commonly known as court administrators, and their staff are called on to accept the filing of court documents, to maintain a file system of cases and a record of all final judgments, and to process paperwork generated by judges.
Early in the twentieth century, Roscoe Pound, a noted jurist and scholar, called for the reform of court administration to ensure efficiency, accuracy, and consistency in the judicial system. Nevertheless, few systematic attempts to modernize and rationalize courts were made until the early 1970s. In 1971 the creation of the National Center for State Courts (NCSC)—an independent, nonprofit organization dedicated to the improvement of justice—provided local and state courts with technical assistance on how to modernize. The NCSC, located in Williamsburg, Virginia, was started at the urging of Chief Justice warren e. burger, who saw a need for leadership in this field.
The staffing of administrative personnel in the courts has changed since the 1970s. The Institute for Court Management (ICM), a division of the NCSC, develops court leaders through education, training, and a court executive development program. The ICM has provided valuable assistance to thousands of court administrators in the United States, disseminating information on new methods and techniques of court administration. More court administrators now have college and advanced degrees, and many have attended law school.
Judicial administration has largely been taken over by court managers. State courts are organized at the state level, under the direction of a state court administrator. State court administration oversees legislative budgets, personnel administration, and court research and planning. Planning for the future is an integral part of the administrative agenda. The federal courts are organized somewhat differently. There is at least one U.S. district court in each state, but states with larger populations have two or more. There is a clerk of court in each federal district who has duties similar to that of a state court administrator.
Court administrators explore alternative ways of managing court cases, often by statistical research. Various systems of case management are employed in the United States, but the trend has been to seek methods that reduce the amount of time a case remains active in the courts. Consequently, judges often have less control over their time as court managers set out the work that must be accomplished.
Computers have also reshaped the administration of the courts. Before the 1980s courts recorded everything on paper. With the integration of computers and database software, case information is now recorded and retrieved electronically. The use of new technology has improved the efficiency of court administration. Appellate courts distribute court opinions and court rules through computer bulletin boards and the Internet. Some courts allow access to their database information through computer modems.
Another function of judicial administration is to eliminate bias. Many state court systems have appointed committees and task forces to investigate racial and gender bias in the courts. Court administrators have been charged with developing ways of eliminating bias, ensuring diversity in the court system, and providing easier access to the courts for pro se litigants, also called pro per litigants in some jurisdictions, (persons representing themselves without an attorney). The certification of court interpreters for testimony given in languages other than English has emerged as a leading issue in court administration.
New divisions of administrative oversight have developed since the 1970s. Offices of Professional Responsibility, which administer and investigate ethical complaints against lawyers, are commonplace. Many states require that lawyers take Continuing Legal Education (CLE) courses so as to maintain professional competence. Offices have been created in state court administration to accredit CLE programs and to monitor compliance by lawyers.