Courthouse Construction:

Information on the Use of District Courtrooms at Selected Locations

GGD-97-59R: Published: May 19, 1997. Publicly Released: May 19, 1997.

Additional Materials:

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Bernard L. Ungar
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contact@gao.gov

 

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on district courtroom usage in Denver, Colorado, Fresno, California, Salt Lake City, Utah, and Seattle, Washington, focusing on the 21-month period beginning January 1, 1995, and ending September 30, 1996.

GAO noted that: (1) the data that GAO compiled and analyzed on district courtroom usage in Denver, Fresno, Salt Lake City, and Seattle showed that on average, overall courtroom usage for trial and nontrial activities at these locations was similar to usage in the seven locations discussed in GAO's courtroom usage report; (2) on average, for a 21-month period ending September 1996, trial courtrooms at these four locations were used for trial and nontrial purposes about 58 percent of the days they could have been used, 4 percent higher than the 54 percent usage rate for the 12-month period ending December 1995 for the seven locations; (3) like the seven other locations, courtrooms at these four locations were used for trials about one-third or less of the days they were available, and total nontrial activity on many of the days took 2 hours or less; (4) furthermore, all of the courtrooms at any of the four locations were often not used on the same day; (5) as with the other seven courthouse locations GAO examined, senior judges, on average, used the courtrooms for trials and nontrial purposes significantly less than other district judges; (6) GAO's discussions with judges at the four locations were consistent with those of the other seven locations in that most of the judges with whom GAO spoke prefer their own courtrooms; (7) likewise judges and court officials generally said that senior judges would be better able than district judges to share courtrooms because of their smaller caseloads; (8) in fact, senior judges at Fresno and Seattle shared courtrooms with other judges; (9) in Denver, Fresno, and Salt Lake City, visiting district judges used available courtrooms that in some instances were assigned to other judges, suggesting there may be opportunities to reduce costs through additional sharing assignments; (10) Administrative Office of the United States Courts officials believe that courtroom usage data like GAO developed have limited application because the data do not capture such factors as: (a) latent use of the courtrooms whereby the threat of having a trial in an available courtroom can leverage the disposition of a case before trial; and (b) the extent to which courtrooms are unused because of cases that settle just before a scheduled trial, leaving an empty courtroom that cannot always be rescheduled with another case; and (11) however, the judiciary has not developed data to show how much of an effect these factors may have on the number of courtrooms needed.

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