Recent Judicial Vacancies Exacerbate The Already Daunting Caseload Pressures Within The Eastern District of California
For years, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California has suffered from a shortage of judges coupled with one of the heaviest caseloads in the nation. As explained in a revised civil standing order issued by the Honorable Dale A. Drozd (District Judge, Fresno Division), the District Judges that have served in the Eastern District have consistently carried a caseload that is approximately double the nationwide average.
The judiciary in the Eastern District has drawn attention to this problem for more than a decade. The last new permanent judgeship in the Eastern District was added in 1978, increasing the number of full-time District Judges to six. Since 1978, the population in the Eastern District has grown from approximately 2.5 million to well over 8 million people.
In June 2018, the District Judges collectively submitted a letter to the Senate and House of Representatives within the Eastern District of California, urging the legislature to introduce an emergency bill for the creation of at least five additional judge positions. This letter added that several judges in the Eastern District were nearing retirement, thereby creating an even greater need for swift action.
These pleas went unheeded and as predicted, the judicial crisis was exacerbated when the Honorable Morrison C. England (Sacramento Division) officially transitioned from District Judge to Senior District Judge in December 2019. In 2020, the Honorable Garland E. Burrell, Jr. and Lawrence J. O’Neill (both within the Fresno Division) assumed inactive Senior status.
On February 24, 2021, the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on the Judiciary held a hearing entitled “The Need for New Lower Court Judgeships, 30 Years in the Making.” During this hearing, the Chief Judge for the Eastern District (the Honorable Kimberly J. Mueller) testified concerning the continued need for additional district judgeships. Judge Mueller described the Court’s effort to manage its dockets as a Sisyphean task.
Despite various streamlined procedures and extra staffing within the Eastern District, this crisis will only be resolved if Congress creates at least five new permanent judgeships.
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