A lamentation on useless reports federal judges are required to submit to Congress

Image credit: Washington Post.  According to the Post, "This is the master list of reports the House of Representatives is expecting during this two-year congressional session. The House counts 4,291 reports on the list. But many of them are probably not coming. On the list are six reports that reference the Soviet Union, which dissolved in 1991. And two reports are required from the United Spanish War Veterans, a group of veterans from the Spanish-American War. The last of them died in 1992."

Image credit: Washington Post. According to the Post, “This is the master list of reports the House of Representatives is expecting during this two-year congressional session. The House counts 4,291 reports on the list. But many of them are probably not coming. On the list are six reports that reference the Soviet Union, which dissolved in 1991. And two reports are required from the United Spanish War Veterans, a group of veterans from the Spanish-American War. The last of them died in 1992.”

 

One of the purposes of this blog is to make transparent what I spend my days doing. As I have said before, I have great gig. But there are times that I tire of dealing with the myriad requirements that I submit reports to Congress (through the Administrative Office) about my activities or my decisions. Let me give you two examples.

First, each year, I must submit a report that describes in detail my “non-case related travel.” This reporting requirement resulted from pressure exerted by Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, a powerful member of the Judiciary Committee, regarding the Senator’s concern that judges were spending too much time away from the office and it was costing the government too much for the travel. Report of the Proceedings of the Judicial Conference of the United States, at p. 20 (March 16, 1999) (available on the Internet in PDF form, search “JCUS-MAR 99 – U.S. Courts” via Google). See generally Judith Resnick, The Federal Courts and Congress: Additional Sources, Alternative Texts, and Altered Aspirations,  1-1-1998 Yale Law School Legal Scholarship Repository 2589, 2603 n. 76 (1998) (No. 778). As a result, throughout the year I must keep track of such things, and then remember to submit the report.

From the Guide to Judiciary Polices, Chapter 2 § 270.20(b), here is what “non-case related” travel means:

(1) travel to attend a meeting of the Judicial Conference and its committees;
(2) travel to attend a circuit judicial conference or to attend a meeting planning such a conference;
(3) travel to attend meetings of circuit judicial councils or their committees;
(4 )travel to attend meetings of the district courts and their committees;
(5) travel to attend meetings of bankruptcy judges or to attend bankruptcy court committee meetings;
(6) travel to attend educational seminars or programs sponsored by the FJC or any other sponsor;
(7) travel to meetings sponsored by bar associations or any other group, including judges’ organizations and professional societies (unless the judge pays for the expenses of the travel out of the judge’s personal funds and is not reimbursed in any way for the expenses);
(8) travel performed under the auspices of or at the request of any non-judicial branch agency of the federal government;
(9) travel undertaken to attend meetings held at, sponsored, or organized by the AO;
(10) travel to participate in moot courts or to lecture;
(11) travel to attend sentencing institutes or to visit prisons; and
(12) any other travel undertaken in the discharge of the duties and responsibilities of the judge’s office that cannot be identified with a particular case or cases assigned to the judge.

So, if get in my car and drive to Omaha to attend a judges’ meeting, I am required to report to Congress that I did so. Why? I have no idea.

Second, this year, I had my first brush with the reporting requirements of the Justice for All Act of 2004 that, among other things, deals with rights of crime victims to restitution. See 18 U.S.C. § 3771, note and Pub. L. 108–405, title I, § 104(a), Oct. 30, 2004, 118 Stat. 2265 (click on “note” tab). I must report: “the number of times that a right established in chapter 237 of title 18, United States Code, is asserted in a criminal case and the relief requested is denied and, with respect to each such denial, the reason for such denial, as well as the number of times a mandamus action is brought pursuant to chapter 237 of title 18, and the result reached.”

With the name and address of the person at the Administrative Office of the United States Courts to whom I submitted my report redacted, here is my report that I submitted this week:

Re: Report required by Justice for All Act of 2004
United States v. Fast, 4:11CR3018 (D. Neb.)

Dear ——-:

This letter constitutes my report regarding a criminal child pornography case. The matter is very complex so I shall do my best to clarify, condense and simply the case and this report. Please feel free to call me should you have questions.

There are published opinions regarding the most recent activity in this case. See United States v. Fast, 876 F.Supp2d 1087 (D. Neb. 2012), petition for writ of mandamus denied, In Re: Vicky Child Pornography Victim, 709 F.3d 712 (8th Cir. 2013), certiorari granted, judgment vacated by Vicky, Child Pornography Victim v. Fast, 134 S.Ct. 1934 (2014) (“case remanded to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit for further consideration in light of Paroline v. United States, 572 U.S. ––––, 134 S.Ct. 1710 (2014).”), on remand, United States v. Fast, —F.3d—, 2014 WL 4243184 (8th Cir., Aug 28, 2014).

A petition for a writ of mandamus was filed by a non-party (“Vicky”) against me in the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals alleging essentially that my award of $3,333 in restitution to her was insufficient and that I erred in holding that (1) restitution can be awarded only for losses that Defendant Fast proximately caused and (2) restitution awards cannot reflect joint and several liability where there is only one defendant. Over a dissent, the Court of Appeals denied the petition.

“Vicky” sought relief in the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court vacated the decision of the Court of Appeals and remanded the case to the Court of Appeals for consideration in light of the Paroline case. The Court of Appeals in turn remanded the matter to me. However, “Vicky” has filed a petition for rehearing before the Court of Appeals. In turn, this matter is presently held in abeyance in this court awaiting resolution of the petition for rehearing in the Court of Appeals.

Copies of the docket sheet and relevant documents from the case file are also included. Please note that we have not recopied relevant “text only” orders that appear only on the enclosed docket sheet and nowhere else.

All the best.

Richard G. Kopf
Senior United States District Judge

Copies of this report via e-mail without attached documents to:

Chief Judge Laurie Smith Camp
Denise Lucks, Clerk of Court
Therese Bollerup, Deputy Clerk of Court
Kathy Griese, Operations Administrator

In 2008, the GAO was required to conduct a study and submit a report to Congress as part of the statutory requirements. Specifically, the GAO was required to examine “the effect and efficacy of the implementation of the amendments made by this title on the treatment of crime victims in the Federal system.” See note and Pub. L. 108–405, title I, § 104(b) scroll down to page 2265. The GAO did so, and, so far as I can tell, the GAO had no criticisms of the federal courts. See GAO, Crime Victims’ Rights Act (December, 2008).

I have no idea why Congress required reports from judges in the first place. But, if there was some reason for the requirement that reason evaporated when in 2008 the GAO found no problems with the federal courts and compliance with the law. Please also consider that the GAO was required to submit only one report in 2008. No further GAO studies were mandated. So, why I am reporting? Again, I have no idea.

In summary, I don’t like to wasting the Peoples time and money tracking and reporting to Congress useless stuff. Legal realism–ain’t it grand?

RGK

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