By Jeff Wiese, Deputy Director • Office of Court Services, Legal Support Division
It has been nearly a decade since the last comprehensive caseload study in Indiana’s trial courts. In collaboration with the Judicial Administration Committee, the Indiana Supreme Court is gearing up for a four-week caseload time study in 2024. This is a move that underscores the Supreme Court’s commitment to ensuring a fair and efficient judicial system and marks a significant milestone for the state’s judicial community.
The study will involve all judicial officers—full and part-time, state and county-paid—tracking and reporting their time spent on all case-related activities, including trial preparation, hearings, orders, trials, settlements, post-judgment activities, and research.
Since 1996, Indiana has employed a weighted caseload measurement system to establish a uniform method for assessing and comparing trial court caseloads. The WCMS was developed through extensive research and collaboration between the Judicial Administration Committee of the Judicial Conference of Indiana, the Indiana Supreme Court, and independent consultants. The core principle of this system is that not all case types are created equal. Each case type requires a different amount of judicial time, from the initial filing to final disposition.
In 2015, a significant shift occurred as Indiana contracted with the National Center for State Courts to complete the Indiana Assessment Plan to Utilize Resources Efficiently (CAPTURE) report. This marked a departure from previous studies as the 2015 time study involved the participation of over 99% of all trial court judicial officers in the state and examined all case types at the same time, providing a comprehensive overview of the state’s judicial landscape.
The 2024 study comes in response to the transformative changes observed in trial court operations over the past nine years, notably, the widespread implementation of electronic filing and the increased utilization of remote proceedings due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, court rules have evolved over the years to establish new case categories and refine existing ones.
These shifts, along with various statutory changes, may have an impact on the weighted caseload minutes assigned to different case types. These weighted caseload minutes are crucial as they form the basis for calculating each county’s judicial officer utilization in the annual weighted caseload report. To determine the weight assigned to each case type, an average time in minutes is established for each type. In the 2015 study, a total of 39 categories were examined, providing a comprehensive view of the state’s judicial workload.
The 2024 time study will plainly identify, based on the number of cases and the time needed to decide the cases, how many judicial officers are needed in a county. The study will also rank the counties according to which are most in need of new judges.
This study is consistent with Indiana’s strategic plan, which commits to using state resources wisely, not just on a county basis, but also on a judicial district basis. The “2020 New Way Forward,” endorsed by the Judicial Conference Board of Directors, explains,
“The administrative districts shall continue to function with greater emphasis on sharing resources, assisting fellow judicial officers, and expecting cooperation in the field of certified problem-solving courts. The workload of the courts within a district should be adequately shared in a way that litigants can receive court time and decisions in a reasonable amount of time. Local rules should align within their district and document their cooperative efforts.”
The data obtained from these studies serve several crucial purposes. They provide the Indiana Supreme Court and the Indiana General Assembly with essential information for allocating judicial resources. Additionally, trial courts use these statistical measures to develop county caseload plans aimed at reducing disparities in caseloads between the county’s trial courts.
As Indiana prepares for the upcoming 2024 caseload time study, it stands at the intersection of its judicial past, present, and future. It is an endeavor that underscores Indiana’s dedication to ensuring its courts continue to serve the needs of its citizens effectively.