Monday, January 18, 2010

Workload of District Courts

One component of information that has only recently become available to Texas is the weighted caseload (or “judicial needs”) study conducted for the Office of Court Administration by the National Center for State Courts in 2007. District judges across the state participated in the study, tracking their time by case category and activity type for a full month. This effort allows measurement, not just of the number of filings in various categories, but the differential workload associated with those filings. The time study was conducted during the entire month of October 2007. Throughout the month, judicial officers were asked to track and record the time they spent handling cases by both case type and case-related event. The case weights are calculated by summing all judicial officer time recorded for each case type and dividing by a three-year average of the number of cases filed for each case type during FY 2005-2007. This result provides a picture of current practice: the average amount of time currently spent by judicial officers in Texas handling each type of case. For example, a high level felony takes 186 minutes, while a misdemeanor takes 12 minutes.

Applying those case weights to the filings for fiscal year 2008, the following workload distribution is derived.

Criminal 40.6%
Civil 20.7%
Family 34.0%
Juvenile 4.7%

Within the category of civil cases, the higher-profile civil areas of judging (the tort and contract cases that presumably are near and dear to those who make most campaign contributions to elected judges?) constitute only 3.2% and 5.2%, respectively, of the total workload of the district judges in Texas. Another way to view this information is that (only) about one-fifth of the work of district courts is involved with civil cases other than family law; the other almost 80% is criminal, juvenile and family.


  1. Carl:

    Since, if I read you correctly, only district judges were surveyed, does that mean that the misdemeanor figure you cite relates to the time spent handling felony cases pled down to misdemeanors in district court?

    A Marsh

  2. Andrea, that would be one reason for a district judge to handle a misdemeanor, thought there are others, such as official misconduct cases and probably just some docket sharing. Our latest stat report shows the district courts disposing of about 4,000 misdemeanors with 433 of as lesser included offenses.