116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — Federal court officials recently received approval to add a district judge to the docket in the Cedar Rapids courthouse, which handles a heavy criminal caseload for the Northern District of Iowa.
A biannual judgeship survey is sent out by the U.S. Courts Administration Office in Washington, D.C., to each district court and asks about staffing needs, said Robert Phelps, district court administrator. This district only has two district judges: U.S. District Judge C.J. Williams in Cedar Rapids and Chief Judge Leonard Strand in Sioux City.
Phelps said the most recent statistics available from 2019 show this district’s criminal case filings were the sixth highest in the nation at 221 per judge. However, about 60 percent of those are handled in the Cedar Rapids courthouse. Felony cases average about 40 percent of the overall district caseload, which is twice the national average, Phelps said.
A recent example of why the court needs an additional judge was when Strand had to drive to Cedar Rapids from Sioux City — four hours — for a one-hour hearing, which had to be in-person. He then had to drive back — four more hours — for his duties in Sioux City, Phelps said.
The Cedar Rapids courthouse has a magistrate judge, Mark Roberts, but the majority of proceedings in criminal cases have to be ruled upon by a district judge, confirmed by the U.S. Senate and appointed by the president.
Phelps noted many districts have two or three senior district judges who can help with a heavy caseload, but this district only has one, Senior Judge Linda Reade, the former chief judge, and she handles all civil cases.
The district had another senior judge, Mark Bennett, but he gave up senior status in 2019 for a new position as the director of the Institute for Justice Reform and Innovation at Drake University Law School in Des Moines.
“This district has a criminal heavy docket, and most courts have more civil than criminal cases,” Phelps added. “There are more hearings and more deadlines to meet in criminal cases than civil.”
The Judicial Conference of the United States, the judiciary’s policymaking body for the federal court system, approved this district’s additional judge, along with 78 other new judgeships across the country, according to a news release in May.
Those recommendations now go to Congress, which has to create two new courts of appeals and 77 district judgeships.
Congress last enacted a bill to increase the number of appellate and district judgeships in 1990, according to the federal court news release. A total of 34 district court positions were created between 1999 and 2003 as part of other legislation. No new court of appeals judgeships have been created in more than 30 years.
Since the last omnibus bill for judges was enacted, the caseload in the district courts has risen 47 percent — civil cases up 41 percent and criminal filings increased 72 percent — by the end of fiscal year 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic began to affect filings.
U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts serves as the presiding officer of the 26-member Judicial Conference, and the members are the chief judges of the 13 courts of appeals, a district judge from each of the 12 circuits and the chief judge of the Court of International Trade.
Comments: (319) 398-8318; email@example.com