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NCSC releases new recommendations for pandemic-informed weighted caseload models

NCSC releases new recommendations for pandemic-informed weighted caseload models

Courts need a broader understanding of how to accommodate recent fluctuations in case-filing trends and changes in the way hearings are conducted when planning for judge and staff resource needs in the post-pandemic era, according to new NCSC recommendations released this week.

Historically, weighted caseload models have given courts a clear and objective way to determine the number of judges and court staff needed to resolve cases in a fair and timely manner.

NCSC’s Recommendations for Using Weighted Caseload Models in the Pandemic will help state courts maintain continuity with existing weighted caseload models while also adjusting to the pandemic’s disruptions and planning for backlog and new post-pandemic practices.

“This is an important time for court administration,” said Brian Ostrom, the NCSC principal research associate who led this study.  “We wanted to highlight points of consideration as courts are thinking through their next steps.”

Ostrom pointed to three notable observations that informed the recommendations:

  • Disruption in filings: How to deal with a dramatic drop in the number of cases filed and disposed in 2020, a byproduct of the pandemic.
  • Different practices: The work of the court is different now with a mix of remote, hybrid, and in-person procedures that will affect resource allocation.
  • Court system in flux: Many states are still in flux and undecided about the future use of remote and hybrid hearings.

Through surveys and focus groups, the workload team gained insights from court leaders about the use of workload assessments, state reporting requirements for resource allocation, current adjustments/workarounds in place, and considerations for an impending backlog. As a result, the new recommendations address disruptions to case filings, case weights, and new data needed.

States like North Dakota have used NCSC's weighted caseload model for about 25 years to determine judicial needs. State court administrator Sally Holewa participated in the project to offer a historical perspective on how other national events have impacted the weighted caseload model, learn what others thought about the pandemic's impact, and hear what expert statisticians considered best practice for use of pandemic-era data.

"We typically calculate judge need using a two-year rolling average but chose to use a five-year look back and a three-year rolling average for this weighted caseload review," she said, noting that 2020 filing data will be considered because North Dakota did not see a drastic change. "In addition, we are collecting more data on how hearings are being held and have decided that we need to commission a new weighted caseload review for judges and weighted workload for clerks once the pattern of how hearings will be held has been established."

The recommendations will be discussed during tomorrow’s webinar, “What Are We Learning About Remote Hearings?” You can also visit the NCSC website to learn more about the recommendations and study.