Judicial vacancies in DC courts result in delays and increased workloads

D.C. Courts are currently facing significant vacancies, leading to serious consequences such as higher caseloads for judges and delayed trials.

The issue is also causing the public to wait longer for justice.

The D.C. judicial system hasn't had a full bench in 11 years, resulting in the remaining judges struggling to keep up with the workload. 

In an urgent cry for help, DC Courts sent a letter to lawmakers. 

"We need to kick and scream in an effort to get the Senate to start paying attention to the true judicial vacancy crisis the DC Courts are facing," said spokesperson Doug Buchanan to FOX 5.

WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 04: An exterior view of the U.S. District Court August 4, 2017 in Washington, DC. Special Counsel Robert Mueller has impaneled a grand jury to investigate the interference Russia has done to the 2016 U.S. Presidential election

D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson is actively addressing the ongoing problem. 

"Well, this is a dirty little secret, members of Congress say ‘Oh the District doesn’t need its own representatives in the Senate and House because we represent everybody,’ well they don’t," Mendelson said. "I’ve been trying to get a meeting with Senators for months."

Currently, the Court of Appeals is down two judges, equating to a 22 percent deficit, while the Superior Court is short by ten judges, equating to a 16 percent deficit. 

U.S. Attorney Matthew Graves highlighted the impact, stating, "Fewer judges mean fewer courtrooms where we can try cases." 

This shortage is delaying justice for victims and preventing others from resolving crucial issues.

"I think it’s unfortunate that they are affected, adversely affected by this," said Mendelson. 

The judicial backlog is evident with a 200-day delay in criminal cases compared to 2019, and only half the number of criminal cases being closed compared to that year. Trial dates are now being pushed back to late 2025 and 2026, raising concerns about suspects having the opportunity to commit more crimes.

"Well, it’s a concern whether or not the suspect or defendant is released on his own recognizance or is being held either way," Mendelson stated. "The research is very clear – swift and certain justice has its deterrent effect on crime. If someone commits a crime and doesn’t go to trial for a year or two, you lose the deterrent effect."

Chairman Mendelson hopes the Senate will stop playing politics and quickly confirm judges. 

"For mystery reasons, Senators have the slows with this," he said. "It confuses me why there would be partisan issues over D.C. trial court judges. These are not judges who are considering federal issues, they’re not considering issues that are important politically."

Despite the recent swearing-in of two associate judges, D.C. leaders say it’s still not enough to deal with the backlog of cases.