A Chat with Christopher Hansard, Judicial Services

The Courts Journal sat down with  Christopher Hansard, Judicial Services Division Director, to learn about the Judicial Workload Assessment Committee (JWAC).  Judicial Services includes Research and Support to Court Professionals.
Michelle Barclay: Tell us the impetus of the workload assessment project.
Christopher HansardChristopher Hansard: Georgia has been conducting workload assessments since the inception of the Judicial Council. One of the very first tasks of the newly created AOC in 1974 was to count all the cases in Georgia so that the policymakers would have the data they needed to determine how many judges were required. The National Center for State Courts (NCSC) began helping Georgia with these assessments in 2000. The NCSC had developed a way to determine judicial workload in a data-driven, scientific way, and the Judicial Council and the Superior and State Court Councils asked them to analyze their workload. Georgia has been using that same basic study to analyze the work of these courts for almost 18 years. As you can imagine, a lot has changed in the judicial environment since then resulting in a number of Georgia's Court Councils asked the Judicial Council and AOC to update their workload studies. The NCSC and AOC were enthusiastic about this opportunity. In March 2017, the project kicked off.
Michelle Barclay:  How is it structured?
Christopher Hansard: The project actually takes about a year and a half to complete. There are multiple phases. The first phase is where the NCSC does background research, site visits, and focus groups to determine what's happening in the Georgia judiciary. They also get guidance from a committee of judges on what should be studied. Then comes the heart of the study: data collection. All judges are asked to mark down everything they do as a judge for an entire month. They do this on their computers and submit the data to the NCSC. Next is number crunching and surveying where the NCSC looks at all the data the judges gave us and gathers more data from judges via surveys and more focus groups. Finally, the NCSC puts all that data together and provides a report to the Councils telling them the average amount of time each type of case they studied takes to complete along with the total judicial need in their county or circuit.
Michelle Barclay: How is the workload assessment different than case counting?   Will the workload assessment replace case counting?
Christopher Hansard: Case counting is our annual collection of data from approximately 1,095 courts across Georgia. The AOC has done case counting since its inception.

Workload assessment is the process by which we take those raw case count numbers and turn them into an analysis of exactly how much work a court had to do. We weigh each case by how complex the case is and how much judicial attention it needs. Then we also take into account how much time a judge has to spend working on cases verses their other duties of riding the circuit and other administrative issues. Factoring those two things together allows us to say how many judicial resources are needed in a given court. We have been doing workload assessment in this way since at least 2001.

That’s how workload assessment is different from case counting. Nothing will replace case counting as it is the foundation of everything we do. We are simply updating the case weight and judge time we use in our workload assessment.
Michelle Barclay: Some judges in rural areas drive hours to serve their circuit to be judges in multiple courthouses with multiple staffs (often very thin staff), other judges have a lot of staff in one place and a large number of people coming in daily for court hearings.  How will the workload assessment be able to measure the workload across these different patterns of work?
Christopher Hansard: The study takes a variety of factors into account. Indeed, because so many judges participate, the NCSC is able to determine the differences between rural and urban courts which will be factored into the final analysis. That means that judges who do a lot of driving get credit for that driving in the analysis of their circuit. Since judges marked down everything they did as a judge, including travel, the NCSC is able to make sure that is taken into account.
Michelle Barclay: What else should people know about the workload assessment?
Christopher Hansard: The workload assessment methodology used by the Judicial Council is recognized around the world as a golden standard of measuring judicial work. The NCSC works hard to make sure the data drives everything they do so that judges can stand behind the report confident that the results accurately reflect their work.

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