Klobuchar, Coleman seek to bring home more judges

  • Article by: DAN BROWNING , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 5, 2008 - 8:37 PM

The two U.S. senators are joining forces to push for more federal judges, citing the heavy caseload in Minnesota.

Minnesota could get more federal judges if Sens. Norm Coleman and Amy Klobuchar have their way. They said Wednesday they will push legislation to add three judgeships to help reduce one of the heaviest caseloads in the nation.

Republican Coleman and Democrat Klobuchar met in Washington Tuesday with three of the state's federal judges, including Chief Judge James Rosenbaum, Michael Davis and Ann Montgomery.

"We really need some help," Rosenbaum said afterward.

In fiscal year 2007, Minnesota's federal judge caseloads ranked third heaviest nationwide, and in 2006, they ranked second.

Court statistics show Minnesota judges carried a "weighted average" of 743 cases in the fiscal year that ended in Sept. 30. That's 73 percent above the national standard of 430 cases. The district's combined civil and criminal cases increased 12.4 percent over fiscal 2006 to 5,978 -- the 10th largest increase in the country.

The number of criminal cases rose 4.9 percent over 2006, but the number of felony defendants increased by 12.5 percent because of more complex, multiple-defendant cases.

The numbers would support five new federal judgeships, Rosenbaum said. But he said the district seeks three.

Failing to add judges would mean people won't get their cases heard and tried as quickly, he said, "and in my regard, that's a very great expense."

Coleman and Klobuchar said Wednesday that they expect to see a bill to add judges this year, and they are both committed in concept to such a proposal. The U.S. Judicial Conference would evaluate where the greatest needs lie. Coleman said he's confident that Minnesota could justify two or three new judges.

"Given the caseload that they're handling, and how well respected they are, I believe that they will have a lot of credibility, and I will help them with it," Klobuchar said.

Coleman said he's concerned the issue will get mired in election-year politics, noting a Monday speech by Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., that described federal judges as "pawns in political partisanship."

Coleman said the last time Congress created new judgeships was in 2003, when it added 15 district judges. There hasn't been a comprehensive bill to add district and circuit court judges since 1990, he said.

The good news, Coleman said, is that he and Klobuchar are united "arm in arm" behind the goal of adding federal judges in the state. He noted that both he and Klobuchar are former prosecutors who know Minnesota's judges quite well.

"So we know the need," he said. "This is something that you don't have to explain to us, and we're working together."

Klobuchar said the Senate is engaged in "a fresh round of talks to unlock the nominations and to review them again." She said both parties hope that an agreement can be reached in the coming weeks.

Any bill probably won't be voted on until the fall, Coleman said. "The next president will hopefully have an opportunity to make some changes here."

Dan Browning • 612-673-4493

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