Tennessee Trial Judge Statistics

The Tennessee Administrative Office of the Courts has released a database that allows the public to see what number of cases were closed in each judicial district and by each of the trial judges in the state.  The database allows searches by judicial district or by judge.

When a judge’s name is pulled up the reader can see how many cases were closed in the last fiscal year.  One can also see a list of the judge’s case that went up on appeal during the year, but only if an opinion has already been issued.  Unfortunately, to determine the judge’s reversal rate, you have to open and read each of the opinions.

This information is interesting, but can be misinterpreted.  First, the statistics tell us nothing about the complexity of the cases handled by the judge.  A judge may end up with a number of medical malpractice cases, all of which involve more motion practice than the typical car wreck case and which can consume days of trial time.

Second, if a judge does a large number of worker’s compensation settlements the number of case closings will be quite large.  To be sure, these settlements require a hearing and review of the petition to settle the case, but the fact of the matter is that a dozen of these cases can be closed in the time it takes to hear one motion to compel in a products liability case.

Third, the judges in multi-county districts spend some amount of time traveling between districts. This can reasonably be expected to impact the amount of time that can be dedicated to work on cases.

Fourth, one cannot compare the number of case closings per district and assume that the judges in one district are working harder than judges in another.  Judicial districts are largely a creature of politics, not logic or common sense.  The number of judges in each district suffers from the same problem.   Thus, a district may appear to close a large number of cases but, on a per judge basis, the case closings are actually less than another district.

Fifth, closing cases is important, but managing a caseload is also important.  What is the current caseload of the judge?  What number of cases have been on file for more than one year?  More than two years?  More than five years?   And, while we are at it, what kind of cases are on the judge’s docket?  Comp cases or medical malpractice cases?  Divorces or adoptions?   Suits on notes or nasty business divorces with TRO motions and Rule 9 appeals?

I have long been in favor of collecting and reporting the type of data provided in this report and am glad to see that the AOC has made this information public.   The next step is to provide a break-down of the type of cases that were closed and that are pending in each court, as well as an analysis of the age of the caseload.  

One last point.  One fear I have about this data is that it could be misused in an election.  That is yet another reason why the other types of data I have referenced above should be collected.