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Evaluating Judges in State Courthouses: The Potential Effects of Organizational Size

Published onJan 19, 2022
Evaluating Judges in State Courthouses: The Potential Effects of Organizational Size


Sectors of the criminal justice system have bureaucratized to an extent that their management has replaced the values for which they were created (Feely & Simon, 1980). We explore whether internal actor perceptions change as courthouse personnel increases. Using organizational literature as a way to interpret the general connotations of law and society literature, we explore the potential impact of organizational size on the perceptions of courthouse culture among Florida courthouses’ internal actors. We measure judge perception through in-depth interviews (n=51) of judges, attorneys, and court reporters. Although there is dissonance between the themes found, the results support the notion that state judges react to size of courthouse personnel, and its accompanying dynamics endanger the balance between standardization and creative thinking essential for justice.


Researchers have suggested that sectors of the system have bureaucratized to an extent that management of their internal systems has replaced the values of creating individualized equity (Sudnow, 1965; Feeley & Simon, 1992; Lam, 2000; Racko, 2017). Weber argued that as organizations grow and become more formalized, people become increasingly reliant upon rules and less free-thinking (Weber, 1968). Previous statistical analysis of judicial performance and its relationship to courthouse and personnel size suggests that there is a negative correlation between size and substantive rationality (creative decision-making, appealing to values and ethics), and a positive relationship between size and formal rationality (rule-based decision-making, applying technical criteria) (Smith et al., 2019). The current study demonstrates a qualitative analysis of these dynamics.

State courts provide a site of investigation of the organizational changes that have occurred with the growth of criminal courts (Heydebrand & Seron, 1990).Importantly, past evidence indicates that the effect of organizational size on internal actors’ performance is substantial (Eisenstein et al., 1988). As modern organizations grow larger in personnel, the system’s bureaucratic attributes increase (Etzioni-Halevy, 1985). The system grows more formally controlled, specialized, and hierarchical (Blau, 1958; Koene et al., 2002). Researchers have found that this relationship increases in both private (Grinyer & Ardekani, 1981) and public organizations (Lee & Smith, 1997). Further, this relationship has been explained in both non-legal (Findlow, 2008) and legal public organizations (Feeley & Simon, 1992). It is therefore possible that an effective way to improve court performance may be to control the size of the judiciary within a courthouse. Using individual interviews to perform a comparative analysis of different courthouses, we explore how organizational growth and accompanying attributes may change the perceptions and behavior within courthouse culture.

Courtroom Size and Organizational Adjustment

Glendon (1994) explains that modern federal courts expanded staff to confront a rapidly increasing workload, transforming judges into bureaucratic managers and adding new administrative management duties. Research on state courts suggests this trend continued into the postindustrial era of the 21st Century (Rhode, 1998), and the effects spread beyond the bench (Zorza, 2010). State judges began to spend more time as administrators, and researchers argue this is detrimental to justice (Packer, 1968; Sudnow, 1965; Savelsberg, 1992; Sherman et al., 1993; Ulmer & Kramer, 1996).

According to Thompson (1967) coping with uncertainty is the essence of the administrative process within complex organizations. State courthouses are controlled by standards such as rules of criminal procedure, local rules of court, statutes, and case law. Although these rules are consistent across courthouses within the same state (as in our sample), divisions of labor typically increase as a courthouse’s judiciary gets larger. Increased divisions encourage an actor’s awareness of their boundaries, which research has implied can limit an individual’s sense of autonomy (Eden, 1990; Bozeman & Rainey, 1998). Smith (1971) suggests that this can lead to feeling a loss of control and a sense of being less than human.

Judges within larger courthouses are more likely to experience greater awareness of the rules (Eisenstein et al., 1988), and this awareness encourages consistency in expectations of self and peers as a bureaucratic strategy (Mintzler, 1987; Spender & Kessler, 1995). While courtrooms inherently recognize that every individual case has its distinctions, there appears to be an aspiration toward consistent decision-making when faced with similar scenarios (Spohn, 2009). As organizations grow larger, their controls increase, thereby decreasing individual decision-making through standard setting (Tsui & Ashford, 1994). Further, research suggests that when size increases, groups undergo a change in dynamics and goals.

Eisenstein and colleagues (1988) analyzed state court communities with great depth compared and concluded size as a major determinant in how courts operate. Whether it is a family, school, or business, with growth in numbers comes reformation of hierarchies, specialization of roles, and formalization of rules and relationships.

Judges’ courtrooms, and prosecutors’ offices in particular, display many more characteristically bureaucratic features in larger jurisdictions. The judges typically meet formally and regularly. The bench may separate into several divisions, with one judge designated to handle administrative matters for each. Committees may be formed to report to the full meeting of judges, recommending changes in policy or practices. (Eisenstein et al., 1988)

Building on past research presented us with an opportunity to take a novel approach in our interview methodology and design this study to focus on internal actors’ perceptions of how organizational size affects judicial actions. Our methodological approach – described below – included the collection of in-depth interview data on actors’ perceptions of their own behavior and the behavior of their colleagues in relation to courthouse circuit size. This qualitative analysis provides a nuanced examination into how organizational size can affect the ability of U.S. judges to carry out their assigned duties. Using past research on the effect of size as a framework to determine the possible organizational adjustments that size may encourage (Johnson et al., 2006). It has been a long-standing proposition in organizational sociology that as a bureaucracy grows larger the division of labor, rules, and boundaries increase. These increases encourage the internal actor’s awareness of them (Whyte, 1956). Gajduschek (2003) explains that clearer outlining of rules and expectations allows the agent to become aware of what is expected of them. Therefore, we conclude by exploring three potential psychological adjustments that the relationship suggests.

Adjustment to Courtsize among Judges

As an organization’s size increases, its dynamics fundamentally change. Roles, hierarchy, specialization, and other elements of the bureaucracy undergo meaningful adjustments and the organizational research has outlined many of these dynamics (Blau, 1958; Koene et al., 2002). Furthermore, court research has illuminated the shifting nature of organizational characteristics and intra-group relations as courts grow (Eisenstein et al., 1988; Heydebrand & Seron, 1990). Yet, studies of court systems have less often focused on the micro-level processes that court actors experience. In this study, we build upon this past research to examine a model of psychological adjustment to organizational size among judges.

More Awareness of Procedural Rules and Boundaries

It has been a long-standing proposition in organizational sociology that as a bureaucracy grows larger, the division of labor increases and the rules and boundaries increase; this naturally encourages the internal actor’s cognizance of them (Whyte, 1956). Gajduschek (2003) explains that clearer outlining of rules and expectations allows the agent to become aware of what is expected of them. If standards of procedures and outputs are clearly defined and the very essence of the organization is to adhere strictly to these standards, any kind of divergence from these standards is relatively easy to detect and sanction if necessary; this awareness keeps the organization “on track”.

Bureaucracies carry with them the highest level of certainty among their internal actors. Regulations contain detailed descriptions of how to process cases, what the necessary procedural elements are, which relevant inputs are to be processed, how to obtain those inputs, how to combine them to create an output-in the typical administrative context, and how to combine data to reach a legitimate decision. Furthermore, any actor subject to these regulations is much more likely to know them and be aware of their increase, thereby knowing the “outcome and the procedures of the bureaucratic organization” (Gajduschek, 2003).

Research also shows additional size-related adjustments that encourage this dehumanization in the court process (Tyler, 2006). State courthouses are controlled by standards such as the rules of criminal procedure, local rules of court, statutes and case law. Judges and other court actors must be aware of them in order to properly fulfill their role. As the courthouse’s judiciary gets larger, the sheer number of the tasks are increasingly divided and each division carries its own boundaries (delineations). Overall, judges within larger courthouses are more likely to experience greater awareness of the rules (Eisenstein et al., 1988).

An Increase in Consistency of Expectation of Self and Others (Routinization and Repetition)

Awareness of the rules encourages consistency in expectations of self and peers within the organization. Spender and Kessler (1995) identify these patterns, and refer to Thompson (1967), who observed that uncertainty is a fundamental problem for complex organizations, and coping with uncertainty becomes the essence of the administrative process. Likewise, Mintzberg claimed that bureaucratic strategy is much less concerned with adaptability in professional behavior than regularity (1987). Organizations have strategies to reduce uncertainty, to block out the unexpected, and as shown here, to set direction, to focus effort, and to define the organization. The most common strategy resists change rather than encourages it. Researchers suggest that there may be a causal relationship between systematic controls and consistency (i.e. variance reduction) (Rogers et al., 2000). Institutional bureaucracies themselves promote variance reduction and consistency through regulation, and internal actors encourage and expect consistency in themselves and others.

The courtroom is similar. There is an expectation of (some level of) consistency from judges themselves - in their behavior and rulings. There is an aspiration toward consistent decision-making when facing separate but identical scenarios (Spohn, 2009). Meanwhile there is also recognition that each individual case has its distinctions. According to this perspective, judges in larger courthouses should have greater expectations of consistency from themselves and peers than judges in smaller courthouses. It is likely that judges in larger courthouses could have greater expectations of consistency of themselves and others.

A Lack of Sense of Autonomy

Amassing organizational control over the internal actor is the essence of a bureaucratic organization. Miles, Snow, Meyer and Coleman (1978) explain that control is requisite and prevalent in the larger organization. Evidence suggests that this control can be manifestly exercised on the internal actor through formal regulation in the same manner that regulation encourages consistency in expectation. Meeting such expectations is partly a function of self-regulation of behavior to organizational expectations (Tsui & Ashford, 1994; Sosik et al., 2002).

Greater divisions within an organization may also diminish individual autonomy. The boundaries that accompany the organization’s division of labor itself increase with greater divisions as well (Bozeman & Rainey, 1998). The more divisions, the more bound the actor’s actions and considerations become. These institutional divisions narrow the considerations of the internal actor to what that organization promotes as the appropriate considerations for the internal actor. This effect encourages the actor’s controlled, technocratic performance (Eden, 1990). Put another way, the larger the organization, the greater the number of divisions, and restrictions on individual substantive rationality. The rules and divisions “narrow” the creative and holistic thinking of the individual. In sum, the rules of the organization and the divisions of labor (per se) reduce consideration, exerting organizational control over the substantive rationality of the actor, thereby reducing feelings of self-autonomy. Smith (1971) purports that “rules and regulations governing recipient behavior are so elaborate and so custodial as to control nearly every important aspect of a person's daily life and so their awareness is consequential.” Awareness of these rules is perception of boundaries. Smith (1971) offers that such awareness ultimately encourages feelings of being less than human and being less in control, explaining that “the human consequences of this kind of situation are not to be taken lightly.” As organizations grow larger, their controls increase, thereby decreasing the individual decision-making through standard setting (Tsui & Ashford, 1994).

Judges are controlled, in part, by the rules that govern their profession. They, as internal agents of an organization, are also controlled by the boundaries of the workspace carved by the division of labor of the courthouse (Bozeman & Rainey, 1998). The larger the organization and the greater the number of divisions (consequential boundaries), the less individual autonomy the judge should perceive. Below, we describe our investigation into the potentiality of these propositions that have been drawn from the empirical literature.


Studying State Criminal Courts

We chose to conduct research amongst judges who preside in state criminal courts. The benefit here was both richness in experience as well as standardization, as required by the Florida Rules of Criminal Procedure, Rules of Judicial Administration, and other statewide standards. Although criminal courts see variation in the types of cases they process, it is a long-standing observation that cases handled in criminal courts are more consistent and more subject to normalization (Sudnow, 1965) than civil cases. Criminal courts within Florida provide a greater degree of consistency in the types of laws, rules, and subject matter between districts compared with the myriad of possibilities existing in federal and state civil courts.

Interview-Based Studies of Courtroom Actors’ Perceptions

Few studies have incorporated the views of courtroom personnel regarding the structural effects of the courthouse and courtroom personnel’s perceptions of the effect of organizational size. Qualitative data is needed to develop and explore the sociological and organizational literature’s implications regarding structural effects in the courthouse.

Open-ended questions integrate a range of viewpoints regarding courtroom culture. Rather than relying on standardized surveys, semi-structured interviews allow individual respondents to discuss particularities from their own experiences. Since we know that courtroom actors may vary in their opinions across different courthouses, we allow respondents to detail the circumstances from which they base their understanding of the differences between the courthouses.

Qualitative data on judicial perceptions add in-depth and nuanced situational and organizational details. Building upon past qualitative court research (e.g. Kramer & Ulmer, 1996; Belknap & McDonald, 2010) this study adds detail into gaps left by the disproportion of quantitative court studies (see recent reviews by Ulmer (2012) and Baumer (2013).


Workload can affect judicial performance (Glendon, 1994), as well as rationality. Therefore, it is important to control for docket size as much as possible in order to accurately gauge the effect of courthouse size. Before any data were collected, 23 Florida courthouses were visited to find those that handled similar numbers of cases. Researchers consulted courthouse administration at all 23 courthouses to approximate the workload of each criminal judge. This was determined by interviews, reviewing the daily incoming criminal caseload, and finding the mean number of cases assigned to each judge. In every courthouse studied as a part of this research (and almost every courthouse in general), the judges were assigned the cases on a perpetual rotation. If a courthouse systematically assigned a greater number of cases to one judge over another, the courthouse was omitted from the study. In every courthouse reviewed, there was an articulable, systematic way in which new criminal cases were assigned to judges that ensured each judge carried the same caseload.

Courthouses were chosen based upon comparable arraignment sizes per member of the circuit. This information was gleaned from a previous study currently under review wherein we spoke with members of over 23 different courthouse administrations to determine the weekly mean of persons scheduled each week. This is not a comprehensive indicator of workload per criminal judge. However, incoming workload is a good indicator of the demands placed upon a judge. In the additional study, we explored how size relates to judicial performance and conducted direct observations of arraignments at selected courthouses, counting the number of persons in each arraignment analyzed, and thus providing another indicator of workload demand. This partially controlled for the effect of incoming workload.

Courthouses selected fit three groupings that could be based on number. We organized and labeled courts as small courthouses (two courthouses with five county judge courthouses, one courthouse with six county judges, one with eight county judges, and one with ten), medium (two courthouses with seventeen county judges); and large (one with forty-three county judges). Judges were recruited by members of this research staff via communication with judicial assistants. In addition, judges informally encountered at their courthouse were asked if they would participate in an interview. Judges within the same courthouses, where surveys were distributed, were also asked to participate in a face-to-face confidential interview.

We performed in-depth interviews of personnel at the courthouse for which we controlled for workload by design. To accomplish this, we reduced the number of courthouses in the sample to those comparable in arraignment size. This process reduced the applicable number from 23 to 8. Within this 8, there were courthouses of various sizes (as measured by judge number) ranging from 5 to 40 judges. Further we took the mean daily arraignment docket for the previous three months. We chose only those 8 courthouses wherein the daily arraignment dockets that remained close to 75 cases (±10). Arraignment dockets were measured from the respective clerk’s daily docket. To repeat for purposes of clarity, only courthouses within this range were utilized in the study. Once the 8 courthouses were chosen, the only arraignments chosen for the study were in a range of 10 of 75. While we recognize that this measure of workload is not sufficient to claim complete control, we determined it to be a much better indicator than reviewing how many cases were assigned to each judge, given that many of the cases assigned to each judge are abated (dormant) or are scheduled for closing.

Overall, the sample was selected to maximize range of responses rather than focus on generalization to a larger population (Clair & Winter, 2016). As Small (2009) argues, sampling for range is one alternative to generalizability. Since organizational resources and goals vary by jurisdictional characteristics, of particular concern was sampling from jurisdictions of different sizes and across multiple regions of the state. Again, the sampling design was to control for work size at the individual judge level. While claims of generalizability cannot be made, this set of cases provides a diverse range of perspectives on sentencing among judges.

Accessing Attorneys, Court Reporters and Judges

Attorneys’ paralegals and judges’ assistants were contacted whenever possible by one of the research teams to acquire times for face-to-face interviews. Whenever participants were willing but face-to-face interviews were not possible, phone interviews were conducted. The areas chosen contained county courthouses throughout Florida that met the requirements of following the same rules of procedure as well as roughly equivalent Local Rules of Court. Remaining in the same state ensured that formal bureaucratic controls were held constant. An attempt was made to control for the workload of the judge by assigned case number, but several interviews with court administration indicated that such a count would be very inconsistent or meaningless at some courthouses since many cases were “closed” by the respective judge’s office but not the clerk. In Florida, judges hold elected positions. This made a guarantee of closely guarded confidentiality the only path to gain sufficient interviews with judges.

Between November of 2014 and January of 2016; eleven judges (9 male, all white), and eleven lawyers (10 male, 1 black) were interviewed in face-to-face interviews. Twenty-five court reporters were interviewed face-to-face. Four court reporters were interviewed by telephone during the same timeframe (25 female and 3 that self-identified as non-white (black)). Court reporters that routinely worked at the courthouses were interviewed using a structure derived from the basic framework explored in the surveys. Although the guarantee of anonymity disallows an exact report of the distribution of judges, there were multiple judges, attorneys, and court reporters from each of the categories of small, medium, and large. During the interview process, respondents could make direct comments on the research questions related directly to perceptions of judge professional performance. The use of courtroom reporters and attorneys as interviewees was beneficial due to their practice in multiple courthouses and exposure to multiple courthouses; they could provide more of a comparative perspective. As questions were asked and answered, the researcher took notes and audio recorded the interviews; research assistants transcribed. Interviews ranged in time from ten to thirty minutes with an average time of twenty-five minutes.

There is very little empirical research regarding this topic and none that holds such a goal as its primary focus. There has not been any research that focuses on the adjustments to perceptions of courthouse culture due to organizational size among judges. This research was conducted with the intent of developing themes that could guide a researcher into determining whether the potential of adjustments to perceptions of culture were applicable within courthouses. This study was designed to ensure “where it is that the analyst wants to go with the research,” the flexibility to get there, and the ability to interpret and analyze raw data (Strauss & Corbin 1998: 8).

Interviews began with questions regarding the interviewee’s professional background. Several leadoff questions were asked of judges whereupon they were encouraged to explicate and provide examples to their more generalized answers. We asked:

• How clearly defined are your daily tasks? Does this vary from smaller to larger districts?

• What overlap do you see between your job tasks and that of others in the courtroom work group? Does anyone (from other areas of the courtroom work group like clerk, court reporter, etc.) do the job you do?

• How consistent do you think judges are regarding how well they administer the docket and how they rule? Is this important?

• How important is the consistency of the staff that works in the courtroom with you?

• I want to ask you about a situation that occurs when you are ruling on a motion or making a judicial decision. Do you sometimes feel as if you want to take a certain course of action but are unable or limited in doing so by written or unwritten rules or guidelines?

Court reporters and attorneys were asked similar leadoff questions, essentially following the same format but about their observations of judges and in a way that made sense to the particular respondent.


Following Weiss (1994), the interviews were designed to address the core research problem (judges’ perceptions on sentencing guidelines), and a sense of the breadth and density of the material being collected (particular dynamics around sentencing decisions). This was then compared to the repertoire of understanding founded on past research (factors previously shown to be influential in the sentencing process); it allowed for questions to develop across the interviews (topics that arose in early interviews were explicitly addressed in later ones), and substantive descriptions toward overall findings (detailed examples).

Data analysis was performed following the guidelines provided by Corbin and Strauss (2008). The first responsibility was to examine each recorded interview and write memos of the first impressions of the participant’s perceptions. Notes regarding repetitions and contrasts among participants were tracked in memos after several were read. Coding like this provides researchers the use of their background knowledge about the context of the textual passage being investigated and, in general terms, their knowledge about the area of investigation. They then blend this previous knowledge with the text stored by the Atlas.ti program using language straight from the field of investigation. In this way, the software’s codes are computed into parts of theories formulated by the respondents (Bohm, 2004). Further, patterns were found and used to distinguish nuances in coding through nodes created in the software. These were identified and examined surrounding participants’ perspectives through this open coding process (Bazeley, 2007; Corbin & Strauss, 2008). We coded along dimensions conceived as a spectrum and used comparisons to draw out extremes and contradictions in themes (Bohm, 2004).

Limitations exist in the data that constrain how much we can add to our knowledge of the effects of size on the perceptions of courtroom personnel. First, judges’ and the other personnel’s views on the structure of the courthouse may correlate with their other perceptions but recording these indicators will not comment on causality other than the aforementioned correlative aspect. Further, judges and courtroom personnel, much like most of us, have limitations in their ability to consistently and accurately detail their own or others’ patterns. These data only include the views of judges, attorneys, and court reporters. They do not include other staff such as pre-trial officers, paralegals and clerks. A third potential methodological issue to acknowledge is potential for sample bias in terms of those who agreed to participate and those who did not. It is possible that those who participated may be more likely to hold certain dispositions regarding courthouses as compared with those who chose not to participate.


Greater Awareness of the Boundaries, Bureaucratic Controls, and Requirements of the Procedural and Substantive Rules

We used two broad questions and asked the judges, lawyers, and court reporters to consider and comment about rule and boundary awareness. Judges were asked the questions you see here and the attorneys and court reporters were asked derivative questions that were modified accordingly to ask them how the attorneys and court reporters perceived judge behavior. The interview responses to the following lines of questions that shed light on this theme are again presented first from judges and then from lawyers and court reporters.

  • How clearly defined are your daily tasks? Does this vary from smaller to larger districts?

  • What overlap do you see between your job tasks and that of others in the courtroom work group? Does anyone (from other areas of the courtroom work group like clerk, court reporter, etc.) do the job you do?

In the county courthouses containing a larger judiciary, there was a greater sense of the boundaries and bureaucratic controls and requirements of both the procedural rules. Interviewees from all three professional groups - judges, lawyers, and court reporters – supported this relationship. There was a detectable difference in the judges' opinion regarding the rules as well. Court reporters and lawyers mirrored this. The larger the courthouse, the more judges and those who reported on judges’ behavior referenced the rules or the separation between the job they do and the job other workers do. The workers within the larger courthouse we spoke to were more likely to reference administrative rules as well. It seemed as though more people (workers) equates to more rules.

Among the judges interviewed in the three largest courthouses, there were always clear references to compliance with court administrative rules and procedures as being important features of the daily professional tasks. The interviewees explained that their routine was delineated by some type of bureaucratic control, whether it came down from the chief judge, whether it be issued as part of the court administration, or whether it was a traditional expectation established by the previous ways the job was carried out by previous judges or current ones with more tenure. However, in the smaller jurisdictions, the judges explained their personal responsibilities from more of a creative, problem-solving viewpoint in which operational rules were self-created. They did not admit to deviation from formal requirements but were more aware of their creative ability to administer the rules in a format with a little flexibility in interpretation. When asked, “How clearly defined are your daily tasks?”, one judge (Large Courthouse) explained: “Very defined…you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to do this. You need to be able to read and follow directions. If you can’t follow directions, success is going to be a lot harder to come by” (Large Courthouse (large) Judge Interview 1, Page 1).

By way of contrast, when a judge in a small courthouse was asked the question, the judge explained that once cases were assigned into criminal or civil jurisdiction, tasks are determined by each judge in the area they wish to focus. They explained that the focus was on the autonomy of the judge. “Our jobs are set by the rules and we must apply them. However, they provide a lot of breathing room where we can decide for ourselves how we wish to solve a problem” (small courthouse) Judge Interview 1, Page 2). Although both courthouses had seemingly identical processes for determining what judge would take what case, the two judges had two different perspectives regarding the same function. Another judge, in one of the small courthouses, explained: “We determine solutions to problems. We solve problems for our job and that’s why it’s so great” (Judge Interview 2).

Although the judges’ awareness of the rules was a constant echo in every jurisdiction, the feeling of the rules/expectations pervaded into every aspect of the larger jurisdictions, whereas, the smaller jurisdictions still left a little “breathing room” for “problem solving” independent of the expectations. The picture painted from the consensus from the small jurisdictions (small counties) was that the Rules of Criminal Procedure were the expectations that needed to be filled but that there was more than one way to achieve these goals. In these smaller jurisdictions, procedure rules did not encompass or control the entirety of their responsibilities.

When attorneys were interviewed, they offered very similar accounts of the judges’ actions in small and large counties, making it clear that there was a disparity in treatment from jurisdictions with less size. There was a difference in the amount a judge indicated to them that they were aware of the rules within their respective jurisdictions and the boundaries between the various occupational roles or positions within the courtroom. This difference was detectable when comparing the opinions of attorneys from the various jurisdictions as well. One attorney, who practices in both small and large courthouses explained:

The judges in [large courthouses] are clear that they have to comply with the case law and sometimes it seems as though they robotically move through the docket looking for answers from the pre-set cases. It makes the process very predictable. But in [a proximate, small courthouse], you see this less. It’s a bit more like the Wild West where anything can happen. It’s not because the judges are less busy either. If anything, it appears they are inundated and have less breathing space than or just as stacked with cases as in Large, given the economic downturn. It seems they are less constricted by the rules. (Large Courthouse (large) Attorney Interview 2, Page 1).

Several attorneys explained that when walking into a courtroom late in a smaller courthouse, the expectation was that the judge would be more lenient if that attorney had called ahead or had not done anything to suggest that the attorney was not purposefully being disrespectful.

When asked (the final and very general question that all persons were asked): “Please describe if you have noticed any differences between the larger and smaller jurisdictions in which you have worked,” one attorney described the larger districts and the smaller districts in which he had worked as clearly separate from one another in terms of judicial behavior. The attorney explained:

Larger circuits tend to be more formal and this is enforced by the judges. Some of it is personality but you’re going to find a greater percent of uptight ones in the larger districts. They seem to be more punitive with late attorneys or attorneys not prepared. I think it might just be because they are busier. In the smaller districts though, things are more relaxed and flexible. The judges speak their mind but in a more relational conversational way. Again, some of it’s the personality of the judge but it’s definitely more uptight in the Orlando [larger] than it is in small (Small Courthouse Attorney Interview 3, Page 1).

Another stated:

[My city] is so much more relaxed than [other cities’] court[s]. Yeah this probably has something to do with the judge too. The judges expect you to be prepared and know your citations, that type thing if you’re an attorney-it’s not like [our cities’] judges don’t know what they’re doing but you’re gonna see more creativity in the courtroom in the way things are run I think (small courthouse Attorney Interview 1).

Defense attorneys that worked in the smaller districts appeared less rigid in their view of the differences between the various professionals’ jobs. They were also more likely to admit to overlapping in the performance of some persons’ tasks. However, defense attorneys in the larger cities were more likely to say that there was no overlap in the functions of their job.

One attorney, who focused strictly upon criminal defense said:

The larger districts are the best because the judges play by the rules more. They come in and boom-they expect you to do the same and do your job. Everything runs like a well-oiled machine. It’s not like the [smaller courthouse] where sometimes it seems the judge doesn’t know what’s next. It’s a little more loose and there’s more of a “hey, how you doin’” component. Even though the judges don’t know them. You’d think it wouldn’t be like that. You’d think that the judges in the larger counties would be more friendlier because they see more of their constituents than the smaller districts. But friendly’s not the right word to use. Many times, I’m jumping from courtroom to courtroom and as long as a judge is flexible enough to let me appear in and out, that is enough to get things done. The problem is that a lot of the ones that allow late appearance and are flexible are also the ones that take more time. You’re gonna see this more in the smaller courthouses (Small Courthouse Attorney Interview 2,).

Another attorney who operated out of a medium courthouse but “occasionally” practiced in smaller counties, too, observed:

The judges are definitely aware of the rules and our obligations as attorneys, but you can definitely get more sympathy in the smaller districts. There are definitely some judges that are demanding in the smaller districts, but, in terms of expectations of meeting and conforming to what the court expects, there is a higher degree of importance placed on this in the larger district…they are less rule-bound (working primarily in a Medium Courthouse and at times in a large and small courthouse Atty Interview Page 1).

Court reporters agreed with the contention that the larger courthouses were more bureaucratically controlled and that the judges were aware of these controls. Moreover, this reality was being reflected in their dealings with the attorneys.

Court reporters who worked in the smaller districts (akin to the lawyers working in those counties) seemed less understanding of the difference between the various professionals’ jobs and were also more likely to admit to overlapping in the performance of some person’s tasks rather than others. However, court reporters in the larger counties were more likely to say that there was no overlap in the functions of their job and every other member of court personnel.

If I have something that I need to do before a hearing starts, the trial clerk for that judge will put my name on the docket and move it around and even explain to the Judge that I am going to be a little late cause I am covering another hearing. That is great and a huge help to me-you get a greater sense of team working that way too (Working mostly in a small courthouse with occasional large courthouse exposure Court Reporter Interview 23, Page 3)

Still further, another Court reporter, when asked about the difference between large and small jurisdictions simply stated that:

Smaller is better because there is less of a wall up between myself and the other staff. It appears it’s that way for the judges too. I mean, some of this has to do with how a judge is gonna come to a courtroom, but the difference between Federal and Circuit is like the difference between Large and Small. It’s a thing where you know they are busy, but honestly Small is busy too - they’re just more willing to leave their assignment or their thing they are on and help you with yours (small and large courthouse Court Reporter Interview 29, Page 3).

The consensus among all three groups is that the larger the jurisdiction, the more likely judges were aware of the rules and boundaries governing their jobs and the others noticed how that awareness affected judicial performance.

In the Larger Courthouses, There Is a Greater Expectation of Consistency

In two series of the interview questions, we asked the judges, lawyers, and court reporters to consider and comment about expectations of consistency. The interview responses to the following lines of questions that shed light on this theme are again presented first from judges and then from lawyers and court reporters.

• How consistent do you think judges are regarding how well they administer the docket and how they rule? Is this important?

• How important is the consistency of the staff that works in the courtroom with you?

The formality of the larger courtrooms, noticeable despite exceptions made for judge personality, is a strong indicator of the greater focus on consistency. Likewise, the aforementioned forceful application of the controlling rules within the larger districts is also an indicator of a greater expectation of consistency from court personnel. In the districts with greater size, judges have a greater expectation of consistency from themselves and other judges. They express detailed and fine-tuned expectations of the other courtroom personnel in the larger districts.

The interviews with judges made it clear that they display very little desire to supervise the actions of other judges, leaving that work to the chief judge, to court administration, or to appellate courts. However, the judges have clear expectations of other judges in their performance on the bench as well as in chambers. This was a strong parallel theme. No judge voiced that they had an expectation that consistency would be supervised, whether in administering their courtroom or delivering judgment regarding other judges. The feeling throughout all courthouses was that there was a “live and let live” orientation to their coexistence with their fellow judges. In other words, judges quickly voiced an expectation of consistency in their own ruling and the ruling of other judges, but that no one else should supervise this. It was a type of “faith” that the other judges would behave according to the governing rules and no mention of the process’s supervisory authorities. As trial judges have no express power over each other (and no real way to police each other, this suggests that the dynamic described is structural. Despite this, we note that this aforementioned “faith” may also be a sign of judges’ trust in the structural safeguards in the system which include error correction by appeals courts as reported to them by policing attorneys.

Where the disparity arose was in the topic of expectations of consistency. Judges in counties with greater size displayed a higher expectation of consistency amongst themselves. This was less emphasized by judges in the counties with less size. For example, one small courthouse judge explained:

I will always rule different. I am human and subject to human dynamics but you try, as a judge, to keep the discrepancies down to a minimum. The good news is that there are less out there who feel that I’m not versus those who do. Also, there are less types of cases at a courthouse court level and the considerations are less so the likelihood for difference is less (small courthouse Judge interview 1,).

Likewise, a small courthouse judge explained:

There is a decent chance that I could rule toward one particular side more than I might do on a different day. This may or may not be true with my fellow judges, but it most likely is. However, there are safeguards against such situations such as mandatory minimums and plea bargaining standards that have been passed down. But in terms of the nuances of a case, these may not be picked up in the same way every day. Everyone is moody and that is the way things are (small courthouse judge interview 1).

However, a judge presiding in a medium courthouse explained:

I will rule the same every day. I am ruling the same way I was ruling last week and will in the future. Consistency is important. The way I am ruling now is almost identical to how I was ruling ten years ago except for where the statutes have changed. I think this would be true for my fellow judges as well (medium courthouse Judge interview 2).

A large courthouse judge explained:

I can’t speak for other judges but I can tell you that I work very hard to rule the same in the same situations. I think consistency is very important and must be constant in the minds of the judge when developing strategies of ruling (large courthouse Judge Interview 2, Page 2).

The information received here was not perceived as conflicting (in that judges of all counties were all clear to distribute a value of consistency-only to varying degrees). However, there is clear indication that there are greater expectations of consistency among the judges in the larger districts. There is more concreteness to the existence and acceptance of the uncertainty of informal action within the larger districts. There is the understanding that judges will be expected to perform the same way every time they are faced with a similar scenario. However, a distinct difference exists between the smaller and larger courthouses; the expectations are more obvious in what the judges expected from their support staff. In other words, the above described “faith” that judges showed in discussing other judges was less apparent when discussing other personnel in the courtroom work group.

Further, interviews within the smaller courtrooms show a clear value placed upon consistency within the mind of the judge when relating to the other personnel. However, the consistency described as needed was more of a general “I-need-someone-from-that-agency-to-be-there” type, rather than a specific one requiring consistency in the details of the personnel member’s actions. The distinction here is that there is less of a sense of controlling expectations with the smaller courthouse judges. One judge in the Small Courthouse explains:

I need clerks that deliver the information. The way in which they do this may vary based upon their schedule or maybe there are different personnel. I am less concerned with consistency and more concerned with accuracy/dependability (small courthouse Judge Interview 5).

Still another describes the relationship between the personnel and the judge as an administrative leader:

I need to be able to count on my clerk and my assistants for sure. Their consistency is important, but do I need them to act the same, day in and day out? No. I need them to do their job in order to effectively move the docket (small courthouse judge interview 2,).

The mentality was qualitatively different in courts with greater size. In these counties, judges were much more likely to speak in absolutes when it came to the consistency of their staff, discussing the details of the personnel member’s job and how they needed that job done a certain way in order that they may achieve their own goals. Judges of the larger districts were describing the process like the inner workings of a clock or mechanism where the greatest piece is still dependent on the smallest piece. This was evident in one large courthouse judge’s communication about their bailiff:

(I need) The bailiff need to be acting the same way. Even the side that he approaches the bench is important because they will approach with the plea form while I am in my plea colloquy and my looking away from, or breaking contact with the defendant’s attorney will slow the process. I need to be able to review without a break in the action so the work product of every member must be the same (Large Courthouse) Judge Interview 3, Page 2).

Another large courthouse judge, from a medium courthouse, made it clear that management of each detail is important for the survival of the criminal justice machine:

Definitely important that court personnel do those things that they were hired to do and the same each day so that I can maximize the time provided. Things go a little faster per case. This is important. Therefore, the business end of things is clear. The only way to act how we must, is to be professional and perform exactly the way the procedures require. Without their compliance, I can’t count on them and then the whole process grinds down (medium courthouse Judge Interview 2, Page 2).

Many of the attorneys spoke about this expectation of consistency as well, directly linking it to a difference between the larger jurisdictions and the smaller ones. They saw the judges being more punitive and forceful with attorneys if they did not follow a certain format in the larger districts. Below is an example of one such attorney’s opinion (as he traveled from a medium courthouse to a small courthouse):

They [judges] seem to be more punitive with late attorneys or attorneys not prepared. I think it might just be because they are busier. In the smaller districts though, things are more relaxed and flexible. The judges speak their mind but in a more relational conversational way. Again, some of it’s the personality of the judge but it’s definitely more uptight in a medium courthouse] than it is in small [courthouses] (small Courthouse (smallest) Attorney Interview 3, page 1).

The formality of the larger courtrooms, noticeable despite exceptions made for judge personality, is a strong indicator of the greater focus on consistency.

The attorneys and court reporters offered less insight into the motives of judges, but given the nature of their jobs and the locations it takes them, they offered more well-rounded commentary for a comparative analysis. One attorney explains going to a large court versus court in a smaller district:

Attorneys come unprepared to [this city] in that they are unaware of the procedure that is getting left behind. You can spot them from a mile away because they are the ones asking questions or just losing because the judge doesn’t respect their way of doing things. It may not be wrong- just different- but if it’s enough for the judge to notice, it can be a problem. The judge might not say anything but they’ll roll their eyes or look at staff or another attorney-and it’s gonna come out in the decision. In [this city] and probably larger districts, you gotta know the process. Smaller districts, it’s usually more laid back and if it’s not, you almost get more upset because you think, who do they think they are, this is just [the county] Courthouse [small] or something. They don’t have a reason to expect these things from me. Some of it’s the way each individual judge does it but there’s a definite difference between the smaller and larger courthouses and what the judge expects (Medium Courthouse (large) Attorney Interview 1, Pag. 1).

One particular court reporter, who focused more of her work in large courthouses, but also visited the smaller counties circling the area, gave well-founded commentary on the inner workings of large versus smaller courthouses:

Judges in large courthouses don’t necessarily crucify staff that make mistakes, but it’s clear that they expect a greater level of attention to detail from their staff. Some of this is personality of the judge type stuff, but when I go to large ones, I feel like I need to have my act together to a higher extent than if I go to one of the smaller districts. I think this is because the judges are stressed more and feel like the machine needs to be well-oiled and not have any mishaps. It’s not that they don’t expect for mishaps to occur, it’s that they react when they do (Large Courthouse Court Reporter Interview 19, Page 2).

Another court reporter with experience in larger and smaller jurisdictions, stated:

There is nothing scarier than an upset judge. At least to me…It’s like somebody pushed them off a cliff when something doesn’t go right sometimes. It’s like you have to relax because it’s not a machine and it’s subject to miscues (Large Courthouse Court Reporter Interview 21 Page 2,).

From the interviews, it appears that within the larger districts, there exists a culture of detailed requirements not deemed as prevalent or fundamental in the smaller districts. Interviews with the court reporters and attorneys gave greater indication of the cause of this increased need for consistency, suggesting that the larger courthouses were more formal and such formality was a result of a certain “air about the courthouse” (Courthouses Court Reporter Interview 28, Page 2). Another court reporter who had covered smaller and large counties during her twenty-seven-year tenure, offered excellent insight into the variance in expectation of consistency for those larger courthouses.

Consistency is not what judges want from you-what they want is different levels of control. It seems like the bigger the courthouse (the greater the size) the more likely judges are to be less focused or concerned about you, but more expectant that you are going to do your job, not only the same way, but the way they want it. Overall, it seems that there needs to be greater understanding how to relate to staff and attorneys on the part of the bigger judges (interpreted as in the larger jurisdictions) and we can do this a couple different ways. But at least you know what to expect when you get there (Court Reporter Interview 12).

According to this court reporter, judges in big cities appeared to require greater consistency from their staff than in the circuits with less size.

Judges in Larger Courthouses Perceive Themselves as Having Less Autonomy

One set of interview questions asked the judges, lawyers, and court reporters to consider and comment about feelings of autonomy. The interview responses to the following lines of questions that shed light on this theme are again presented first from judges and then from lawyers and court reporters. Although follow up questions were presented to each group, the main question was:

• I want to ask you about a situation that occurs when you are ruling on a motion or making a judicial decision. Do you sometimes feel as if you want to take a certain course of action but are unable or limited in doing so by written or unwritten rules or guidelines?

All judges agreed that they are sometimes caught between what they want to do and what the rules require but varied as to how they react.

Two judges from different sized courthouses put the contrast between large and small courthouses in sharp contrast by their direct answers to this question. When asked: “Why might a judge believe that there is only one acceptable format for administrating a courtroom?” A large courthouse judge answered this question directly: “Because there is. The format detailed by the Rules of Procedure and the Rules of Judicial Conduct determine how the rules shall be followed” (Large Courthouse Judge Interview 3, page 3).

By way of contrast, a small courthouse judge, suggested a different approach:

There is more than one way to skin a cat. If a defendant is in need of special attention, it is a judge’s job to ensure that that attention is given to ensure that the balance between state’s rights and private rights is maintained (Small Courthouse (small) Judge Interview 2, page 3).

Coming from the smallest courthouse, the opinion of a small courthouse judge provides further evidence of this progression:

I don’t know. I am going to do what I need to do to make sure that the rights of the accused are protected and if that means spending more time outside the requirements in doing so, I am going to do it. That may be different in other courtrooms here, but that’s how I do it (Small Courthouse Judge Interview 1, Page 3).

These responses indicate an increase in the attention to rules as a standout in the mind of the judge when thinking about courtroom performance in the larger district. They suggested that the larger district is more focused upon following the rules, whereas the smaller district judge appears less standardized and rule controlled. The medium sized district judge subscribes to rules but the rules are much more broad and capable of greater attention. The sense of autonomy is greater among the smaller districts.

Responses to the “Is this a normal occurrence?” question further developed the theme. A large courthouse judge explained:

I’m here to follow and promote the guidelines set forth by the rules. I can only 'want' to take that particular course of action. The rules have been set up because they are good and make the most sense so a justicious [sic] result occurs when the rules are put into action (Large Courthouse, Judge Interview 2, Page 3).

Whereas the judge from the smaller courthouse, explained:

The guidelines that must be followed ultimately are the guidelines established by the Constitution as delivered and interpreted by the Supreme Court. A justicious [sic]result comes when you ensure that these are followed. It’s a simple equation that it is repeated over and over again (Small Courthouse (small) Judge Interview 1, Page 3).

A judge in a small courthouse, provided a perspective of how a less mechanistic application of the rules could operate:

That is why I was elected: to deliver the most fair and right verdict or decision. The rules provide flexibility so that a fair decision can be reached and the rules followed as well. The rule, many times is more of a penumbra, under which effective action can be taken. I know that when I have an issue that I can’t resolve because I am not granted the authority, I have leaned on the state or defense attorney to assist with such. Perhaps they can amend the charge in order that the best result occurs. I am not their boss, but I run the courtroom and that’s where they work, so they take this under advisement (Small Courthouse (smaller) Judge Interview 1, Page 3).

Interviews in larger districts suggested that judges feel less autonomous and this actually assists them to process cases in a more efficient manner. Within the smaller jurisdictions, judges’ perceptions of autonomy were greater, allowing them to be more creative with the application of the rules. In smaller counties, judges indicated that they were concerned with the best way to deliver justice, whereas those in the larger districts were more concerned with administering a courtroom and not breaking any of the rules in the process. When asked whether all aspects of the job were governed by the formal rules, those in the larger courthouses gave affirmative answers with a higher degree of certainty. The judges in the smaller courthouses actually explained that such was not the case and that judges had autonomy to find the most just result. A just result (for each individual case) was not the primary focus in the courthouses with more size. In the courthouses with greater size, turning cases pursuant to the rules and policies to gain a resolution was the primary focus. This difference was clear.

This size-related difference in perceptions about the degree of autonomy for creative, case-by-case consideration versus more mechanistic judicial performance also emerged in the interviews with the other professionals in the courthouse. For example, an attorney from one of the smaller counties observed:

In the smaller districts, you’d think it’d be the area where the judges are less open minded but what you find is that they are more open-minded to new ways to solve problems. They are not as quick to scoff at new treatment facilities, new substitutes for incarceration, even mitigation for departing from mandatory minimums, and that type thing. The larger districts are the ones where the judges generally have less to say about solving problems although - don’t get me wrong - judges have a harder gig, but it seems more uptight and less willing to assist in the larger courtrooms. The judges aren’t as quick to come out of what they know (Small Courthouse (smaller) Attorney Interview 2 Page 3).

When asked what they thought about judge creativity in the courtroom, an attorney (from the large jurisdiction of medium courthouse) responded:

In the smaller districts, sometimes I get the feeling like the judge, one in particular doesn’t know the law but thinks they can do whatever. The poor state [state attorneys] --it seems to bother them but they just go about what new-fangled untried thing that judge is doing. The people seem to be appreciative though. It’s not that the judge is easier ‘cause I’ve seen him lock ‘em up, it’s just that he is ready to try something different or fresh when he sentences someone (Medium Courthouse (large) Attorney Interview 2 Page 3).

Another attorney explained:

I know that when I go to (Small Courthouse) it’s not going to be as hard a time for me as it is in Hillsborough because the judges there work with you. Their dockets are way backed up down there, but they are serious about trying to smooth them out. In this way, they are going to give the flexibility to get the case resolved. If I come up with a new way for a dispo on a particular case and the state is on board, we are in - provided it’s not going to put the judge in the news (Small Courthouse (small) and Large Courthouse (large) Attorney Interview 1, Page 3).

Still another commented that:

It’s not that I don’t think judges don’t know what they are doing, they do everywhere. It’s just that some districts are going to give a little bit more of a push in the formality direction and be less willing to bend when that’s what true justice requires. You are going to get less of that in Large than in [this county] or some of the other smaller jurisdictions (Large Courthouse and Small Courthouse, Attorney Interview 1, Page 3).

This perspective was shared somewhat by court reporters. Many either acknowledged that in the courthouses with greater size, there was a greater sense of the judges and other personnel of a lack of autonomy. A court reporter who experienced both large and small jurisdictions explains:

I am much more likely to run into a type of mentality at a larger courthouse where you have to wait in line to get a question answered by the clerk if you are looking for where your particular hearing is located-or you are unable to reach the judicial assistant. It seems as though, you are more likely to find people just going through the motions in [this city] [Medium Courthouse, large] then you are in [other small courthouses]. It’s totally true. Seems crazy - and you don’t see it in every person who come across in the larger districts, and I’m sure the smaller ones have it too, but it just seems as though the larger ones have more of them - people that are pushing ‘til the whistle goes off (Medium Courthouse and Large Courthouse, Court Reporter Interview 17, Page 4).

Another court reporter described the necessity to rule follow and the effect it has on sense of autonomy when she described trips down to a large court from her neighboring home wherein she also worked as a court reporter: “When I go down there, I better know what I’m doing and follow what they want us to do and the way it's cut out for us to do. It’s as though they [the rules] are thinking for us” (Medium Courthouse and Large Courthouse, Court Reporter Interview 3, Page 4).

Another court reporter’s depiction demonstrated this theme of a lack of autonomy. They recalled the judicial rules of conduct being quoted by a judge when that judge was discussing a discovery violation of one party before the other and unnecessary Motions to Compel Discovery and resultant Motions for Sanctions.

I mean this judge could quote the rules. He knew them forward and backward and quizzed the attorney he was picking on about them - and that was just the local rules. I used to have the transcript and I would read it to my friends sometimes and we would just laugh (Medium Courthouse and Large Courthouse, Court Reporter Interview 3, Page 4).

When directly asked if the judges were more aware of the rules (of procedure) in smaller districts, she replied “No”.


Three themes emerged from the interviews regarding differences in perception and organizational culture. First, there was greater awareness of bureaucratic boundaries and rules (Florida Rules of Civil Procedure, Rules of Judicial Administration, Statutes, Policy, etc.) within the larger courthouses. Second, within larger courthouses, there were greater expectations of consistency in how judges and others should perform their roles. Third, there was a greater sense of autonomy and creativity on the part of judges within smaller districts. All of these were generally supportive of past research on these relationships.

Consistency of expectation may naturally flow from the standardization that increases as organizations grow larger. However, perceptions of decreased autonomy may be a latent consequence of these first two constructs and other contributors. The interview results and all judge interviewees confirm that there was greater specialization in the larger courthouses and it seemed that the awareness of the controls exerted by these rules and boundaries were more readily apparent to the attorney and court reporter interviewees that traveled in between smaller and larger courthouses. Likewise, these same interviewees reported that there were greater expectations of formality within these larger courthouses, supporting the notion that the value of consistency is more prevalent in the larger courthouses. Past literature has noted the psychological effects of standardization on the internal actor of the organization (Lam, 2000), the criminal justice system (Feeley & Simon, 1984), and even the courts (Ulmer, 2012). Similarly, our results suggest a stronger look at specialization as a potential catalyst for an imbalance in rationality.

The results suggest a significant difference across courthouses in all three adjustments to court size. We find that adjustments occur across size, and evidence suggests it’s not size alone that catalyzes the problems explained. Bureaucracies grow when they add new agents to assist with their substantive and procedural goals. It may be that the increase in specialization, resulting from size increase, encourages changes in perception. Increase in division of labor increases the number of divisions, which increases the boundaries and rules required to facilitate specialization. Payne and Mansfield (1973) suggest that specialization is likely to “lead to climates … more concerned with rules and following rules” (p. 518). Similarly, Barclay (1991) also concluded that specialization is related positively to increased formalization of rules and procedures (146). Specialization stipulates what should be done and by whom; it may accentuate differences among departments and delineate group boundaries (Child, 1973). Researchers have suggested this delineation leads to monopolistic claims over spheres of work and departments form their own objectives, values, and norms (Corwin, 1969; Barclay, 1991). In this study, the evidence supports the notion that judges in larger courthouses were more aware of the rules by which they were governed and were more formal, or rule based, in their approach. The source of this culture change may be the increase in boundaries and rules that accompany specialization and the internal actor’s awareness of it. This heightened rule awareness may then encourage the other two adjustments.
With heightened awareness of rules, more expectations of consistency, and less autonomy in larger courts, disparities in the practice of justice may be more likely. Despite the similarities in organizational scheme, objectives, rules, and workload, these judges’ perceptions differed, and such differences correlated with size. We offer that the changes in perceptions that correlated with size may be not only be about size but specialization as well.


Therefore, one policy implication leads to a recommendation of specialization to mitigate some of the standardization noted above. problem-oriented justice programs, such as drug courts (Goldkamp et al, 2001) and veteran’s ourts (Frederick 2014) have showed promise compared to their non-specialized counterparts. Earlier specialization may allow for these groupings to have better oversight and the participants be supervised by more proficient administrators who are more familiar with a host of issues within a particular problem. It also allows for a culture to develop within a particular range of courts that may better benefit participants and the victims. It seems that specialization that may bind considerations so judges may gain knowledge about a specific problem and facilitate a more successful approach than simply assigning more judges into overly broad categories such as “criminal”, “civil”, “family” and “estates”. More specifically, assigning judges to problem-based judging such as “drugs”, “guns”, and “veterans” may continue gaining momentum so that judges develop more specialized practice. Specifically, it may make more sense for a judge to preside over only one particular type of a family law matter rather than all family law judges handling all related tasks.


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Table 1. Demographic characteristics of judges in surveys






All courthouses (n=56)

Mean age [SD]

53.96 [6.82]


White (missing=2)








Small courthouses (n=16)

Mean age [SD]

52.81 [6.11]








Medium courthouses (n=17)

Mean age [SD]

53.07 [7.29]








Large courthouses (n=23)

Mean age [SD]

55.43 [7.07]















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