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Federal Judicial Center Celebrates 50 Years: Education Programs

 

The Center held its first educational program, an orientation for newly appointed district judges, in May 1968. Since then, the Center has produced over 3,500 in-person seminars and workshops for judges and federal judiciary employees. In addition to these travel-based programs, in 1977 the Center began offering smaller face-to-face education programs held in individual courts, and has provided over 12,000 of these in the years since.
 
Judges have always been a priority, but far from the only participants in Center education programs. Executives, managers, and staff in circuit executive, clerk, librarian, staff attorney, and other offices, as well as probation and pretrial services officers, have all been users of Center programs. This 2002 edition of the “Purple Book” affords a glance at the variety of offerings for court staff.
 
In-person programs enable interaction among participants and faculty and are a core part of the Center’s educational efforts. But because of costs and logistics, they can only be offered at certain times, and such times are not always when most convenient for or needed by their users. Consequently, the Center has always used other vehicles to deliver information and education to the courts, starting with printed materials and publications. During the 1970s, the Center made audio recordings of some programs and distributed them on cassette tapes. In the 1980s, video recordings on cassette came into use, soon followed by satellite broadcasts in the 1990s. In 1998, the Center and the Administrative Office established the Federal Judicial Television Network (FJTN), which grew to include over 300 downlinks at courthouses across the country, and overseas, including downlinks in Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Hawaii, and Guam. FJTN provided daily programming from the Center and the AO, as this FJTN Bulletin from 2009 shows.
 
During the 1990s, the Center began developing computer-assisted learning tools. One of the earliest was “An Introduction to the Federal Courts,” released on compact disc in 1994. (This program has since evolved into Inside the Federal Courts, currently available on the Center’s intranet and public websites.) As bandwidth capacity increased, more tools were directly streamed on demand to court users. By 2011, bandwidth capability made it possible to stream video content, making the satellite network unnecessary. So, after a relatively short but highly useful life, the FJTN went dark in 2012—but educational videos remain an important part of the Center’s offerings.
 
Whatever delivery means were used, the Center worked to make its educational programming relevant and effective. From the beginning, the Center hired highly capable attorneys and educators to design and organize Center programs. These professionals worked with advisory committees of judges and others from the courts, and consulted regularly with experts inside and outside the courts to determine learning needs and to develop educational resources to address them.
 
Through the years, some topics were consistently addressed. For judges, case management has always been at the heart of education programs. Other standard subjects for judges include ethics, evidence, and, for district judges, sentencing. Some topics that have grown over time include science and technology, which have gained increasing importance in various areas of litigation.
 
Programs for judiciary employees evolved as well. The significant growth in the size and complexity of the federal courts, coupled with the devolution of many functions once performed centrally by the Administrative Office, led to a greater need for leadership and management education. Along with judicial education, education for chief judges, executives, and managers has become a major focus of the Center’s education efforts. The Center has also produced educational resources applicable to all staff; examples include preventing workplace harassment, codes of conduct, and writing skills.
 
Probation and pretrial services education has also changed. For many years the Center conducted orientation programs for all new probation and pretrial services officers. In the early 2000s, however, this function was shifted to the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, and conducted under the auspices of the Administrative Office. The Center re-channeled its expertise in probation and criminal justice matters into a variety of programs to support judges and probation and pretrial services officers in the implementation of evidence-based practices and other quality improvement initiatives.
 
A sampling of program agendas over the last fifty years offers a taste of the breadth and evolution of Center offerings. 
 
In an effort to be more comprehensive and systematic, in 2012 the Center started a project to develop competencies (knowledge, skills, attributes) essential to performance of various jobs in the judiciary, and to construct a curriculum to help develop or enhance those competencies. By 2017, the Center had produced competencies for all types of judges (circuit, district, bankruptcy, and magistrate), as well as chief judges, unit executives, and four other types of judiciary employees, and had partially completed a curriculum for each of these groups.
 
In all of its education efforts, the Center strives to be rigorous, objective, and balanced. Many of the challenging questions judges and court employees face in litigation and in administration have no simple or clear answers. The Center is mindful that its role is not to posit specific solutions to these problems, but to provide judges and staff with the best information and analytical tools so they can decide what the best answer is.