state court caseloads, Stacked Documents With Colorful Paperclips And Eyeglasses

State court caseloads are slowly increasing toward pre-pandemic levels, according to a recent analysis of 2022 data from the Court Statistics Project (CSP).

The study found that state courts managed 64.6 million incoming cases in 2022, two percent more than in 2021. In comparison, state courts managed 83.2 million cases in 2019.

While case types increased in the number of filings across the board in 2022—civil (5%), criminal (2%), domestic relations (2%), and traffic (1%)—some case types, such as traffic, remain significantly lower than pre-pandemic levels.

For example, in 2022, state courts managed 26.8 million traffic cases, compared to 39 million in 2019.

Traffic cases still lag behind pre-pandemic levels

The CSP, conducted by the National Center for State Courts (NCSC) and the Conference of State Court administrators, uses data directly from state courts to “publish national trends and analyze caseload statistics, providing useful insights that inform policy, budgetary, and court management decisions,” according to a press release.

Traffic and local ordinance cases made up nearly half (30.3 million) of all cases coming into state courts in 2022, according to the CSP.

However, state courts managed 29% fewer of these filings in 2022 compared to 2019, despite Americans driving as much as they did before the pandemic.

Nicole Waters, NCSC’s Director of Research and Design, said that the traffic trend is “so striking” that the CSP plans to further analyze traffic trends, anticipated impacts, and ways courts can respond to potential caseload reductions.

Caseloads in Illinois courts

The total number of new filed cases in Illinois courts decreased by 40.6% from 2018 to 2022, according to the Illinois Supreme Court Annual Report.

At the same time, there has been a dramatic rise in the number of appeals cases as a result of the SAFE-T Act, and a significant increase in the number of self-represented litigants in Illinois courts and courts across the country.

Chief Justice Mary Jane Theis wrote in the Illinois Courts’ newsletter “Courts Connect” that trial courts across the country have found consistently that 75% or more of all civil cases have at least one self-represented litigant.

This has corresponded with a “troubling drop in new civil cases,” Chief Justice Theis wrote, characterized by a decrease of 40% in civil filings from pre-pandemic case levels.

“Simply put, where are the plaintiffs?” Theis wrote.

‘Creative solutions’ for addressing caseloads

The Illinois Supreme Court has long been focused on developing “creative solutions” to address the unmet legal need in the state.

Through its Strategic Agenda, the Illinois Judicial Branch has brought individuals from across the judicial and legal systems together to collaborate on initiatives that support its goals of ensuring accessible justice through programs and services that meet the changing needs of Illinoisians and enhancing the efficiency of court operations, among others.

The Branch is also prioritizing the collection and analysis of court data to determine how to best serve court users.

In addition, ongoing efforts from the Supreme Court’s Commission on Access to Justice are focused on improving programs and resources—including standardizing court forms—in the judicial system that help self-represented litigants and limited English proficient litigants access Illinois courts, as well as assisting legal aid and pro bono attorneys represent their clients.

And more recently, in January 2023 the Supreme Court established the Executive Committee on the Practice of Law to help vet recommendations made to the Court related to how the practice of law may need to change to address the unmet legal needs in the state.

The Executive Committee consists of 13 members, including John Kim, Chair of the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism.

Read the complete report CSP report here.

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