Mahon Lecture

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Mahon Lecture
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Mahon Lecture

Hon. Patrick E. Higginbotham, U.S. Fifth Circuit Judge

12 Tex. Wesleyan L. Rev. 501 (2006).

    The work of the United States District Court, the trial court, has changed.  Trials are no longer its main work.  The court rooms are dark, and the cost of prosecuting a case has become too much for most litigants.  With their blizzard of paper, federal trial courts have become increasingly remote from citizens.  With increases in staff, decline in trials, and delegation of discovery problems to magistrate judges, federal trial judges will be perceived by many as blessing the work of others, not unlike their role in private arbitration where a district court must distance itself from the merits of a dispute.

    There are a number of serious concerns regarding the decline of trials which warrant careful consideration. For example, the distinctions between the Article III judge and the Administrative Law judge are becoming increasingly blurred.  Participation in world markets that ignore political boundaries is redefining the relationship of state and citizens, and federal district courts look increasingly less like the common law courts of England and more like the civil law model of litigation, conducted less by private counsel and more by civil servants.  Finally, one senses significant changes in attitudes toward the role of the state in dispute resolution—that the growth of resolution outside of state-controlled processes is being fed by growing cynicism about state-offered resolutions and “law” itself.

    The ground is moving beneath the feet of federal trial judges, lawyers, and trial court.  If they are going to play a studied role in the destination of these changes, they must understand the direction they are going.  This is not an inside game for lawyers and judges.  It is a matter of governance and preserving freedoms in a changing and dangerous world.

Keywords: federal district court, federal trial judge, federal trial lawyer, trial court, magistrate judges, hearing examiners, administrative law judges, United States District Court, American Bar Association, Litigation Section, federal magistrate system, discovery management, Federal Magistrates Act, private arbitration, federal jurisdiction, federal practice, civil procedure, federal law, administrative law, administrative state, judicial process, political process.

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