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State’s federal courts loaded with cases

We live in a litigious state. And it’s getting more so.

In the past five years the number of cases filed in federal court here has just about doubled to 5,320. The Minnesota federal court is No. 2 of 94 districts in weighted caseload per federal judge, according to federal government reports.

Why is that?

Chief District Judge James Rosenbaum says the high concentration of highly technical companies such as Medtronic, St. Jude Medical and 3M Co. in Minnesota begets many patent lawsuits. The government statistics give more weight to intellectual property cases because they are complex and often take longer to try.

“Cases are aggressively sought and defended,” he said. “It’s a very sophisticated caseload.”

And, we don’t have as many judgeships as other comparable states. With a population of about 5 million people, Minnesota has seven judgeships. Louisiana, with 4.5 million people, has 23 judgeships.

There are 94 U.S. district courts. Some states, such as Alaska and Minnesota, have a single judicial district. Others are composed of multiple judicial districts. Louisiana has three judicial districts. New York and California each have four.

Minnesota could have had more judges. In the early 1990s the state was scheduled to get a new judgeship but turned it down. “It didn’t look like we needed one,” Rosenbaum said. But that was before the surge in cases.

Rosenbaum couldn’t say why there are so many more cases. “I don’t control my own caseload,” he said. “People come in and they file.”

District court judges are nominated by the president and confirmed by the U.S. Senate. The names of potential nominees often are generally recommended by senators. According to the federal courts website, the number of weighted filings per judgeship is the key factor in determining when an additional judgeship will be requested.

Minnesota’s statistics argue for more judges, but Rosenbaum was loath to predict when Minnesota might get another judgeship.

Meanwhile, our fair district is 93rd-slowest of 94 when it comes to getting cases heard, the study says.

Rosenbaum argues that number is not representative of what’s really going on because Minnesota is the home for one case that has been in the courts for four years and had 14,000 filings from claims across the country. That number is down to 6,000 now, but still shows up as many cases more than three years old.

But the report is accurate when it says Minnesota federal judges have the second-heaviest load in the nation, he said.

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