Vol. 7 No. 9 (September 1997) pp. 446-447.
STATE COURT CASELOAD STATISTICS, 1995 by Bryan J. Ostrom, Carol R. Flango, Karen Gillions Way, Robert C. La Fountain, and Margaret J. Fonner. Williamsburg, VA: National Center for State Courts, 1996. 234 pp. $20.00 Paper. ISBN 0-89656-172-0.
EXAMINING THE WORK OF STATE COURTS, 1995 by Bryan J. Ostrom and Neal B. Kauder. Williamsburg, VA: National Center for State Courts, 1996. 107 pp. $12.00 Paper. ISBN 0-89656-173-9.
Reviewed by Craig F. Emmert, Department of Political Science, Texas Tech University
These two books represent the latest installment in the ongoing effort by the National Center for State Courts to collect, compile, and publish statistics on state courts. STATE COURT CASELOAD STATISTICS presents a number of useful statistics on state court cases, while EXAMINING THE WORK OF STATE COURTS focuses on especially interesting findings, comparisons, and trends. The stated goal of both books is to provide detailed information and statistics on state court workloads to "the state court community" which (I assume) includes policymakers, practitioners, and students of state courts. I believe that goal has been achieved, at least to a significant degree.

The more detailed STATE COURT CASELOAD STATISTICS provides much information to anyone who is interested in the state courts. It includes in-depth descriptions of court system structures, which vary considerably, even among states that perhaps are otherwise very similar. The descriptions include the number and types of general and limited jurisdiction trial and appellate courts along with a description of the types of cases the courts are authorized to hear (although these descriptions of court jurisdiction are fairly general). It also provides information on the number of trial and appellate judges and the types of courts in which they serve for each state.

The primary focus of STATE COURT CASELOAD STATISTICS, of course, is on the numbers and types of cases filed and decided in the courts of each state. The categories used to classify cases include civil, criminal, juvenile, and traffic/other. Some subcategories are also presented such as tort, felony criminal, etc., although this presentation is somewhat limited. At the appellate level, cases filed and decided in intermediate appellate courts and courts of last resort are presented. These are broken down according to the type of jurisdiction, mandatory or discretionary, under which they are filed or decided. Data on docket clearance rates are reported for both trial and appellate courts. Comparable statistics for earlier years (from 1986 forward) are provided in many tables.

EXAMINING THE WORK OF STATE COURTS presents especially interesting findings, comparisons, and trends, and presents these in a nontechnical way. A series of topics is covered in a fairly coherent format; i.e., civil cases, then criminal cases, etc., but this book is not a seamless narrative on the work of state courts. Instead, short sections focus on specific topics such as jury awards, punitive damages, domestic violence case filings, etc. There are useful data on civil case filings and settlements, crime reports, arrests, guilty pleas, and dispositions in criminal cases. Important trends such as the decrease in DUI/DWI cases and the increase in domestic violence cases and drug cases are identified. Again, however, this book is not a systematic overview of state court workloads, nor does it provide extensive discussion of some very important findings.

Both books provide useful discussions of methodological issues. The most important of these, of course, are issues of definition and description of cases and case types, data collection methods, completeness of reporting, and comparability of data across courts and states and over time. While these issues can never be dealt with in a wholly satisfactory way, I am convinced by the authors' descriptions of their efforts in these areas that these data are the most complete and comparable data available. It is also clear that efforts toward improvement in case definition and description, data collection, and completeness and comparability of data continue to be made.
These books will be useful to the student of judicial politics and to the state politics scholar. Anyone who is writing or updating a judicial process text or the courts chapter of a state politics reader or who is preparing a class lecture on the courts will find the interesting comparisons and emerging trends identified in EXAMINING THE WORK OF STATE COURTS very helpful in attracting readers and engaging students' attention. The information in these books will allow the author or lecturer to support general assertions with specific information, data, and statistics. In addition, anyone beginning a research project involving state courts will find the descriptions of court system structure, caseloads, and jurisdiction in STATE COURT CASELOAD STATISTICS highly valuable.  These two books make a useful contribution to our knowledge of the work and activities of state courts in their own right. Equally important, in my view, they enhance our ability to disseminate that knowledge to other researchers, to our own students, and to the larger society. They are valuable resources for the state courts community.

Copyright 1997