DC Judicial College
Phone Icon (866) 790-8692


DC Judicial College Based in Washington, DC


Error Rate/Causal Study

The D.C. Judicial College incorporates methods and theories from judicial training programs regionally, nationally, internationally, and maintains a multidisciplinary approach to judicial education. The curriculum is also informed by empirical data pertaining to rates and actual causes of court error, to enhance the training, evaluation, and performance of those seeking a judicial career. The need for a study to determine the causes of court error was a conclusion of a decade-long study of U.S. courts–conducted by NYU and Columbia University faculty at the request of the Senate Judiciary Committee–in all death penalty cases and appeals. The resulting report, "A Broken System (2000)," finds unacceptable rates of serious error in all U.S. courts studied and recommends a new study to determine the causes of court error. DC courts were not among the courts studied in the 1991 Report; D.C. does/did not have a death penalty.

Men in Office, DC Judicial College in Washington, DC

In 2008, a Working Group comprised of faculty leaders representing an array of relevant academic disciplines among the Consortium of Universities of the Washington Metropolitan Region convened and resolved to design and to conduct a court error causal Study, as a means to inform the design and development of a pilot, full-time, multidisciplinary "state" judicial curriculum to serve, initially, the District of Columbia. The error causal Study informs the curriculum, particularly the laboratory and simulation testing/training segments, the admissions criteria, and standards of accreditation for a model U.S. state judicial college. Underlying purposes of this project include to meaningfully implement the Principles and Standards for Judicial Branch Education set forth in 2001 by the National Association of State Judicial Educators (NASJE), to help identify/define, measure, and evaluate exceptional judicial skills, and to further develop those skills in a formalized setting.

In 2009 the American Bar Association (ABA), under the initiative of the Standing Committee on Judicial Independence, unanimously passed ABA Resolution 113, which urges each state, its bar associations, and the highest court of each state, to develop introductory judicial curricula, of longer duration than what has been customary in the U.S., for those aspiring to a judicial career.  A purpose was to bridge the divide between those jurisdictions electing, and those appointing judges and other judicial professionals, and to improve criteria for judicial selection.

In 2010 Westlaw developed a court error data base, and error/reversal statistics for each trial judge in the U.S. above the county level.  See Westlaw's Judicial Reversal Reports.  This established the initial pool of trial court cases being studied, meaning those associated with each published appellate decision in which a trial court was reversed or vacated (a court-recognized measure of serious error), and in which the trial judge is referenced in the opinion.  The Westlaw Reports became the starting point for a novel study–which was recommended in the Columbia/NY Study–to determine causes of court error. The new study is being conducted, state by state, to inform the core and advanced curricula and admissions criteria for a model (DC) Judicial College, and to inform development of model standards of accreditation for a state judicial education. 

In the error causal study, each civil and criminal case in which a trial court order was reversed or vacated in a given jurisdiction, going back 15-20 years, is studied to determine the causes of court error. Causes of error are used to develop the core curriculum, and realistic, effective testing and training simulations, coined by the D.C. Working Group as "judicial situation simulations." Causes of serious error may include, for example, bias, internal/external influence, pressure, oral and written deception (from parties, counsel, experts, etc.); and deficiencies in logic, reasoning, problem-solving, active, objective inquiry, fact-finding, conflict analysis, conflict resolution, coaching, and court and docket management.

In tandem with the causation of court error, rates of serious error are studied separately, in conjunction with judicial characteristics, in order to develop world-class admissions criteria for a model, U.S. state judicial college. Pre - judicial academic and professional training, and other characteristics of those trial judges having very low rates of serious error, are built into the admissions criteria to the D.C. Judicial College. Each state conducts its own court error study–based on the model error study protocol. This enables not only comparison of data, state by state, to enhance the accuracy of conclusions drawn, but also, uniformly effective state judicial curricula nationally, with each state judicial college uniquely tailored to local conditions, laws, and practices.

The final product is a uniquely-American, multidisciplinary, highly sophisticated judicial curriculum of extended duration, serving to test, measure, and develop the exceptional judicial skills of those matriculating and aspiring to a state (or federal) judicial career.

Resolutions, Standards, Recommendations We are Striving to Implement

•  American Bar Association (ABA) Resolution 113 (2009): urges each state to develop an introductory judicial education of extended duration.  Meaningful implementation of the Resolution shall enable profession-specific (judicial-skills-based) selection and training of future U.S. judges, particularly at the state and local levels.

• National Association of State Judicial Educator's (NASJE's) Report: "Principles and Standards for Judicial Branch Education" (2001): calls for, inter alia, testing in connection with judicial training, with results that are measured.  The NASJE Report further recommends judicial education that is interesting, interactive, technology employing, and effective.

• NYU/Columbia death penalty study Report, "A Broken System" (2000): recommended a follow-up Study to determine the causes of error in US courts. The starting point for the causal Study–designed by the DC Judicial College working group–was developed by WESTLAW: Judicial Reversal Reports (2010).

• The D.C. Judicial College, a model U.S. judicial curriculum, multidisciplinary and of extended duration, is designed specifically for the judicial profession.  It is the states' answer to the Federal Judicial Center.

Contact us in Washington, DC, to learn more about the DC Judicial College and our judicial classes.