Courtroom Work Group in the United States
The judicial officers and support personnel who function in the courts on a regular basis. The concept of the courtroom work group is most often found in the literature on the criminal process, but applies to the full range of judicial activities. The principal members of the courtroom work group are the judge, the prosecuting (or plaintiffs) attorney, and counsel for the defense. These three members perform the functions that constitute the essence of the adversary model. In addition, the courtroom work group includes such personnel as the court reporter, court clerk, and Bailiff (Judicial Personnel issue). The work group members are the courthouse “regulars” who operate the processes of the judicial system and make the substantive judgments that determine which cases move through the process and how they emerge at the conclusion. Work groups form because of the ongoing interaction of the regulars. While parties to suits change, the regulars remain a constant. Though the regulars do not all work for the same agencies, each is drawn to cases to perform particular functions. More important, each member of the work group must work with the others; no member can perform in isolation. The work group members come to share similar goals or interests, especially the movement of cases through the judicial system. If the work group members cooperate, they all benefit by heightening case dispositions. In other words, the work group members exist in a relationship of interdependence despite the differences in their individual roles.
Court Clerk (Judicial Personnel issue) Court Reporter (Judicial Personnel issue) Defense Attorney (Judicial Personnel issue) Judge (Judicial Personnel issue) Prosecuting Attorney (Judicial Personnel issue).
Analysis and Relevance
Understanding courtroom work group relationships is essential to understanding how the judicial process operates, particularly with criminal cases. The work group is important in several ways. First, the work group modifies formal authority patterns. Decisions formally assigned to one member become joint decisions. Sentencing, for example, is a judicial function, but judges often accept plea agreements negotiated by the prosecutor and defense attorney. These agreements are likely to contain sentencing considerations. In other cases, judges may defer to the recommendations of prosecutors or probation officers. Second, predictable behaviors are produced by the work group network. Members come to share norms of conduct and performance. This establishes a firm framework within which all interaction takes place. Cooperation and trust are fostered in this way. Third, the work group socializes newcomers to the expectations of the members. In this way, the overall system is maintained. Enforcement of work group norms is informal but effective. Rewards and sanctions are such that most work group members find it imperative to comply.
Notes and References
- Definition of Courtroom Work Group from the American Law Dictionary, 1991, California