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Virtual Tour - 5th Floor

5th Floor

This floor is home to the court’s current Chief Judge Joy Flowers Conti, as well as District Judge Nora Barry Fischer, Third Circuit Judge D. Michael Fisher and The Joseph F. Weis Jr. Library of the United States Courts.

Every court has a chief judge who, besides carrying a full load of cases, has additional administrative duties. By statute, the chief judge is the district judge in regular active service who is senior in commission to those judges who are 64 years of age or under, who has served for one year or more as a district judge, and who has not previously served as the chief judge. The appointment is for a minimum term of seven years, continuing until another judge becomes eligible to serve as the chief judge. Chief Judge Conti became this court’s chief judge in 2013.

Litigants who are dissatisfied with decisions made by a judge at the district court level can appeal those decisions to one of the thirteen courts of appeals in the United States. In this district, district court decisions are appealed to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. The Third Circuit has jurisdiction over the district courts of Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, and the Virgin Islands, and the district courts within this circuit are bound by the decisions of the Third Circuit. If a case is appealed to the Third Circuit, it is typically decided by a three-judge panel; however, some questions receive an en banc hearing, which means that all active judges on the Third Circuit decide the case. There are 14 authorized seats on the Third Circuit. Like district court judges, appeals court judges are appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate.

The Third Circuit is based in Philadelphia, but not all of the judges are stationed there. Most circuit judge maintain chambers throughout the circuit and assemble in Philadelphia, or other sites throughout the circuit, for oral arguments. Besides Circuit Judge Fisher, there are three (3) other circuit judges (Nygaard, Smith and Hardiman) who have chambers within our district. Portraits of all the Third Circuit judges from this district line the halls of this floor. Some of the other notable judges on the Third Circuit are the former first lady of Pennsylvania, Marjorie Rendell, and Donald Trump’s sister, Maryanne Trump Barry. Portrait of all of the circuit judges from this district who have served on the Third Circuit line the halls of this floor

Law clerks are attorneys who work closely with the judge to research and analyze the legal issues of a case. That means that much of their time is spent doing research and writing memos to the judge. While much of their research is done online, there are still many sources that they turn to in The Joseph F. Weis Jr. Library of the United States Courts. The library is named after former district and circuit Joseph F. Weis, Jr., who before serving over 45 years as a state and federal judge, served in World War II and was wounded twice during his tour in France with the Third Army's Fourth Armored Division, receiving both the Purple Heart and Bronze Star Medal.

When law clerks aren’t doing research, they are often assisting the judge in various courtroom proceedings, which gives them an opportunity to observe a number of civil and criminal cases. In this courthouse, most of the district judges have 2-3 clerks. There are generally two types of law clerks – career clerks and term clerks. Career clerks are attorneys who typically have many years of experience, and who work with the judge on a permanent basis. Term clerks are usually new attorneys who are looking to gain litigation experience, and who work for the judge from one to four years.

Finally, this floor also houses the Grand Jury Room. The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution requires that charges for all capital and "infamous" crimes be brought by an indictment returned by a grand jury. Federal grand juries are composed of between 16 and 23 individuals. A quorum - or a minimum of 16 grand jurors - must be present for a grand jury to conduct business, such as considering whether charges should be brought against someone or investigating criminal activity. Grand jurors are selected in the same manner as petit jurors. They serve for a term of 18 months, which can be extended in certain circumstances for an additional 6 months. We have several grand jury panels convening in any given year. A prosecutor must convince the grand jury that a “prima facie” criminal case has been established. The grand jury can compel witnesses to testify before it. Unlike the trial itself, the grand jury's proceedings are secret; the defendant and his or her counsel are generally not present for other witnesses' testimony.