Lawyers, judges and litigants have often complained they’ve had to wait years for resolution of civil lawsuits, and now New Jersey’s state Supreme Court advisory committee has offered guidelines to try to speed the process.
In a report issued April 8 but released last week, a committee of judges, lawyers and judicial staff, suggested ways to resolve the cases more quickly and to unclog court dockets.
New Jersey Supreme Court Chief Justice Stuart Rabner formed the Supreme Court Advisory Committee on Expedited Civil Matters in May 2013 to consider how cases could be streamlined while still retaining a litigant’s due process and fairness.
“The recommendations of the committee help address access to justice issues in civil cases,” Rabner said in a statement. “Under the proposed pilot project, parties would be able to have their day in court and proceed to trial more promptly, the cost of discovery and litigation as a whole would be more affordable, and judges could oversee cases more effectively.”
New Jersey currently allows expedited trials – where all parties tailor certain aspects of a trial to shorten its length – but it’s not used frequently, attorney Thomas Curtain told The Star-Ledger. He’s co-chairman of the 39-member committee along with state Supreme Court Justice Faustino Fernandez-Vina.
The time for civil cases to get to trial varies by county, but it’s not unusual for the process to take about two years, Curtain said.
The panel’s recommendations were designed to speed the pretrial phase – from the time a lawsuit is filed to the time all sides gather and exchange information, a process known as discovery.
The committee recommended the changes first be tested in a pilot program implemented in two or three counties that have yet to be selected.
If adopted, the guidelines would automatically apply to uncomplicated cases, such as contract disputes, automobile accidents and employment contract disputes, but would be voluntary for more complicated cases, such as medical malpractice lawsuits involving multiple parties or a shareholder dispute against a large corporation.
Litigants would be able to opt out of the expedited program with a judge’s consent, according to the report.
The committee envisions the program would apply to contracts or commercial transactions, debt collection, simple personal injury claims, simple insurance coverage claims, and cases requiring minimal discovery. Cases involving name changes, forfeiture, case dismissals and the Open Public Records Act would be excluded.
If there are disputes over the discovery process, attorneys would be encouraged to work it out themselves. If they can’t, they won’t have to file motions for a judge to hold a formal hearing weeks later. Instead, the judge can hold an informal conference quickly to resolve the matter.
The case is given a trial date that takes precedence over cases not in the program.
The report suggests that lawyers take no more than two depositions for uncomplicated cases and no more than five depositions for the more complex cases.
The committee also calls for speeding up the time that parties are given to answer interrogatories, a set of written questions issued by attorneys at the beginning of a lawsuit.
Written comments on the new report will be accepted until June 6.
Topics New Jersey
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