By Hon. Sharon S. Armstrong and Barbara Miner
King County Superior Court is implementing a plan to reduce the time from filing to trial on the case schedule issued in most civil cases. Over the next three years, the Court will very gradually reduce the general civil case schedule (filing to trial) from 17.5 months to 12 months. The change will be accomplished by shortening the civil case schedule, at five-week intervals, by eight weeks in the first and second years and six weeks in the third year.
Before 1989, civil cases were scheduled for trial when counsel submitted a note for trial readiness, a system that resulted in a nearly three- to four-year delay for most civil jury trials. After a two-year concentrated study by the King County Bench/Bar Task Force on Civil Delay Reduction, the Court implemented case schedules and case management practices in 1989.
Due to the excessive case backlog (approximately 75,000 unresolved civil cases versus 15,000 currently), the Court set its initial civil case schedule at 18 months from filing to trial, and set the domestic case schedule at 12 months.
The Court intended to gradually shorten these schedules to more closely approximate the ABA and state-approved time-to-disposition standards. A statewide Board for Judicial Administration Advisory Committee, and later this Court, adopted a policy that 90% of all civil cases would be resolved within 12 months of filing, 98% within 18 months and 100% within 24 months. This standard, case-processing-time policy is still in effect, yet the Court has made no changes to the general civil case schedule in 17 years.
Recently, the Court has determined that the general civil case schedule should be shortened for several reasons. First, the schedule is unnecessarily long for most civil cases. While 17.5 months may be appropriate for some personal injury or complex commercial cases, it is often too long for a simple collection, contract claim or boundary dispute.
Second, the current time frames of the schedule prevent the Court from meeting state and local civil disposition standards. The Court has never achieved these goals, largely because the schedule does not promote resolution until shortly before trial.
Third, the current schedule has generated a practice within the bar of delaying discovery until close to the discovery cutoff, resulting in frequent last-minute motions for trial continuance. In the Court's experience, most of these continuances could have been avoided had counsel begun discovery sooner. Longer trial preparation times also tend to increase costs unnecessarily.
Finally, and most importantly, a long case schedule prevents prompt resolution of disputes, and justice delayed is always justice denied.
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