June 2015 Bar Bulletin
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Speed Up; Slow Down

 

In a nod to The Seattle Times, this month's column consists of a Rant and Rave. Let's start with the ...

RAVE:

Today, May 22, marks the beginning of the 12-month civil case schedule! If you learn nothing else from this issue of the Bar Bulletin, remember to read your case schedule!

Beginning in 2011, Superior Court has been gradually reducing the time to trial provided for in the case schedule from 17½ months to 12 months. This change eliminates the "dead time" of six to eight months at the beginning of a civil case during which it appears to the Court that nothing is happening except maybe some discovery. The important takeaway for civil practitioners is that you need to begin the discovery process when the case is filed, not six months later.

The effort to shrink the case schedule required a lot of work and planning by our Clerk's Office. Our clerk, Barb Miner, wants to credit Sarina Aiello and Bob Dowd (who is now with District Court) for leading the charge within the Department of Judicial Administration. Aiello "owns" the case-scheduling system, and she was the one who created the formulas that enabled us to implement the plan. Arnold Bahr, a DJA computer programmer, manually made all the changes for the first two years until the process was automated. Former Judge Sharon Armstrong and Judge Douglass North led the entire project on behalf of the Court.

The Court made this change because after analyzing civil cases we learned that 17½ months is unnecessarily long for many types of civil cases, such as simple collections, or breach of contract or boundary disputes. In addition, the lengthy case schedule seemed to invite counsel to delay discovery until very close to trial, with the result that counsel would often request last-minute trial continuances. The longer timeframe prevented the Court from meeting state and local civil disposition standards. From the point of view of clients, a shorter case schedule allows festering disputes to be resolved more quickly and cheaply.

As we gradually shortened the case schedule, we took a pause about mid-way through to survey the bar and the bench about the impact of the change. Remarkably, some 68 percent of the bar respondents reported either a positive effect or no impact on their clients. Nearly all the judges surveyed did not see any change in the number of continuances requested. Despite anxiety expressed by lawyers about the impact of the shortened case schedule, we chose to go ahead and finish the process of shrinking it.

The biggest concern we heard is that while 17½ months is too long for many types of cases, it might be too short or just right for complex cases involving experts; 12 months would be way too short for these cases. We agree. Case schedules should be tailored to the needs of a complex case, and our judges will entertain motions to adjust the case schedule as long as the reasons are adequately explained.


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