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Courtroom time is invaluable, and particularly so in family cases. Courts only have so much bandwidth, and what exists must be maximized in the pursuit of justice. For litigants and counsel, courtroom time means having their “day in court”: the chance to finally be heard by someone who can grant relief.

What relief can there be, though, when the system is clogged?

Connecticut’s courts have long recognized the legal maxim that justice delayed is justice denied. For a parent awaiting a determination of custody (or even just waiting weeks and months to have a hearing) as long days pass without proper parenting time with a child, nothing could ring truer.

Time spent on the bench by a judge means time not spent writing decisions or attending to other judicial duties. Time spent in the courtroom may mean that a judge is forced to take other work home, at the expense of personal endeavors. It may mean that parties must wait longer to receive written decisions. In sum, such courtroom time should not be incurred lightly. Yet, our family courts must struggle every day with limited means to cull out meritless claims which suck up courtroom time.

The Connecticut Appellate Court has recently issued a guiding light to reduce bench time for family judges without offending notions of due process: D’Amato v. Hart-D’Amato, 169 Conn. App. 669 (2016). In D’Amato, a disgruntled litigant filed a smorgasbord of motions, including a motion to open the judgment, all of which the trial court denied without a hearing. Naturally, the party appealed, claiming that she was entitled to her day in court.

The Appellate Court in D’Amato shut down the due process claim as follows: “Pursuant to Practice Book §11-18(a) … whether to hear oral argument on motions in civil matters is a matter within the discretion of the court, except in limited circumstances, not relevant here, in which argument is a matter of right. … The trial court’s decisions not to hold evidentiary hearings with respect to these motions were, by the rules of practice and case authority, within its discretion.” Id. at 675-76. In a footnote, the D’Amato court stated that while “notions of due process include the opportunity to be heard … the defendant patently was afforded the opportunity to present her points of view in writing. Such opportunity satisfies due process.” Id. at 689 n. 2.

The potential impact of this case for family courts is huge. For example, baseless motions to open can be denied without forcing a judge onto the bench — and without requiring incredibly expensive preparation by counsel for a needless evidentiary hearing. A judge could similarly deny associated claims to allow postjudgment discovery pursuant Oneglia v. Oneglia, 14 Conn. App. 267 (1988). If the underlying motion to open is without any merit, it cannot have the “minimal indicia of merit” required to entitle the litigant to postjudgment discovery under Oneglia. Such a frivolous motion can be dispensed with expeditiously, thus avoiding a derailment of other proceedings in the case for months without just cause. This is but one vortex sucking up precious court time which D’Amato can help eradicate.

D’Amato reaches its result on the strength of the sometimes forgotten notion that a litigant’s written submission can itself constitute due process. If a motion on its face does not entitle a party to relief, then why does a hearing have to be held to reach that same conclusion? Civil judges have much broader authority to decide matters “on the papers,” without offending notions of due process. Surely due process is the same in both the civil and family context, as D’Amato indicates. Surely a family court judge’s bench time is at least as valuable as that of a civil judge.

D’Amato, by itself, may not be enough to convert the backlog of time-consuming hearings into a neat pile of pleadings instead. Family law judges are no doubt hamstrung by Practice Book §25-34, which seemingly mandates a hearing on everything except discovery. In comparison, Practice Book §11-18 leaves it to the judge’s discretion as to whether there should be a hearing, except for a limited class of motions — and even those only get more than a read-through only if additional requirements are met. A family court’s hands are also tied with respect to many of the mechanisms that serve civil courts well to ensure that only meritorious claims reach the courtroom, such as motions to strike, requests to revise, and motions for summary judgment. Consider again the parent awaiting a determination of custody. Why should that be delayed for even a second while the court grapples with motions that fail to properly even state a claim?

Each short calendar day, the family judge is swarmed with cases marked ready. A mere fraction are actually reached; of those, a fraction will conclude on that day. The unfortunate remainder are destined for a certain date, only adding to the backlog. On that certain date, numerous contenders for court time will show up, likely to find that the court may be double- or even triple-booked. Even the eventual “winner” of court time on that day may find valuable hours eaten up on their court date while it is figured out which case should be heard. The resulting waste of court time and counsel fees for needless hearings must be stopped, if the Connecticut family courts are to be as effective as they can be. D’Amato is a worthy companion to the Appellate Court’s approval of a court’s authority to limit the filing of redundant, vexatious, frivolous, and abusive pleadings in Strobel v. Strobel, 92 Conn. App. 662 (2005). D’Amato is a step in the right direction of strengthening the authority of a family judge, but it is not enough.

Until Practice Book §25-34 is more closely aligned with §11-18, the full impact of D’Amato will remain unrealized. Similarly, the family court should be given greater tools to manage their dockets, and allow for the elimination or revision at an early stage of frivolous claims — at the very least to the extent available to a civil judge. Practice Book §1-25, addressing sanctions for frivolous claims, is a recent and relatively unexplored addition to the court’s quiver of options. Perhaps it can grow to rival Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which serves as a famous deterrent to the filing of frivolous claims in federal court. In doing its extraordinarily important job, the family court can certainly use all the help it can get.

Courtroom time is invaluable, and particularly so in family cases. Courts only have so much bandwidth, and what exists must be maximized in the pursuit of justice. For litigants and counsel, courtroom time means having their “day in court”: the chance to finally be heard by someone who can grant relief.

What relief can there be, though, when the system is clogged?

Connecticut’s courts have long recognized the legal maxim that justice delayed is justice denied. For a parent awaiting a determination of custody (or even just waiting weeks and months to have a hearing) as long days pass without proper parenting time with a child, nothing could ring truer.

Time spent on the bench by a judge means time not spent writing decisions or attending to other judicial duties. Time spent in the courtroom may mean that a judge is forced to take other work home, at the expense of personal endeavors. It may mean that parties must wait longer to receive written decisions. In sum, such courtroom time should not be incurred lightly. Yet, our family courts must struggle every day with limited means to cull out meritless claims which suck up courtroom time.

The Connecticut Appellate Court has recently issued a guiding light to reduce bench time for family judges without offending notions of due process: D’Amato v. Hart-D’Amato , 169 Conn. App. 669 ( 2016 ) . In D’Amato, a disgruntled litigant filed a smorgasbord of motions, including a motion to open the judgment, all of which the trial court denied without a hearing. Naturally, the party appealed, claiming that she was entitled to her day in court.

The Appellate Court in D’Amato shut down the due process claim as follows: “Pursuant to Practice Book §11-18(a) … whether to hear oral argument on motions in civil matters is a matter within the discretion of the court, except in limited circumstances, not relevant here, in which argument is a matter of right. … The trial court’s decisions not to hold evidentiary hearings with respect to these motions were, by the rules of practice and case authority, within its discretion.” Id. at 675-76. In a footnote, the D’Amato court stated that while “notions of due process include the opportunity to be heard … the defendant patently was afforded the opportunity to present her points of view in writing. Such opportunity satisfies due process.” Id. at 689 n. 2.

The potential impact of this case for family courts is huge. For example, baseless motions to open can be denied without forcing a judge onto the bench — and without requiring incredibly expensive preparation by counsel for a needless evidentiary hearing. A judge could similarly deny associated claims to allow postjudgment discovery pursuant Oneglia v. Oneglia , 14 Conn. App. 267 ( 1988 ) . If the underlying motion to open is without any merit, it cannot have the “minimal indicia of merit” required to entitle the litigant to postjudgment discovery under Oneglia. Such a frivolous motion can be dispensed with expeditiously, thus avoiding a derailment of other proceedings in the case for months without just cause. This is but one vortex sucking up precious court time which D’Amato can help eradicate.

D’Amato reaches its result on the strength of the sometimes forgotten notion that a litigant’s written submission can itself constitute due process. If a motion on its face does not entitle a party to relief, then why does a hearing have to be held to reach that same conclusion? Civil judges have much broader authority to decide matters “on the papers,” without offending notions of due process. Surely due process is the same in both the civil and family context, as D’Amato indicates. Surely a family court judge’s bench time is at least as valuable as that of a civil judge.

D’Amato, by itself, may not be enough to convert the backlog of time-consuming hearings into a neat pile of pleadings instead. Family law judges are no doubt hamstrung by Practice Book §25-34, which seemingly mandates a hearing on everything except discovery. In comparison, Practice Book §11-18 leaves it to the judge’s discretion as to whether there should be a hearing, except for a limited class of motions — and even those only get more than a read-through only if additional requirements are met. A family court’s hands are also tied with respect to many of the mechanisms that serve civil courts well to ensure that only meritorious claims reach the courtroom, such as motions to strike, requests to revise, and motions for summary judgment. Consider again the parent awaiting a determination of custody. Why should that be delayed for even a second while the court grapples with motions that fail to properly even state a claim?

Each short calendar day, the family judge is swarmed with cases marked ready. A mere fraction are actually reached; of those, a fraction will conclude on that day. The unfortunate remainder are destined for a certain date, only adding to the backlog. On that certain date, numerous contenders for court time will show up, likely to find that the court may be double- or even triple-booked. Even the eventual “winner” of court time on that day may find valuable hours eaten up on their court date while it is figured out which case should be heard. The resulting waste of court time and counsel fees for needless hearings must be stopped, if the Connecticut family courts are to be as effective as they can be. D’Amato  is a worthy companion to the Appellate Court’s approval of a court’s authority to limit the filing of redundant, vexatious, frivolous, and abusive pleadings in Strobel v. Strobel , 92 Conn. App. 662 ( 2005 ) . D’Amato is a step in the right direction of strengthening the authority of a family judge, but it is not enough.

Until Practice Book §25-34 is more closely aligned with §11-18, the full impact of D’Amato will remain unrealized. Similarly, the family court should be given greater tools to manage their dockets, and allow for the elimination or revision at an early stage of frivolous claims — at the very least to the extent available to a civil judge. Practice Book §1-25, addressing sanctions for frivolous claims, is a recent and relatively unexplored addition to the court’s quiver of options. Perhaps it can grow to rival Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which serves as a famous deterrent to the filing of frivolous claims in federal court. In doing its extraordinarily important job, the family court can certainly use all the help it can get.