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Plaintiffs’ lawyers are hailing the upcoming expansion to the Hartford, Conn., Judicial District of a pilot case-management program that is expected to speed up the disposition of routine civil matters such as collection disputes and probate appeals. Under the program, set to take effect Sept. 1, newly filed civil cases possessing odd docket numbers will be separated into two different scheduling tracks: “fast track” and “stand track.” Fast-track cases — those that require relatively less discovery and are generally simpler to prepare — will be granted 180 days from their return dates to be ready for trial. That is, unless an attorney on either side of a case seeks an extension of time due to the unusually complex nature of the dispute. Even-numbered cases filed after Sept. 1 will be handled in the same way they have before. Cases eligible for the state’s complex litigation docket also will be transferred in the usual manner. The expansion of the program, which has been used in Middlesex Judicial District for the past decade, comes as an alternative to the judicial branch’s now-defunct dormancy program, said Civil Division Chief Administrative Judge John J. Langenbach. Abolished last December, the dormancy program’s intent was to rid crowded dockets of cases that had gone unattended by lawyers for long stretches of time. However, some attorneys criticized the effort as treating all cases the same, setting overly harsh deadlines, and inadvertently dismissing cases that they believed should not have been dismissed, according to Langenbach, who sits in Hartford. A STRAIN ON JUDICIAL RESOURCES “This is much more streamlined and hopefully will work out much better,” he said of the new case-management system being unveiled in Hartford. Though the program has produced positive results in Middlesex, Langenbach conceded that court officials have been leery of replicating it in busier judicial districts because of the level of personnel required for it to be effectively administered. “It’s somewhat labor-intensive,” he noted. Langenbach said he expected the courts’ growing computerization and the recent addition of the complex litigation docket to ease much of that burden. But in expanding the program from Middlesex (which, as of July 26, had 634 civil jury cases pending) to Hartford (which, as of that date, had 2,827 such cases), no one is certain exactly what administrative resources will be required, he admitted. Langenbach said that applying the program to only odd-numbered cases will give the Hartford court a better grasp of its impact — both on judicial resources and case flow — compared to cases treated in the traditional fashion. “This is not something you can do with temporary assistant clerks who come and go,” he said. The program’s success in Middlesex, he noted, is due in no small part to the level of experience of the clerk chiefly responsible for administering it. Still, Langenbach said Chief Court Administrator Robert C. Leuba has a track record of adding personnel to aid case-management efforts like this one. WAITING FOR TRIAL Fast-track cases, under program guidelines outlined in the July 25th edition of the Connecticut Law Journal, will be limited to 10 types of disputes. Meatier controversies, such as medical malpractice suits and torts involving motor vehicle accidents that result in more than just property damage, will be pegged as stand-track cases and have 360 days from their return dates to be ready for trial under the program. Attorneys will receive a series of notices reminding them of cases’ readiness dates, status conferences, and tentative trial dates that will be set upon each case’s inception. By weeding out relatively routine matters from the knotty disputes that the complex litigation docket was created to handle, plaintiffs’ lawyers said the Hartford court should be able to give more attention to the “mainstream” cases on its regular docket. “It can’t hurt,” declared Peter M. Appleton of Hartford’s Appleton & Appleton. Though the wait for a jury trial in Hartford is shorter than it was — it’s currently 16 months upon the completion of pleadings, according to Langenbach — any effort that will help push cases along is a coup for plaintiffs, Appleton said. Fast-track cases in Middlesex, added Robert I. Reardon Jr. of the Reardon Law Firm in New London, Conn., are much less likely to be delayed by a defendant’s objections to interrogatories and other similar pleadings. As for other judicial districts, those in New Haven and the Stamford/Norwalk area are currently tied for having the longest waits — 25 months — for a jury trial, said Langenbach. But should the fast-track program work well in Hartford, it’s possible it will be adopted in some of the state’s other busiest courts, he said.

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