The Judicial Branch has had many successes this past year in no small part due to the dedication and input of the bar, which has played a major role in the Branch’s efforts to enhance our state court system.
We know that attorneys who deal with the courts every day have insights and suggestions for improvement that may not necessarily be apparent on the other side of the bench. For that reason, we spent quite a bit of time during 2013 seeking your input, and we plan on continuing this practice in 2014.
One such example where your input was critical was our decision to proceed with individual calendaring, where one judge is assigned to certain civil non-family cases from start to finish. We started with a pilot program in the Waterbury Judicial District in January 2013 for civil non-family cases filed on or after Jan. 2, 2013, except those matters involving property, contract collections, administrative appeals, eminent domain and receivership. We currently have three individual calendaring judges in Waterbury, and 1,154 cases are pending. Our goal is to implement the individual calendaring program statewide within approximately two years, after we have determined how best to ensure the program is effective and works smoothly.
We fully expect that the average disposition time of civil cases will decrease. We also anticipate that the program will address other areas of concern to you, judges, and litigants, including the spiraling cost of litigation, the predictability of scheduling and the consistency of the handling of a case from initiation to resolution by one judge. In short, individual calendaring is the sort of proactive approach that you have a right to expect from your state court system in the 21st century.
ADR In Courts
Another area of focus involves Judicial-Alternative Dispute Resolution (J-ADR) for civil non-family cases. As a result of the changes we have recently made, parties may now directly schedule a meeting with a judge or they may complete and e-file a court form that is available online.
Currently, there are 59 judges available to preside over these events, and there have been 614 scheduled since Jan. 1, 2013. The feedback from the bar has been very positive. We are also discussing whether we should have some sort of settlement center where, at the appropriate time, cases can go to experienced and effective settlement judges.
You should also be aware that we’re now moving into the second phase of the strategic plan and our goals remain ambitious. To start with, we will continue focusing on the five original outcome goals of Phase 1: increasing access to justice; responding to changing demographics; improving the delivery of services; collaborating with stakeholders from within and outside the Judicial Branch; and ensuring accountability. However, the new plan will also rely on new technology in addressing ever-increasing consumer demands.
Additionally, unlike the first phase, where we looked mainly outward, we plan to focus on our judges and staff – in other words, our internal “human capital.” The beauty of such an initiative, of course, is that it doesn’t only benefit the Judicial Branch—it impacts you directly as well.
We have begun that process through our “Pillars of Service Excellence” program of which 1,600 staff members have, through “Leading the Way” and related workshops, already received training on professionalism in the workplace, treating people fairly and with respect, and on maintaining integrity in their dealings with others. We will also review and develop new ways to provide our judges with the best research tools, and determine how to continue to enhance their professional development and provide them with the line staff they need to do their job.
In the meantime, please continue to think about solutions to these issues: What can be done to make sure jury trials do not continue to decrease in number? How do we best accommodate the changing demographics of court users, including the increase in self-represented parties? How do we ensure that land use and business disputes are resolved in a timely and cost-efficient manner? And how can we help the bar make sure that you remain relevant when more and more people claim they either can’t afford or don’t see the value in paying lawyers’ fees?
All of the questions that I raised are complex, and it is imperative to have the bar’s input as we move forward. For that reason, we will continue our outreach to you, and I can assure you that we are listening to you and that your thoughts on these matters are very important to us.•