National Center for State Courts | September 2014
Annually, the National Center for State Courts presents the William H. Rehnquist Award at a special dinner ceremony in the rotunda of the U.S. Supreme Court Building hosted by the Chief Justice of the United States John J. Roberts. The award honors a state jurist who demonstrates outstanding qualities of judicial excellence. This year’s recipient is Kansas Court of Appeals Judge Steve Leben. NCMC members have been among past recipients, including Judges B. Michael Dann (Phoenix) and Kevin Burke (Minneapolis).
In the afternoon, prior to the ceremony, guests are invited to attend a special Justice Roundtable discussion focused on a current emerging or problem issue in the state courts. This year’s Justice Roundtable, held at the Willard Intercontinental Hotel in Washington DC, focuses on needed Civil Justice Improvements for the 21st Century.
A special Committee on Civil Justice Improvements created by Conference of Chief Justices will engage in a dialog with invited jurists, lawyers and court professionals about their views, based upon past experience, regarding the attributes of a well-run civil court system – one that delivers civil justice in less time, for less expense, with admirable efficiency, and in a manner that enhances public confidence in the courts. NCMC Board Chair Frederick Horn, NCMC President Dennis Smith, and NCMC Executive Director Gordon Griller have been asked to make comments at the Roundtable on behalf of the nation’s metro courts.
Many state courts have undertaken to address civil litigation reform through special rules, guidelines, and best practices derived from state pilot projects, other applicable research, and stakeholder input. The CJI Committee is investigating these and other topics such as innovative approaches to docket and case management; variations in pleading standards depending on types of case; changes in discovery procedures (including proportionality, mandatory disclosure, and resolution of discovery disputes), summary judgments, and other dispositive motions; and issues related to electronically stored information in civil litigation.
Across the nation, a growing chorus of judges, lawyers, business leaders, and consumer advocates are calling for reforms to the American civil justice system. Civil litigation, they argue, is too time-consuming, too expensive, and too unpredictable. Both plaintiffs and defendants claim they are forced to settle cases because the cost of pursuing litigation through trial often outweighs settlement costs. For some litigants, the costs of initiating litigation are so high that they are effectively excluded from the civil justice system entirely. Many plaintiffs forego filing claims and defendants accept a default judgment rather than respond to a complaint.
Recent surveys of judges and lawyers have identified discovery as a frequent source of unnecessary cost and delay. Other factors perceived to be driving up costs are excessively adversarial relationships between opposing counsel, too little pretrial supervision by judges, and issues related to the discovery of electronically stored information. To address these concerns, many state urban courts have begun to develop and implement civil justice initiatives intended to streamline the litigation process, to minimize the potential for discovery disputes, and to expedite the fair resolution of civil cases. Judges Horn and Smith, along with Mr. Griller will share their views and those of the National Conference of Metro Courts.