Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Calendaring in the Courts

By John DiMotto

One of the most difficult tasks for any judge is figuring out how to calendar efficiently. This entails utilizing one's "internal clock" to estimate how long each case is going to take and to use our internal "crystal ball" to figure out what cases will go to trial.

People might think that when a lawyer asks that his/her case be set for a jury trial that it is a "done deal" that the case will in fact be tried before a jury. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Some statistics reveal that upwards of 95% of all cases settle. Figuring out that elusive 5% is the challenge.

A typical Monday in Civil/Probate court involves having one jury set in the afternoon. We do not "stack cases" (set more than one on any given day) so that if the case does go forward it will not be pre-empted by another case. However, if the case goes forward then all of the other cases set that week will take a back seat to the jury - although each one must be addressed in some fashion. I normally set aside a half hour in the morning and a half hour in the afternoon to deal with those other cases. Many of them are scheduling conferences or pretrials that do not take a long time,. However, I do have contested guardianship matters that have time constraints and have to be dealt with. Depending on the issue, it may extend the half hour. In essence, when I am setting these other cases, I first look to the Monday jury to figure out how "firm" that case is and schedule a little lighter the rest of the week if it is a jury likely to go. If that "firm" jury does end up settling, this does not mean that I have an easy week. It just means that I have a little more time to spend on each case and time to work up cases for the next week. (I try to be prepared at least one and sometimes two weeks into the future.)

Another name for a judge could be "juggler" since we have to keep a lot of cases going at the same time. Having a lack of work is never a problem. For every case that resolves, there are many more in line to be addressed.

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