At the start of the COVID-19 crisis, I wrote an article about how judges and court officials are some of the unsung heroes of the pandemic. Many judges and court officials have had to appear in person to do their job during each part of the pandemic, as some essential judicial functions are difficult to perform remotely. As a result of the judiciary’s public role, many judges and court officials have been exposed to shockingly high rates of COVID-19, and numerous judges and court officials have died from COVID-19. With numerous legal proceedings, hearings and other judicial matters delayed during the pandemic, judicial authorities in many jurisdictions are currently facing a work backlog. In addition, states have had to cut judicial resources to cover budget constraints, making the administration of justice more difficult in the current environment. As a result, lawyers should strive to minimize the burden on the judiciary for the remainder of the pandemic, so that judicial resources can be devoted to essential matters that otherwise cannot be resolved.
Resolve cases if possible
The sheer volume of litigation in many jurisdictions has a significant impact on the administration of justice. With fewer staff employed in many judicial systems due to budget constraints related to COVID-19, there are currently a large number of pending litigation in many jurisdictions with fewer judges and support staff to monitor cases. Furthermore – and this is second hand knowledge (I’d love to hear from judges for some insight into resource allocation) – jurisdictions seem to prioritize criminal cases over civil cases to ensure criminal defendants get a speedy trial and get faster solutions for their cases.
Settlement of cases is often desirable for many types of matters because litigation is expensive and it often makes sense to resolve a claim through settlement rather than spending time and resources resolving litigation. However, the parties often do not see the assessment of a case on an equal footing or believe that they may get more money back if the case lasts longer. However, in order to clear as many open questions as possible, attorneys should do everything they can to resolve cases, beyond what is done under normal circumstances. These efforts will help conserve judicial resources for matters that go beyond a voluntary resolution.
Less judicial intervention
Motions and other legal inquiries can be a bit onerous for judges and their staff. In deciding on motions, the courts must read the motions, possibly hear oral submissions, and then prepare a resolution to settle a dispute. Despite these burdens, we all know lawyers who routinely go to court when a case arises over investigative or other matters.
Even so, in the current environment, lawyers should think more carefully about whether or not a matter needs to be resolved through judicial intervention. Lawyers should be more amenable to resolving disputes without filing motions and burdening courts. For example, earlier in the pandemic, I requested an additional deposit of a party because the original MP did not have information on an area of interest. Obviously, my opponent did not want to produce another depositor. Although I thought I was entitled to an additional deposit, I consented to resolve the dispute by obtaining information through written questioning. That way I was able to get the information I needed without doing a full dump, which is often a challenge in the current environment. More importantly, we didn’t have to burden the court with settling our dispute and could find a solution that didn’t require judicial intervention.
Include changed procedures
The courts were quick to put in place new procedures to address the challenges posed by COVID-19. For example, I’ve seen that some courts use certain scheduling apps to coordinate remote compliance conferences, as such conferences often need to be held virtually in the current environment and such apps allow easy scheduling. Other courts have also set up new email addresses to receive notifications of legal matters. In addition, numerous courts have relaxed courtesy copy procedures, with court staff often not being in chambers to receive courtesy copies. The courts have also put in place dedicated filing systems and other methods to manage the judiciary in line with the ongoing public health crisis.
I’ve heard quite a bit from attorneys about the slew of new lawsuits passed by various courts to address the challenges posed by COVID-19. However, attorneys need a better understanding of how courts are trying to do business in unprecedented conditions and may have an imperfect system in place. In any event, attorneys should do everything possible to familiarize themselves with the new procedures of the courts in which they operate and to follow new procedures to make the courts easier to operate.
Overall, judges and other court officials have acted admirably during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and continued to administer the judiciary in unprecedented conditions. Recognizing the challenges faced by the judicial system, lawyers should try to minimize the burden on the courts by solving the matter themselves and putting procedures in place to meet the current conditions.
Jordan Rothman is a partner at Rothman Law Firm, a full-service law firm in New York and New Jersey. He is also the founder of Student Debt Diaries, a website that discusses how he paid off his student loan. You can contact Jordan by email at [email protected]