Letter To The Editor: A Lawyer-Driven Civil System Is Flawed

February 24, 2012

By Robert N. Hunn

This article originally appeared as a Letter to the Editor in the Legal Intelligencer on February 24, 2012.

I read with interest the Feb. 14 article, “New Montco President Judge Defends Lawyer-Driven Civil System.” Both President Judge William J. Furber Jr. and Judge Thomas M. Del Ricci appear to believe that cases languish in Montgomery County because outside lawyers don’t understand the system.

I respect Judge Furber and Judge Del Ricci, but I disagree. A lawyer-driven civil system is flawed because it is based on the assumption that both lawyers are “driven” to move a case efficiently toward trial or that a 212 conference will result in a trial date. That has not been my overall experience in Montgomery County.

Let us be candid with each other. It is difficult to obtain defense counsel’s affirmative consent to a trial praecipe. This is not a knock on defense lawyers. It is not in an insurance company’s financial interest for a case to move swiftly to trial. On the flip side, a plaintiffs lawyer could realize, after filing suit, that there is little chance of a plaintiffs verdict and allow the case to languish in hopes of a small settlement at some unknown point in the future.

When a 212 conference is requested, several months typically pass before the conference occurs. Often, a lawyer will use the conference to suddenly announce that he or she had additional discovery to perform or will be filing a dispositive motion. Rarely is the lawyer ever taken to task for not completing pretrial discovery or motion practice prior to the conference. The end result is that a trial is not scheduled requiring a second 212 conference in the future.

Civil justice systems that utilize court-mandated deadlines best serve the public by compelling both the plaintiff and defense lawyer to meet common goals: the discovery deadline and the trial date. The court must hold both parties accountable and require them to meet deadlines or suffer consequences where warranted. It is only when both parties have the same responsibilities within the system that cases will be driven efficiently toward resolution.