I’ve toyed with the idea of a form letter along the following lines to be sent every six months to clients::
“Herewith a periodic report on the status of your case. We are ready for trial and have been for some time. We are awaiting assignment of the case. As we explained when suit commenced, long delays are typical in Connecticut, especially in the federal courts. We are powerless to compel the court to call you case any sooner. I am sorry.”
There is a thriving market on the criminal side of things in clients who believe that their lawyers are doing nothing because six, seven, eights months have passed and they are still not called to trial. When you explain to them that they aren’t even eligible for a speedy trial at this point, that not enough time has passed, they seem stunned: An eight month or a one year delay is speedy? We send almost all of these potential clients back to their original lawyer: We can’t make ice melt any faster than the next guy.
I want to blame the glacial pace of justice in Connecticut on our manner of picking jurors: individual questioning of each potential juror outside the presence of all other jurors makes it common for jury selection to take longer than the presentation of evidence. But that is only part of the problem. The federal courts, where group voir dire is the norm, also move at a snail’s pace. I think we’re just slow as a molasses and proud of it in this state.
Consider the following: I have two civil cases that have been ready for trial on the docket of one federal judge. They’ve been ready for trial for a long, long time. In one case, the plaintiff withstood summary judgment; in the other case, the defendant filed no motion. Discovery has been closed for quite some time. My clients want to know when their cases will be tried.
I get defensive when such a question is asked of me. I am an officer of the court. I want the system to work. But I tell clients the truth: I have no idea. It could be another year or more before anything happens. Some clients get angry.
So I wrote a letter to the judge requesting action, with a copy certified to my adversaries, of course. I was hardly surprised to receive no response to my letter. It has fallen into the same black hole my cases have tumbled into; perhaps the judge has been swallowed whole himself.
This is the same judge, mind you, who many years ago awarded me a paltry attorney’s fee in a federal civil rights case. My client prevailed at trial in a case claiming a police officer illegally searched his car. We vindicated the Fourth Amendment’s right to free from illegal searches and seizures. But the jury did not like the client or me, and awarded only one dollar. I requested attorney’s fees of about $5,700. The judge gave me thirty-three cents, one-third of the award. I’ll bet he thought that was funny. About ten cents a day for my efforts was a reasonable fee for the work of a private attorney general.
I suppose that the world simply looks different once you secure the Zen-like position of lifetime employment. Imagine a lifetime of income in exchange for doing as much or as little as you please.
But watching my cases linger on justice’s vine has me wondering whether ten cents a day is too great a rate of compensation for some judges. What will I tell my client’s about their cases next year at this time?
Reprinted courtesy of the Connecticut Law Tribune.