Tuesday, August 10, 2010

What To Do About Docket Creep?

I almost envy those folks who practice in jurisdictions with short statutes of limitations and fast-moving dockets. In my state, Connecticut, docket creep is the norm. You can't get some judges to act even by pleading with them. Cases linger seemingly forever.

I have a couple of federal civil rights actions on the docket of one judge in particular. He's a lifetime appointee with decidedly eccentric views of what is reasonable. A decade or so ago, I won an illegal search case in his courtroom. The jury awarded my client all of a dollar in damages, but I was entitled to attorney's fees. I submitted an application for about $5,700 for this very simple case.

The judge thought that was unreasonable, so he awarded a fee he thought consonant with the verdict: One-third the gross proceed of the litigation, or thirty-three cents. I am sure he thought it was funny. 

Only someone with lifetime employment could make such a ruling. 

I wrote the judge awhile back asking him to docket two of my cases for trial. They have been sitting for a long time with no activity of any sort. In one case, a defense motion for summary judgment has been denied; in another no motion was filed. The discovery deadlines have long since passed.

I was polite in my letter. My clients simply want their day in court. What am I supposed to tell them in their semi-annual calls? I've run out of excuses for a court that won't act.

I am beginning to wonder whether there is some deeper meaning to the judge's award of a thirty-three cent fee. Perhaps it wasn't malicious or twisted at all. Perhaps that is the judge's assessment of an honest day's work. It sure looks that way based on the court's inability to call my two cases.

I wonder if the judge will refund to taxpayers any salary he thinks he has taken but not earned.