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November 2006

November 8, 2006

Litigation Section News

 

Reports on the Courts

    Over the last several months, representatives from the state and federal courts in Colorado have been guests at the Litigation Section Council meetings and have shared their thoughts on the current state of the court systems.  The guests have included Lewis Babcock, Chief Judge of the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado; Mary Mullarkey, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Colorado; and Gerald Marroney, Colorado State Court Administrator.  The meetings provided some good information which the Council thought was worth sharing with members of the Litigation Section.


    At the April meeting of the Litigation Section Council, Chief Judge Babcock shared the following comments:

•    Overall, the Federal Courts in the District of Colorado and its administrative staff are in good shape, especially when compared to the challenges faced by the state court system with respect to facilities and budget constraints.

•    The Roger’s courthouse renovation project is ongoing and extensive.

•    The Federal District, including the bankruptcy court, is well-staffed.  Currently, there are seven Article III judges, five full-time magistrates and two part-time magistrates on the Western Slope (Grand Junction and Durango).  Two judges are eligible to take senior status in 2008.

•    The budget for the Federal District is funded by Congress similar to funding of a federal agency, even though the judiciary is a separate branch of the government.  The Colorado District pays approximately             24 % of its budget in rent to the GSA.

•    The mandatory Case Management Filing System is working well and upgrades are coming soon.  Courtroom technology and security are also working well.

•    Filings in 2006 are down slightly from the previous year.  Bankruptcy filings were huge prior to the recent deadline, but have reduced significantly since the deadline.  Thirty percent of filings in Federal Court are pro se filings by prisoners.

•    The average timeframe for a civil case to be completed is 12-14 months.

•    The quality of attorneys appearing in federal court is superb, but the litigation skills of most attorneys are declining due to the reduced number of trials.  The Judge encouraged less-experienced attorneys to take advantage of the supervisory/mentoring program offered in the federal court. 

At the Council’s June meeting, Chief Justice Mullarkey shared similar information about the state court system which practitioners may find interesting:

•    She and the other justices and judges have talking points to speak with rotaries and other groups concerning the benefits of the merit selection system.  Unfortunately, however, it is difficult to find a forum for reaching adults.  Justice Hobbs is spear-heading the effort to spread the word about the merit selection system and can be contacted with any leads for speaking engagements to civic groups.

•    During the budget downturn and ensuing budge cuts, judicial staff was cut by 13%.  These positions have now been restored; however, in the interim, caseloads are 10% higher than they were at the time of the cuts.  There are 31 new staff positions; they are currently in the process of allocating the positions among the judicial districts. 

•    750,000 new cases were filed last year.  Due to the economic downturn, there has been an upswing in foreclosures and debt-related cases.  Denver criminal filings are up significantly in the past two years; juvenile filings are down.  Meth cases are contributing significantly, with a concomitant number of D & N cases.

•    The additional six district court judges approved in 2001 have finally been added, including a new Court of Appeals panel.  Each new district court judge is allocated four staff people and each new court of appeals judge is allocated three staff people.  These additions, together with the 31 new staff positions, will get the judiciary to within 89% of where they need to be for staffing.

•    The Court of Appeals needs three more panels over the next few years.  The appellate judges have a crushing burden of authoring 80-90 opinions each year.  The caseload will not lessen with the addition of a new panel, but will keep the backlog from worsening.

•    The Judiciary is in the planning stages of a new building in conjunction with the history museum.  The planning stage will focus on how to fund the building and to develop the site.  In the meantime, they are completely out of room at the Court of Appeals.  The appellate staff is therefore moving to leased space in the Chancery Building to make room for the new appellate panel. 
 
•    The Judiciary’s outreach effort includes conducting oral arguments at high schools.  One in Durango was particularly successful. 

•    The judiciary is experiencing a fairly substantial turnover in judges.  Supreme Court justices have to chair nominating committee meetings; with the volume of turnover, this is becoming burdensome.

•    The mentoring system is struggling, as there are not enough judges with experience to mentor the volume of new judges. 

•    Regarding senior judges, they are experimenting with decentralizing the process of assigning senior judges in order to increase efficiency.  The problem encountered with the system is that people do not want to travel.

•    Denver’s criminal court building will be occupied in 2009.  Denver district court will have to decide how they are going to split the judges and the clerk’s office between the two buildings.

Gerald Marroney attended the most recent Council meeting in October, at which time he shared the following insights:

•    In the past fiscal year, the Judicial Branch has filled the final allotment of six district court judges that the state legislature approved in 2001.  Additionally, the Branch added four county court judges, and the first new panel of three Colorado Court of Appeals judges since 1988. 

•    The Branch has submitted to the Joint Budget Committee a five year plan that includes a request for six additional Colorado Court of Appeals judges, forty-eight district court judges, and fourteen county court judges.  District Court caseload is currently rising at a rate of four percent a year.  If this request is approved, funded, and new judges installed within five years, then the allotment of new judges will allow the state to meet staffing needs for the currently projected caseload.  The request for additional judges is accompanied by a request for increased staffing to address the support needs for the new members of the bench.

•    The Branch has developed metrics to measure caseload and workload more generally, but is now interested in developing new standards to address the quality of services provided to attorneys and parties who work with the Branch, and the detrimental effects of delays in processing cases that has resulted from understaffing.

•    The state legislature has enacted requirements for periodic review and disposition in numerous types of cases.  As a result, civil and certain types of domestic relations cases have encountered additional delays in processing and disposition.  The Branch seeks input from attorneys regarding the quality and timeliness of disposition of civil cases.

•    The Branch is studying the possibility of proposing new facilities to house the appellate courts and state court administration in Denver.  At present, the State Judicial Building is inadequate to the needs of a growing Colorado Court of Appeals, much less other state offices of the Branch.  As a result, court staff attorneys are officed in a different building, as is the state administrative staff.  The Branch may propose a new judicial building to house the Colorado Supreme Court, the Colorado Court of Appeals, all of the central administrative staff of the Judicial Branch, as well as the appellate divisions of the Attorney General’s and Public Defender’s offices.

•    At the direction of Chief Justice Mullarkey , the Branch is in the process of developing new procedures for review of district court magistrates.

•    The judicial conference has received funding for this year after having been cut out of prior budgets, but is now down from two and a half days to one and a half days in length.  Judicial training in the state consists of three primary components:  new judges school for incoming judges; advanced judges school; and, the annual judicial conference.  Additionally, the Branch has contracted with West to provide homestudy and online CLE for the state’s judges.  And, outside funding provides additional training for family court judges.

VOTE NO ON 40 CAMPAIGN

    The Litigation Section Council voted unanimously a few months ago to contribute to the CBA’s efforts to oppose Amendment 40.  To date, the Council’s grant is part of $1.2 million total that has been collected to support the campaign.  We are pleased that the amendment was defeated.

LITIGATION BOOTCAMP PROGRAM:

The inaugural Litigation Bootcamp program, which was a joint effort between the Litigation Section and CBA-CLE to create a litigation basics seminar aimed at attorneys new to the litigation arena, has now been completed.  According to evaluations from the participants, those who attended were generally very pleased with the content of the presentations, but some thought that written materials could be improved.  The average age of participants in the series was thirty nine to forty years old, with eight to ten years of experience in practice.  More solo or small-firm practitioners participated than any other group.

The Litigation Section Council will be working with CBA-CLE to improve the program for a second run in 2008.  In the meantime, CBA-CLE aims to offer a trial skills series in 2007, which would likely consist of lectures in the morning session and hands-on, practical instruction in the afternoon.  The long-term goal would be to offer each of the programs in alternating years.  The Litigation Council will continue to work with CBA-CLE on these efforts and will report on them further in the future.  In the meantime, if you are interested in being part of the committee working on the program, please contact Carol Mullins 303-824-5354 at the CBA-CLE office.

Volunteers Still Needed for Office of Attorney Regulation

The Supreme Court Office of Attorney Regulation is in constant need of lawyers willing to serve as practice monitors, practice auditors, inventory counsel (when a lawyer is disabled or dies inventory counsel assists in reviewing and returning files to clients, etc.). Serving in such a capacity is on a pro bono or reduced fee basis. If you are willing to serve please contact John Gleason, Regulation Counsel, at 303-866-6444 or via email at john.gleason@arc.state.co.us.


Litigator’s Handbook

    Just another reminder that the Litigator’s Handbook, featuring summaries of the policies, procedures and background information of District Court judges throughout the state, is available on-line at http://www.cobar.org/litihandbook.  An introduction to the handbook was featured in an article written by Litigation Section Council Member Robert S. Anderson in the December 2003 issue of the Colorado Lawyer.  The Litigation Section Council is in the process of updating the handbook to provide more current information for the judges who participated previously as well as to add information for the many new judges who have taken the bench in recent years.  Stay tuned!


Leadership of the Litigation Section Council

    Peter Black of Grand Junction was elected to serve a second term as the 2006-2007 chair of the Litigation Section.  Joining him in the leadership of the Section are Alden Hill of Fort Collins as the Vice Chair, and Michael Chapman of Durango as the Council’s Secretary.  The governing Council generally meets the first Saturday morning of each month to conduct the business of the Litigation Section.  However, next month’s meeting is scheduled for Saturday, November 11, 2006 at 9:00 a.m. at the office of the Colorado Bar Association.