The default in our society for resolving disputes is litigation — filing a lawsuit in court. It beats dueling. Ask Alexander Hamilton how that worked out for him. Generally speaking, we do not put enough resources into running our court systems, but the administrators of the system do an admirable job managing the system to be efficient. That means they move the cases through the system while not sacrificing due process.
But we are now experiencing a significant series of delays in the state court system — especially in civil cases. Criminal defendants have a constitutional right to a speedy trial, so that’s where resources will be sent. So NJ civil trials will suffer for a few reasons.
First, COVID-19. The NJ state courts have basically been closed for trials since April 2020. That’s over a year as of the date of writing this. Over a year of cases backlogged. The anticipation is that in-person trials will restart in the next month or two. The court has been hearing motions and conducting other business. So some cases have moved, just not to trial.
Second, a shortage of judges. The governor and NJ senate have been slow to nominate and confirm vacancies to the bench. It’s gotten so bad that Chief Justice Rabner has publicly complained about it. Even when the courthouse doors reopen, there may not be enough judges to hold civil trials. Generally, the legislature adjourns after the budget is passed in late June. This is also an election year for the governor and the entire NJ legislature, so the legislature generally won’t meet again until after election day — except for emergent matters. I don’t know if a judge shortage counts as emergent. Plus judicial nominees usually have a senate committee hearing in addition to a final floor vote. That will take a lot of time to conduct for a lot of open positions. This translates into a lot of time off the campaign trail.
The NJ Law Journal also reports that these delays are creating problems between lawyers and their clients. That’s not helpful to anyone.
The reality is that your case likely isn’t going to trial anyhow. Statistically, around 1% of cases filed in civil part (cases with claims over $15,000) are resolved via a trial. Most cases settle. I suspect judges will be even more
persuasive, er, heavy-handed in settlement conferences to get the backlog and delays resolved.
Consider mediation. Mediators are generally not as heavy-handed as judges are in settlement conferences. We tend to care about our clients more since we’re interested in getting your needs satisfied, not just clearing a case from the docket. As I said previously, your case is unlikely to go to trial. Why wait 2-3 years to settle on the courthouse steps (with all the costs to get to that point) when you can get into mediation and try to settle it here and now? You don’t need your lawsuit hanging over your head for years.
My settlement rate for both NJ Superior Court cases and EEOC cases is about 70%. Contact me and let’s get the mediation started.