NJ Chief Justice Reveals Panel To Speed Up Civil Actions

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Law360, New York (June 12, 2013, 6:52 PM ET) — New Jersey Supreme Court Chief Justice Stuart Rabner on Wednesday unveiled a 34-member committee of judges and attorneys from some of the state’s most prominent firms that will explore ways to make civil lawsuits in the state less time-consuming.

Rabner formally announced the formation of the Supreme Court Advisory Committee on Expedited Civil Actions, which will be co-chaired by Camden Vicinage Assignment Judge Faustino J. Fernandez-Vina and attorney Thomas R. Curtin, a founding member of New Jersey law firm Graham Curtin.

“Our goal is to achieve speedier justice at a lower cost without sacrificing due process and fairness to litigants,” Rabner said in a statement.
The committee will advise the state Supreme Court on the types of cases that may be appropriate for an expedited civil process, pretrial procedures and trial practices to speed up civil actions, and incentives for plaintiff and defense attorneys to actually use the program, according to Rabner. The panel will also mull what sort of case management and court rule changes could be necessary.

The committee includes current and retired judges and attorneys from both sides of the courtroom.

Some of the members are Essex County Superior Court Judge Dennis F. Carey; Brown & Connery LLP partner William M. Tambussi; Christine A. Amalfe, who is chair of the employment and labor law department at Gibbons PC; Kenneth G. Andres Jr. of the medical malpractice and personal injury firm Andres & Berger PC; state Appellate Division Judge Paulette Sapp-Peterson; and Jeffrey J. Greenbaum, who chairs the class action practice group at Sills Cummis & Gross PC.
Rabner announced plans for the committee during the state bar association’s convention in May, but the panel’s roster beyond Fernandez-Vina and Curtin was unknown at the time.
“We need to improve the pretrial process in a way that enables citizens to have their day in court and proceed to trial more promptly, that makes litigation more affordable and reduces the cost of discovery, and that enables judges to oversee cases more effectively and expeditiously at a time of strained resources,” Rabner said during a speech at the convention.
Courts nationwide have experimented with new rules and procedures to address the complexity and cost of pretrial proceedings, according to Rabner. For example, a Colorado pilot program that covers a range of civil cases with claims of $100,000 or less provides for automatic disclosures three weeks after complaints and answers, a single judge to oversee the case for all purposes, limits on expert reports and discovery, and early dates for motions and trials, he said.
Other projects limit interrogatories, requests for production and admissions, and the depositions for each party, while others cap expert testimony, according to Rabner. He also noted limits on the overall length of trials and their component parts.
“Some approaches may seem far-fetched at first blush, others a welcome change,” Rabner told attorneys. “I mention them for one reason only: to stimulate discussion about how we might improve the civil justice process in a way that makes sense for lawyers and litigants in New Jersey.”

Other members of the committee are Judge Allison Accurso, Judge Peter F. Bariso Jr., Cynthia J. Birkitt, Judge Frank A. Buczynski Jr., retired Judge John J. Coyle, Michael Critchley, Judge Heidi Willis Currier, Kelly R. Dalmass, Russell Deyo, Judge David H. Ironson, John E. Keefe Jr., Philip J. Kirchner, Eric Kuper, Michael J. Marone, Judge Eugene J. McCaffrey Jr., Maryann O’Donnell McCoy, Judge Ann McDonnell, William Mergner, Mollie K. O’Brien, Judge Robert L. Polifroni, L. Patricia Sampoli, John J. Sarno, Judge Deborah Silverman Katz, Jeffrey D. Smith, Stephen Weinstein and retired Judge Alvin Weiss.
–Editing by Elizabeth Bowen.