* * Justice (if there is any) Delayed Is Justice Denied
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Los Angeles, California May 17, 2002Justice (if there is any) DelayedIs Justice DeniedFrom the Boston Globe Online - Nation WorldMay 5, 2002"US courts in Region are slow to rule"By Thanassis Cambanis, Globe StaffJohn Sterling, New Hampshire JAILer, jsterling@..., wrote to J.A.I.L. as follows:
Ron Loeber, New York Lt. JAILer-In-Chief, valortoo@..., was kind enough to open the attachment, and wrote: (Thank you Ron).I have opened the attachment and pasted it below for you. It is not new news to me. I've been waiting for 7 months for the US District Court in Northern New York to decide on another simple Motion to Dismiss by the County Sheriff.The name of the game they're playing is "Teach the Horse to Talk". You may remember the old parable about the guy who was caught fornicating with the King's wife. The King ordered the man's head be cut off as punishment. But the man convinced the King that if he postponed punishment for two years, he would teach the King's Horse to Talk. The King thought it would be wonderful to have the only talking horse in the kingdom, so he agreed. On the way out of the King's palace the man's friend asked him what he thought he was doing. No one can teach a horse to talk... not even in two years. The man replied it was possible that within two years the King would die... or he would die... or the horse would learn to talk.-Ron Loeber-US courts in Region are slow to ruleBy Thanassis Cambanis, Globe Staff, 5/5/2002
The gears of justice may grind slowly, but in almost none of the 94 federal district courts nationwide do they turn as leisurely as in the US District Court in Massachusetts.
Statistics from the Administrative Office of the US Courts show that the federal court in Massachusetts - which includes courts in Boston, Springfield, and Worcester - places dead last in the federal court system in the length of time it takes to resolve criminal cases and near the bottom in civil cases, whether through trial, settlements, or judgment.
''I find [my] cases languishing in the Federal Court despite my efforts,'' one frustrated lawyer with two federal cases in Massachusetts wrote earlier this year in a letter to Judge William G. Young, the chief of the Massachusetts district. The lawyer has written letters to the trial judges and called their clerks, with no result. ''I am beside myself as to what to do ... I certainly hope that your Court will not become the one to avoid rather than the venue of first resort.''Other lawyers say their clients' lives are put on hold by the court's slow pace. One plaintiff waited almost a decade for a judge to decide whether she had been discriminated against at a Veterans Administration hospital, a determination she needed in order to seek damages. A deaf mechanic has waited two years for a judge to rule on whether his discrimination suit against United Air Lines can proceed. And one lawyer fears a longtime client might die before seeing any of the $790,000 jury verdict he won almost two years ago, which hangs in limbo while a judge ponders posttrial motions.
''At some point somebody has to make a decision. These things shouldn't take this long,'' said Anil Madan, the lawyer representing the Veterans Administration doctor in her discrimination suit. Young, the chief judge, says he and his dozen fellow judges have made a conscious decision not to rush cases, believing that justice should not be hurried. ''In civil cases we have voted not to be a rocket docket,'' he said. ''We thought about it and we voted that as a court.''
Young points out that the federal court in Boston deals with more complex cases than other districts. Massachusetts, along with corporation-laden Delaware and the Northern District of California, home to Silicon Valley, is one of the top three courts in the nation for hearing patent and intellectual property cases that can take years to resolve, he said.
Even so, the federal courts in Massachusetts have one of the lowest caseloads in the country - so low, in fact, that its judges have helped busier districts as far away as Arizona clear their dockets by hearing motions via teleconferencing. In July, one Boston judge will spend the month in Puerto Rico to help clear that court's backlog, the worst in the country.
The US Constitution guarantees the right to a speedy trial in criminal cases, but there is no law that requires the settlement of civil suits within a fixed period of time.
The median length of time to resolve a federal civil lawsuit in Massachusetts that goes to trial is 28 months. The national median is about 21 months. In the western district of Wisconsin, it is just 8.7 months. Nationally, the average federal judge holds 20 trials a year, and terminates 444 cases. In federal court in Massachusetts, judges hear an average of 12 cases a year and terminate 267 cases.
The pace of federal justice in Massachusetts, Young says, reflects a court culture that prizes a quality outcome over speed and allows judges to grant continuances to lawyers, giving them time to fully flesh out arguments. But sometimes, the judges cause the delays, and they can be costly: hiking legal fees for litigants and raising the amount of interest owed by the losing side, since interest accrues on jury awards until they are finalized. For plaintiffs, particularly those involved in workplace discrimination cases or contested business deals, slow justice can cause emotional and financial strain.
A decade later, a plaintiff still waits
Dr. Chander Malhotra, a radiologist, filed a discrimination complaint against her supervisors at the Veterans Administration hospital in Providence, in June 1993, claiming she was passed over for promotion several times because she is an Indian woman. Malhotra alleged that a supervisor regularly left articles about poverty on her desk and suggesting she ''move back to India,'' and referred to her as ''that woman'' or ''that Indian.'' Malhotra, who lives in Mansfield, transferred from the Providence VA Hospital to the Jamaica Plain facility in 1989, where she alleged the pattern of discrimination continued, intensifying when her case went to trial before US District Judge Douglas P. Woodlock in 1996. She left her job that year.
The supervisor originally accused of harassment died before the case went to trial. Woodlock heard five days of testimony in the jury-waived trial in 1996, then called Malhotra's lawyer back four years later for elaboration. Last June, five years after testimony concluded, Woodlock released a terse, one-page order finding that Malhotra had established job discrimination based on her gender and ethnicity. He called the case ''very troubling.''
This spring, nine years after she first filed her discrimination complaint, Malhotra, now 58, and the assistant US attorneys representing the Veterans Administration agreed to enter mediation for a possible settlement in order to avoid another trial to establish damages. ''Her emotional state is not the greatest,'' said her lawyer, Anil Madan, who is still owed for the hundreds of hours he's worked on the case over the last seven years. ''It's always a hardship when you have to wait to get things resolved. My client is obviously anxious to get the case decided.''
Judges are barred from discussing pending cases, but Woodlock said there is ''a different culture in the conduct of litigation in Massachusetts.'' ''You're sitting alone, you can't call on colleagues,'' Woodlock said. ''You wrestle with this desire to get it right. It means maintaining certain craft values, it means writing opinions that may have some length to them. Getting too tied to statistics is dangerous because the quality of what you're producing can be diminished.''
At the heart of the debate: Is quick justice less?
Young says that, all else being equal, he prefers quick trials. He's known for running a tight courtroom, giving attorneys time limits for arguments and the questioning of witnesses, and holding them to it. Moving cases faster does save money and clear dockets, and lawyers and fellow judges say Young has pushed internally for maximum efficiency. But he doesn't believe in rushing if quality will be compromised, a feeling echoed by his colleagues.
Still, at least one study questions the assumption that more time assures higher quality. Terry Dunworth, now a vice president at Abt Associates in Boston, traveled around the country after the Civil Justice Reform Act of 1990 was passed to study the rate of civil justice for the Rand Corporation. ''There was no evidence that a fast district shortchanges justice,'' Dunworth said. His study found that fast districts held just as many hearings and pretrial events as slow districts. But the study didn't look at how many hours the district spent on matters or how many pages of decisions they wrote.
To measure the influence of decisions written in the Massachusetts district, Young commissioned a study of decisions by other federal district courts and appellate courts from 1993 to 1997. Massachusetts was cited 3,100 times, more than any other district court; the next closest was Rhode Island with 1,400 citations. In academic articles about the law during the same period Massachusetts decisions were cited 7,200 times, with Rhode Island again second with 2,200 citations.
Boston's bench is highly regarded in the legal world, Young notes with pride: ''This is a court that renders thoughtful decisions that are cited and quoted nationwide.''
$790,000 award has yet to yield a dime
But the delays that can result from legal scholarship can hurt small law firms. Attorney Louis N. Massery has been waiting almost 20 months after winning a jury verdict for $790,000 in an environmental case for the trial judge to rule on post-trial motions. In the meantime, the defendant in the case declared bankruptcy and could escape paying the settlement. ''It's a real problem,'' Massery said. ''It's a matter of service, of serving the community.''
His client, George Whitten, bought property in Somerville in 1986 from Tridex Corp., which had been ordered to clean up environmental contamination at the site. The plaintiff, now 78, eventually had to pay for the cleanup himself, at a cost of $800,000. ''My client's been waiting for the money for 16 years,'' Massery said.
Another plaintiff who has found himself waiting is John Sprague, a deaf airplane mechanic and licensed pilot, who sued United Air Lines in 1998 after it rescinded a job offer. He's still waiting for a ruling from US District Judge George A. O'Toole Jr., who presided over a 13-day bench trial in July 2000.
Just last month, the court invited the chief judge from the Northern District of Illinois to discuss his case management strategies, and Boston's bench is looking for ways to increase efficiency. One idea being considered is to designate a pool of trial judges who could pick up cases from colleagues with crowded dockets.
Yet Young insists speed isn't his first priority. ''Fastest, what does that mean? How does that affect justice?'' he said. ''If we thought we should be doing something different in this district, we would do it.''Thanassis Cambanis can be reached at tcambanis@.globe.comThe judge states above ''If we thought we should be doing something different in this district, we would do it.''It has been said "Justice delayed is justice denied." J.A.I.L. provides in ¶(c) "... no immunity shielding a judge shall be construed to extend to any ... blocking of a lawful conclusion of a case,..." and the term "blocking" is defined in ¶(b)1 as "any act that impedes the lawful conclusion of a case, to include unreasonable delay...."The question of "unreasonable delay" in concluding a case is a factual question to be decided by a jury, and not left up to the judge's "thinking."If judges routinely thwart the law, they will certainly thwart reasonable action.J.A.I.L. is an acronym for Judicial Accountability Initiative Law
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