Monday, January 13, 2014

The Docket Control Experiment

As most attorneys who practice in the Harris County Criminal Justice Center know, several of the District Courts initiated a pilot program last fall designed to reduce the amount of settings each case had within a court.  The 177th, 178th, 179th, 230th, 248th and 351st District Courts initially agreed to try the program.

The idea behind the program was that settings would be less frequent and designed to accomplish more than just a monthly check in.  The settings would also be more regimented and less flexible than the status quo most attorneys were used to.

After several months, the reviews of the program, thus far, have been mixed (to put it mildly).

The Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association is currently seeking input on what all attorneys see as the Pros and Cons of the pilot program, and HCCLA's President Todd Dupont (of the Louisiana Duponts) has asked me to help gather this input.

I'd like to hear your input, whether you are a defense attorney or a prosecutor.  I don't care if you want to e-mail off list or post your thoughts here in the comments.  I also don't care if you want to sign your name to the input or remain anonymous.  We are looking for concrete examples of things that work, don't work, or could be improved upon.

Your assistance would be appreciated.


Anonymous said...

As a defense attorney, from my perspective the new system has not done any good.

To get the caveats out of the way, I have not seen docket numbers so I don't know if they have gone down any. I think in some courts they have. I also don't know how beneficial the extra "office days" have been for the ADAs. I do know that, despite this extra time, some to do's still are not getting done.

For defense attorneys, our court days in the DCMS courts are not pleasant. We enter a courtroom totally packed with people. Defendants and attorneys are crowded together with the prosecutors and staff. There is no place to put your briefcase and barely any air to breath. The prosecutors are harried, with a dozen people pulling them in different directions. They don't have time to read over or discuss your case, and if you have a complicated issue, you might as well give it up, reset the case, and try to sort it out by email or phone. If you have a plea, go ahead and do the papers yourself because the DAs are too busy. If you need to see the judge, get in line -- I've seen 20-30 attorneys in line to speak to the judge. Same situation with the coordinator.

These "bottlenecks" in the system are the problem. If you docket 200 cases on s single day, and there are 180 minutes in a morning, then that means you have less than 1 minute for each one. There is still only one judge, one coordinator, one CLO, and 3 ADAs. Only so much can be accomplished.

I think it is possible that this system might be successful with 2 or 3 docket days per week. There is plenty of "slack" in the current docket and unnecessary down time. But putting 150-250 cases on a docket and expecting to do justice to each of them is really asking a bit much.

Lee said...

Is police arresting less a solution?

Anonymous said...

You'll never get everyone to be happy with any system. There will always be people who vehemently oppose things.

My thoughts:

ADAs should do their jobs and know their cases before each setting.

Defense lawyers shouldn't take on more cases than those in which they can effectively represent their clients. (This is a HUGE problem.)

Defense lawyers should NEVER ask for a reset just to keep their client on the hook and paying their attorney's fees. It's unethical and immoral.

Other than that, being a lawyer has certain drawbacks. Grow a pair, titty babies.

Anonymous said...

"ADAs should do their jobs and know their cases before each setting."

60+ cases each day of the week? Sounds easy enough.

Anonymous said...

9:16, with three lawyers to do the work and a boat load of staff in each court? Yeah, it would be easy for them to at least know the basic facts of the cases with a quick refresher from the file.

Or they can always go find a job with a lesser burden. I know you like to carry that cross around, but you can get out from under it now and then.

CJ DOWNEY said...

After observing various dockets over the course of the last 20 years it seems to me that the courts that achieve well balanced dockets do it two ways: First, by making both sides understand that after a few early unquestioned resets (that are quite lengthy and not the silly two and three week nonsense some Courts practice), the Court will expect you to be prepared to justify your need for additional resets. Second, by going to trial each week.

So I should preface my 'recommendations' on the new system by saying that I do not think Courts should adopt fixed docketing systems. We have enacted more 'policies' than the system should tolerate as it is. If it were up to me, I would scrap the entire idea of fixed docketing and encourage courts to follow the two steps I mentioned above. The criminal justice system requires flexibility because the participants in the system and the problems they are handling are unique. Rules and inflexible policies create robotic adherence and bad results. In the immortal words of JBH, no rule should produce a damned fool result. And enacting inflexible fixed docketing raises the likelihood of foolish results, like poorly investigated cases, forced pleas and overlooked defenses.

However, my recommendations for this new system, if it must exist:
1. Have docket more than one time per week.
2. Have more than one or two preliminary settings if the parties can articulate a reason.
3. Give the coordinators the power to allow more than one preliminary setting and also give them the power to allow lengthy resets.
4. Abandon this nonsense of resetting cases for anything less than one month. Forever. Give the parties 6 dates to choose from that are 4-6 weeks away.
5. Make all courts efiling accessible, encourage efiling, but allow clerks to take hard copies.
6. Don't involve the judge until the matter will be set for trial, then have the setting a true pretrial setting where the Court delivers rulings on motions usually reserved for the day of trial.
7. Go to trial and closely scrutinize requests for continuances to weed out nonsense.
8.Call attorneys the preceding week and tell them they're up. For real.
9. Hold DAs responsible for the timely production of records, statements, and evidence and exclude evidence when it is suddenly produced at the last minute.


Anonymous said...

It's hard to believe that so far this topic has drawn only 6 responses, since the general consensus is one of dismay and revulsion.
Docket day requires waiting in four lines, the coordinator line, the ADA line, the client line (assuming your client is in custody), and last and most time-consuming, the judge line.
Since one ADA is permanently planted at the bench as part of the judge line, that leaves two ADAs to cope with 60-100 files. Forget about having any meaningful discussion about your case -- realistically you will get a signature on your reset form and that's it.
And, while making no progress on your case, you can't go to other courts without losing your place in the four lines.