John Greacen and Pamela Gagel have reported here on using court-convened initial status conferences for managing domestic relations cases. The status conferences enabled triage and the shepherding of pro se litigants via differential case management. Greacen and Gagel give subtle insights at a time when the ATJ community looks to simplify civil procedure for self-represented litigants.
The experiment began over a decade ago. Five “pilot study” judges committed to proactive case management in a randomized comparison with five “control courts.” These exercised the “laissez faire” docket management in vogue when the study commenced. The pilot study judges moved their cases faster, with fewer motions and fewer temporary orders hearings. However, intense case management increased court appearances, and perversely reduced out of court settlement, because settlement occurred after early court intervention. To the investigators’ surprise, discovery issues featured in fewer than 10% of domestic cases.
With ten years’ hindsight, the study provides no support for the idea that better pre-decree case management would yield reduced post-decree activity. Approximately 75% of cases never came back to court in the ensuing decade, even when they involved young children. Families did not bring justiciable post-decree problems back to court, even though their children’s support and parenting needs likely changed over the decade. One wonders, were litigants so satisfied, or so traumatized that they did not return in either pilot or control cases?
Finally, active case management seems to have helped with represented, rather than pro se litigants. Settlement rates increased among represented parties, although cases with counsel tended to remain the most litigated, even post-decree. This deserves more than academic interest, because this case management style became the rule in Colorado (C.R.C.P Rule 16.2). There is a wealth of valuable detail in the full report here.
Simon Mole, Magistrate in the 17th Judicial District, State of Colorado firstname.lastname@example.org