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Contact: Eileen Fox

In an effort to address the present supreme court backlog, the justices have been examining the operation of the court, case management and the sufficiency and use of resources.

Several proposals for improving the processing of cases without sacrificing quality are being considered by the court. One of the ideas which the court plans to institute on a trial basis is an expedited one-day oral argument each month which will be designated, "The Second Thursday Docket."

The first Second Thursday Docket will be on December 14, 2000. These initial cases have been scheduled with the consent of all parties. It is expected this new docket will contain cases in which a full opinion may not be necessary and where resolution of the dispute between the parties is paramount. The docket will include cases identified by the court in which error or abuse of discretion has been alleged in an area where the law is settled, where there is a question of the sufficiency of the evidence and other cases the court finds to be appropriate.

From the five justices, ten separate panels of three justices each will be created. The panels will be selected randomly to sit at the Second Thursday arguments each month.

If the court can schedule ten to fifteen cases a month on this docket, it should be able to impact the backlog significantly.

At oral argument, each side will be given five minutes, uninterrupted by questioning, to make its presentation. Any questions the judges have will be asked at the end of the five minutes. Following the arguments, the justices will issue an order deciding the case, including reasons for the decision. It is hoped the decision will be provided to the parties within three weeks of argument.

If the justices are not unanimous in their decision or if the panel of three believes for any reason that the case should be presented to all the justices, the case will be referred to the full court. The court will then decide whether to reschedule the case for oral argument or to have the justices who did not sit review the briefs and listen to the tapes after which a decision of the full court will be rendered.

As the court screens its appeals from this point, it will attempt to identify those cases which may be appropriate for this expedited docket. It is important for litigants and the public to know that placing a case on the expedited docket does not mean that the justices attach less importance to the issues or that the issues will not be fully considered. The purpose of the docket is to provide a speedier, more efficient resolution of those disputes which lend themselves to an expedited process. Without such a process those cases would have to wait to be reached in the order in which they were filed.

Because the Second Thursday Docket is being implemented on a trial basis, attorneys and litigants will have the opportunity to evaluate the process and to provide suggestions for improvements by writing to Associate Justice Joseph Nadeau or Clerk of Court, Howard Zibel, who will be supervising the docket. Anyone who has the consent of all parties may request placement of their case on this docket and the request in all likelihood will be granted.

The justices are hopeful that, together with internal changes being considered in the processing of cases, the Second Thursday Docket will improve overall case management and provide many litigants with a speedier result while allowing additional time for handling more complicated cases.