Stanley Thompson is the Director of the Case Management Conference Center, a post he has held for nine years. He served as Supervising Case Manager before becoming Director. He graciously agreed to update us on what’s new and important in this program.
The Case Management Conference is typically held 90 days after the initial filing. Conference memoranda are filed electronically five days or more prior to the conference.
The court presumptively assigns cases to one of three tracks. Cases on the expedited track are expected to come to trial approximately 13 months after the first filing. For standard track it’s 19 months and 25 months for cases assigned to the complex track. Cases that have four parties or less are assigned presumptively to the expedited track, depending on the case type. Standard track is for cases with more than four parties. Cases involving medical malpractice, legal malpractice, airplane aviation matters, construction contract cases and other involved litigation are assigned presumptively to the complex track.
General Court Regulation 95-1, in the Philadelphia Local Rules, sets forth the parameters and matrix for track assignment. The Scheduling Order sets forth the presumptive track. Thompson says, be prepared to “make your case” with supportive information at the conference if you think your case justifies more time.
The case manager reviews the docket to make sure that the complaint has been filed and served, that the case is in the right program and that the addresses of the parties are up to date. If the complaint hasn’t been filed and served, this is brought to the attention of the judicial team leader. The judge will issue a rule returnable requiring counsel to explain what is going on with the case. The goal is to make sure the case is moving along, “so that when trial comes around we’re ready to go.” “We don’t want cases lingering.”
Says Thompson, “We, in the past year, have implemented a couple of items to make the Center more efficient and to recommit ourselves to the objectives of case management.” Those objectives focus on efficiency in litigation and getting cases moving toward trial to avoid unnecessary delays. “Behind the electronic filing system we created an electronic confidential judge file… So when [counsel] file their memos they should file them through the electronic filing system and they should bring a copy [to the conference]. This makes it more efficient for our purposes internally with respect to how we transfer files.”
There will soon be a new sign in process. Currently lawyers come to the desk at Courtroom 613, City Hall and manually sign in. This fall the Center hopes to test a pilot program using electronic sign in at computer kiosks. Attorneys will identify their case and electronically check in. This will help with efficiency and save the court resources, such as printing of desk sheets. Also, each manager will be given a tablet with docket entries, saving the need to print out dockets.
The Center has “a very good professional management staff now”. A fourth case manager was added to help with the increased volume of cases. Increased efficiency is a goal of the Center, so that attorneys can get in and out more quickly, while maintaining the quality of each conference. There are now two desk clerks at the check in area. That helps with handling phone calls and any problems that arise for users. There is also an intern program. The interns help with scanning, copying, etc.
A big mistake lawyers make is “lack of preparedness”. Lawyers often tell Thompson that they haven’t looked at the file and know nothing about the status of the pleadings and/or discovery. This is especially true with attorneys who are covering hearings for the attorney of record. This can have adverse ramifications, ranging from rescheduling of the hearing to sanctions, depending on the judicial team leader. “The biggest thing is they are not going to get anything out of the conference.”
Another result of lack of preparation is getting a major case bounced to arbitration, something that occurs “several times a day”. The case managers screen cases to make sure they are assigned to the proper program (Major Jury, Non-Jury, Commerce or Arbitration). If the case management memoranda do not provide sufficient information about damages, the case manager will ask plaintiff’s counsel for information that supports value in excess of $50,000.00. Counsel must be prepared to supply this. The manager will ask if counsel agrees to voluntarily transfer the case down to the arbitration program. Even without agreement, the case manager has authority to transfer the case to arbitration.
For out of state or out of county counsel, Court Call provides a good way to attend remotely. The cost is $75.00. See courtcall.com. However, the court prefers in person appearance, “if at all possible”, as it “humanizes the process”, “is more engaging”, allows more focus on the task at hand and is a great opportunity for counsel to interact, exchange information and narrow the issues. It is not uncommon for lawyers to schedule depositions at the conference, serve discovery requests, present responses to discovery requests and even engage in settlement discussions. You can set the tone at the conference for a cooperative, professional litigation.
The court grants continuances upon written request if there are “exigent circumstances”. Communicating with opposing counsel first is a must and consent from opposing counsel greatly enhances the chance of success. Requests can be faxed to Mr. Thompson at 215 686 3709. Each judicial team leader establishes directives for when continuances will be granted. Mr. Thompson is reluctant to reschedule multiple cases to a single day as this can result in over-scheduling and delays. Call the Case Management Unit at 215 686 3710 if your case settles prior to the conference.
The case management conference is the first meaningful mandatory court event in most civil cases. The court takes these hearings “very seriously”. It forces everyone to open their file and exchange information. It motivates counsel to complete the pleadings process and get moving on discovery. Prepare appropriately so that you take maximum advantage of this opportunity.
Mr. Thompson greatly appreciates counsels’ willingness to courteously participate and cooperate in this important stage of the proceedings. Mr. Thompson welcomes your feedback in order to make the Center a success. His email address is Stanley.firstname.lastname@example.org.