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The pressure on trial lawyers, judges, plaintiffs, defendants, and court systems is only increasing. Take New Jersey as an example, where the backlog of cases nearly quadrupled in a year between February 2020 and 2021, the first year of the pandemic, according to NJ Spotlight News (NJSN). The state is also facing a historic shortage of jurists, “leading to overworked judges, huge case backlogs and nearly 7,000 defendants in jail without bail, some 500 of them for more than two years despite a law that essentially requires a trial within two years for anyone detained,” NJSN reported.
One court official told the state Assembly Budget Committee about the impact the pandemic had on the court system. “Buildings were closed to most in-person trials for more than a year, although other proceedings continued virtually. The business closures and high unemployment led to a housing crisis that resulted in more than 46,000 pending cases that involve landlord-tenant issues,” NJSN reported. “But with all courts open and staff back to work in person, it is impossible to eliminate the backlog of cases with so many open judge seats.” The problem is attributed to the state Senate, where the process is mired, even though the governor is making appointments.
According to the National Counsel for State Courts, backlogs at one third of U.S. courts increased by 5%. It would have been worse had courts not held virtual hearings.
Using the Court Statistic Project database, the numbers reveal in stark terms the impact the pandemic had in the year it came to America. Dispositions dropped from 43M in 2019 to 28M in 2020. Bench trials fell from 3M in 2019 to under 2M in 2020. Jury trials plummeted from 49K in 2019 to less than 19K in 2020.
The Washington Post reported that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court declared a judicial emergency and extended deadlines. Virginia’s Supreme Court suspended nonessential proceedings. The Iowa Supreme Court pushed back criminal trials and the Alabama’s Supreme Court suspended in-person proceedings. New Jersey Supreme Court Chief Justice Stuart Rabner warned that the judicial shortage “comes with a price.”
Listen to my interview with Diana C. Manning, Managing Principal, Bressler, Amery & Ross, P.C., for the fallout from the judicial shortage and swelling case backlogs, and what needs to be done to dig out. An experienced and award winning complex commercial litigator, Diana is co-chair of the firm’s business and commercial litigation practice group. She received her J.D. from Rutgers University School of Law.
This podcast is the audio companion to the Journal on Emerging Issues in Litigation. The Journal is a collaborative project between HB Litigation Conferences and the Fastcase legal research family, which includes Full Court Press, Law Street Media, and Docket Alarm. The podcast itself is a joint effort between HB and our friends at Law Street Media. If you have comments or wish to participate in one our projects please drop me a note at Editor@LitigationConferences.com.