Time for Justice: Is Our Legal System Reinforcing Bad Behavior?

"YES!" argues acclaimed NY attorney, Anthony V. Curto in his new book, The Time for Justice: How the excesses of time have broken our civil justice system (Sept 2012).

"A perverse legal system reinforces bad societal behavior. Cheating pays off when an individual who has been taken advantage of cannot navigate a legal system in a time and cost frame that makes its actions relevant. And this is what is happening everyday in our society," he writes.

The State of the Court System

In today's world, litigation is a contact sport. The courts are clogged with thousands of cases. Attorneys, and anyone who has ever been involved in a lawsuit, know all too well the difficulties that come with litigating a case. Lawsuits take years, they cost too much, drain all parties psychologically and financially, and produce outcomes that no one can predict. With each legal experience, people are losing confidence in the system's ability to deliver justice. Faced with such a daunting endeavor, why would anyone pursue a lawsuit to trial? Is that the justice system our society wants to have in place?

Who is to blame for the system's failures? Lawyers? Judges? Legislators? Our litigious-minded culture?

"The enemy of our judicial system is TIME. Ninety-five percent of cases are settled without a trial because those involved are mentally and financially exhausted and no longer trust the court system," says Curto.

Proposed Changes

The Time for Justice offers an argument that is simple yet profound based on his 50-year legal career. Curto highlights the inequities that arise from the excesses in time required to resolve legal disputes and provides targeted "time fixes" to correct the system.

The book shines a light on the scourges of time while also offering pointed and practical time fixes. Samples of Curto's "time-killing" methods and processes intended to speed up the current system and wring out unreasonable delays, include:

1. Set trial dates as soon as summons are answered (dates should be no more than 6 months later).
2. Broaden authority of judges
3. Eliminate pretrial paperwork
4. Require plaintiffs to pay expenses if appeal is lost
5. Enforce court decisions
6. Settle jurisdictional disputes upfront
7. Require litigants to attend their trials
8. Keep the same judge on a case
9. Expand small claims court

Curto argues that taking these steps will not only remove unnecessary delays, but will also reinforce and incentivize the better behavior.

"It is the role of our judicial system to not only resolve issues in a timely manner but to teach good behavior in the process and none of this is happening today," says Curto.

In this day and age where courts face widespread budget cuts and limited resources, it's no wonder that time may not be on the side of justice. Whether Curto's proposed solutions will be considered, or would result in improvements in this challenging environment remains to be seen.