JOINT MEETING OF THE STATE CIVIL, RULES AND PROCEDURES,
MEDICAL LEGAL AND COMPULSORY ARBITRATION COMMITTEES
December 1, 2004
The meeting was called to order at approximately 12:15 p.m. by co-chair Kathleen Wilkinson.
Kathleen Wilkinson welcomed everyone to the meeting and thanked everyone for the matters accomplished during the year, in particular, the formation of a State Civil Litigation Section. Chancellor Gabriel Bevilacqua then briefly thanked everyone as well for their hard work in obtaining Section Status. Ms. Wilkinson then requested Robert Szostak to address the election of officers for the State Civil Litigation Section.
- Election of Officers for State Civil Litigation Section
Robert Szostak then discussed the process for the election of officers to the State Civil Litigation Section for 2005 under the bylaws for the Section. Mr. Szostak then identified the proposed officers for 2005:
Ronald Kovler, Co-Chair
Rudy Garcia, Co-Chair
Richard S. Seidel, Treasurer
Kathleen D. Wilkinson, Secretary
Pursuant to the bylaws, as there were no other nominations for officers of the Section, the above-named individuals were elected as officers for 2005. Kathleen Wilkinson noted that the chairs for the three (3) committees of the Section would be identified in the upcoming weeks.
- Final Report of the National Center for State Courts
Following the election of officers, Judge Fitzgerald then provided the attendees with the highlights of the Final Report of the NCSC. As a general matter, the Report noted, among other things, that the Civil Section of the Trial Division in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas is "one of the finest and most successful urban trial courts in the country."
Judge Fitzgerald noted that the Court was pleased with the assessment in the Report and that Chief Justice Cappy of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court had expressed that he was pleased with the Report as well. Further, the Report had received media coverage as well which applauded the work of the Court.
As explained by Judge Fitzgerald, over a decade ago, the Court overhauled its case management system. As a result of these successful efforts, the average time a matter went to trial was reduced from 6-7 years compared to the current period of 12-24 months.
Over three years ago, when Judge Fitzgerald assumed his current administrative responsibilities, Judge Fitzgerald wanted to ensure that the Court system kept progressing. As a result of that commitment, Judge Fitzgerald requested that the NCSC examine the Court system closely and make recommendations as to possible changes.
The NCSC then undertook a study examining every aspect of the Civil Section for efficiency and comparing the practices of the Civil Section with established best practices. The NCSC Report identified over forty (40) wide-ranging recommendations, some of which would require substantial funding.
Judge Fitzgerald has appointed a Committee chaired by Judge Manfredi. The Committee will review the Report in detail, including each recommendation. Judge Fitzgerald hopes to have a report from the Committee within 6-8 months.
Judge Fitzgerald then briefly outlined some of the Report's conclusions and recommendations in various areas. For example, for compulsory arbitration, the NCSC Report praised the system but recommended that mediation and early settlement opportunities be explored. Similarly, for major jury cases, no major changes were recommended but the Report suggested that the Court try to achieve earlier settlement opportunities and mediation as well. Finally, in the discovery area, the Report noted that the standard interrogatories needed to be updated. Finally, Judge Fitzgerald concluded his remarks by noting that the Report also proposed increased staffing and a second jury assembly room. However, the City has reduced the Court's funding and, therefore, some of these recommendations of the NCSC may not be able to be implemented. Following his remarks, Judge Fitzgerald then turned the meeting over to Judge Manfredi.
Judge Manfredi began his remarks by noting that the Court invested a substantial amount of time in assisting the NCSC and that the Court had provided all the information needed by the NCSC for the Report. Judge Manfredi noted that the recommendations set forth in the Report are wide-ranging as some identify some matters to be fine-tuned while others are more substantial. As noted by Judge Manfredi, the NCSC had the benefit of preparing its Report, and accompanying recommendations, without restrictions on funding or facilities. Judge Manfredi noted that the recommendations were received gracefully by the Court system.
Judge Manfredi then noted that one of the interesting aspects of the Report is that it repeatedly recommends that the Court work with the civil trial bar. However, as noted by Judge Manfredi, many of the areas addressed in the Report were the subject of previous State Civil Committee meetings such as:
-- a desire that Case Management Conferences be more meaningful;
-- identifying opportunities for earlier settlement of cases;
-- a limitation of unnecessary continuances;
-- adding resources for non-trial depositions;
-- changes in discovery;
-- possible use of masters; and
-- an alternative dispute resolution process.
Judge Manfredi then noted that some of the recommendations in the NCSC Report already have been tried previously by the Court. Nevertheless, the Court will review the Report and review possible changes. Following Judge Manfredi's remarks, questions were directed to members of the Court by various attendees.
One question raised was whether the Committee of the Court which will review the Report would allow for participation by a member of the bar as well as be receptive to possible additional recommendations by the bar. Judge Manfredi and Judge Fitzgerald noted that the Court would have input from the civil bar. Judge Fitzgerald also stated that the Court would consider having someone act as a liaison between the Court and the State Civil Litigation Section. An additional issue was raised concerning scheduling conflicts for attorneys. As stated by members of the Court, as well as some of the attendees, the bar would appreciate the Courts assistance in resolving any such conflicts.
- Finally, there was vigorous discussion concerning the issue of medical malpractice filings and possible efforts to resolve medical malpractice actions at an earlier stage. Following the discussion of these matters, the meeting was adjourned at approximately 1:15 p.m.
Gregg W. Mackuse