STATE CIVIL COMMITTEE MEETING MINUTES
Jan. 7, 2004
The meeting was called to order at 12:15 p.m. by the co-chairs, Kathleen Wilkinson, Robert Szostak and Gregg Mackuse.
I. Introductory Remarks
The co-chairs for 2004 introduced themselves to the members of the Committee and briefly discussed issues and speakers for the upcoming meetings such as: the results of the survey distributed in December 2003; Web site content for the Bar Association Web site; and appearances by members of the Pennsylvania State Civil Committee as well as Justices from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Kathleen Wilkinson emphasized that one of the primary goals for the 2004 year was to design the monthly programs around the concerns of members of the Committee and the Bar.
II. Chancellor Bevilacqua - Proposed Civil Litigation Section
Chancellor Bevilacqua briefly attended the meeting to discuss consideration and the benefits of a new Civil Litigation Section for the Philadelphia Bar Association. In particular, the benefit of having a separate voice in the Association for civil litigators was identified by the Chancellor. The proposed Civil Litigation Section will be discussed in detail at a subsequent state civil committee meeting.
III. Court Issues
The Honorable Sandra Moss spoke briefly about two issues. First, Judge Moss spoke about a new test program in Discovery Court in which discovery disputes are separated into two separate lists, one beginning at 9 a.m. and the other at 11 a.m. As the test program progresses, the Committee will hear more about the positives and negatives of the program. Judge Moss also advised the Committee that the Court is reviewing proposed rule changes which will be submitted to the Committee for comment.
IV. Montgomery County Discovery Master Program
Robert Szostak introduced the featured speakers for the meeting, Marc Steinberg, Esq., Jackie McAllister and Pat Ranieri, to discuss the discovery master program implemented in Montgomery County. As explained by Robert Szostak, the issue was raised as to the possible use of discovery masters in Philadelphia Court.
As discussed by the speakers, the Montgomery County program is staffed by five experienced lawyers who handle all civil discovery disputes thereby relieving the judges from resolving discovery disputes. For contested discovery matters, there is an approximate four-week period in which the matter proceeds to resolution before the Discovery Master. The Discovery Master then submits a recommendation to the judge who either adopts or rejects the recommendation. In Montgomery County, the use of discovery masters has significantly reduced the backlog and delay in cases such that a matter proceeds to trial in short order after a praecipe is filed with the Court.
Members of the Committee then engaged in a vigorous debate as to whether the use of discovery masters would be feasible in Philadelphia County. Among the major issues discussed were: the volume of contested matters resolved by the Court on a weekly basis (approximately 200 per week); the number of discovery masters needed for any such program; the ability to obtain sufficiently qualified attorneys to serve as discovery masters; and the amount of time required to be committed by a discovery master without any compensation. After much discussion, it was decided to appoint a subcommittee to analyze the discovery master issue as well as to analyze all other discovery court issues to prepare possible or suggested recommendations to the Court to improve practice before the Discovery Court.
V. Next Meeting
The next meeting will be held on Feb. 4. It will be a special meeting held from 4-6 p.m. in the new high-tech courtroom where there will be a demonstration of the capabilities of the courtroom followed by a wine and cheese reception.
The meeting adjourned at approximately 1:20 p.m.
Gregg W. Mackuse