Letters

08-31-00

Juris Imprudence

Docket delays: Regarding the article titled "Docket Science" in the August 10 issue: While the writer, Amy Silverman, did a good job of explaining the problems at Maricopa County Superior Court, some additional comments are necessary to clarify the true nature and extent of the problems caused by Judge Colin Campbell's July 26, 2000, order. As one of the attorneys quoted in the article, and one whose clients have to suffer the result of the order, I would like to make some observations and clarifications.

First, the court's order was not announced publicly, nor was it distributed to the attorneys whose cases were likely to be immediately affected. Indeed, I found out about it secondhand from a judicial assistant and was only able to obtain a copy of the order from another reporter. The first time I actually saw the court order, the case against Intel had already been continued.

Second, my firm does both criminal and civil work. Therefore, we have no quarrel with the general concept that those whose freedom is at stake take precedence over those who can only be compensated for their injuries by money. Nevertheless, such a generalized statement is a gross oversimplification of the criminal and civil systems. In each system, there are cases that deserve a priority by constitutional provision, court rule or statute. Conversely, others clearly can wait for resolution. The problem with Judge Campbell's order, in addition to its unpublicized nature, was its failure to recognize the need for a case-by-case evaluation. The order ignores the need for the court to decide whether the criminal case in question truly needs to go forward or whether the hardships to the civil plaintiff are such that further delay is either unconstitutional or unconscionable. This not only applies to cases such as the one against Intel (in which the plaintiff's expert witness fees were forfeited) but would include elderly plaintiffs, those who are disabled, unemployed as a result of their injuries, in extreme medical need, or near death. Under Arizona law, if a seriously injured plaintiff dies before his case goes to court, the defendants are relieved of the obligation to pay for the pain and suffering the plaintiff experienced prior to his death, no matter how long or severe. This is one of the reasons that delay, delay, delay is a standard defense tactic where seriously ill or elderly plaintiffs are involved. The court's failure to recognize that its ruling inadvertently favors the defendants at the expense of the plaintiffs is something that should be considered. The current order, as written, appears not to recognize this fact.

Third, the order contains no provision for the parties to directly petition the presiding judge for relief. Rather, the order requires that the trial judge request that the civil case go forward. In the Intel case, the trial judge told us at approximately 5:30 p.m. that the trial would go forward and that we should have our witnesses ready to start on August 7. The next morning, we were informed that the trial court had been "overruled" and that we were assigned to case transfer and not to expect a trial for several months. Other cases have been given the same treatment.

Arizona's civil docket system has been recognized for years as being one of the most innovative and efficient in the country. Judges, lawyers and court administrators from around the United States have come here to see how such progressive innovations as the civil "fast track" docketing system, mandatory disclosure and other carefully thought-out reforms have enabled Maricopa County to maintain the most efficient, progressive court system serving any major metropolitan area today. That reputation is in danger, not only through the current court order, but because of the chronic underfunding and understaffing of the public defender's offices and the civil and criminal court systems. The lack of funding caused the crisis Judge Campbell sought to remedy with his order. While all attorneys understand the need to address the backlog of criminal cases, we also understand that a simple quick-fix solution is not only unlikely to redress the problem, but, in fact, will worsen it.

Jeff Bouma
Phoenix

Homo Erratic

Who, us? I'm tired of hearing the owners and spokespeople of A League of Our Own restaurant constantly deny that it is a lesbian establishment. In "Grill, Interrupted" (August 24), writer Amanda Scioscia observes: ". . . those who worry about the bottom line must figure out how to respect their lesbian clientele without scaring away straight people."

Maybe I can help. When confronted with rumors of being a lesbian establishment, how about if the owners said something like: "Yes, to date our most loyal customers are lesbians. The lesbian community has been extremely supportive because we go out of our way to make them feel valued. We are very grateful for their business and we're committed to making straight people feel just as comfortable. Our vision is to provide upscale dining and atmosphere where all people, regardless of sexual orientation, can come together and have a great time."

If you notice, nowhere in that paragraph does it swear that the place is not a lesbian bar. You can bet that if a majority of straight customers populated the place, there would be no way in hell that we would see a New Timesarticle in which the owners declare: This is so unfair. Ours is not a lesbian restaurant.

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