Report urges reform of civil court system
DENVER - Trial lawyers and a judicial think tank are suggesting major changes in the way courts hear civil suits, saying current rules allow attorneys to drag out disputes by demanding irrelevant and hard-to-find data.
The current rules for "discovery" - the sharing of information ahead of a trial - in civil suits are antiquated and too broad, according to a report yesterday by an American College of Trial Lawyers task force and the Denver-based Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System.
They suggest that federal and state courts restrict discovery to the specifics of a case and limit how much data lawyers can request after the first round of information sharing.
The report said current federal discovery rules were for the most part written in the 1930s and didn't anticipate the volume of documents generated by photocopiers, computers and e-mail systems. Retrieving data stored electronically, such as old e-mails, is particularly difficult, they said.
The rules drag out cases for years and have driven legal costs so high that people are forced to settle even if they have a good case, the specialists said.
"In too many cases, economics rather than merits are driving whether it's tried or settled, and that's not justice," said attorney E. Osbourne Aycsue Jr., former president of the trial lawyers group, based in Irvine, Calif.