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PA Bulletin, Doc. No. 96-1669



Judge Pro Tempore Program; Misc. Doc. No. 82-7677

[26 Pa.B. 4762]


   And Now, to wit, this 17th day of September, 1996, due to the dire conditions which have resulted from the current overwhelming caseload of both civil and criminal cases that face the judges of this Court,

   It is Hereby Ordered and Decreed that a Judge Pro Tempore Program is established in this judicial district utilizing the volunteer services of experienced trial lawyers, from both the plaintiff and defense bars, who have been or will be designated by the Court to preside as ''Judges Pro Tempore.''

   It Is Further Ordered that the following procedures and qualifications will be followed with regard to this Program:

   1.  Duties and Responsibilities of Judges Pro Tempore. The Delaware County Bar Association, with the approval of the Court, will determine the names and number of Judges Pro Tem and the number of cases to be assigned to each Judge Pro Tem once the group of cases is identified by the Court Administrator.

   Said designated judges may hear evidence, conduct conferences, hearings and trials and may, thereafter, make appropriate recommendations to this Court for the entry of necessary orders.

   2.  Implementation of Program. The Program is initially intended to exist from September of 1996 through December of 1997. It will be implemented in two phases:  Phase I will begin in the fall of 1996, while Phase II is anticipated to begin in 1997.

   Phase I is a mandatory settlement program aimed at reducing the initial backlog of trial-ready cases which will be returned to the unassigned pool by those judges assigned to the newly-created Criminal Division.

   Phase II will allow the parties, by agreement, to take advantage of a priority trial listing before a Judge Pro Tem, with or without a jury. The Court will assign the Judge Pro Tempore upon stipulation by the parties.

   3.  Categorization of cases. Those cases which are returned for reassignment by the judges in the criminal division will be separated into the following categories, of which only those categorized as ''simple'' will be included in the program:

   a.  Simple Personal Injury/Property:

   1.  less than $150,000 in damages;

   2.  less than four days for trial;

   3.  less than four parties involved;

   4.  assault, battery, premises liability, auto negligence bodily injury, auto negligence property, defamation, libel, slander, false imprisonment, other negligence bodily injury or property.

   b.  Simple Commercial:

   1.  less than $150,000 in damages;

   2.  less than four days for trial;

   3.  less than five parties involved;

   4.  breach of contract, landlord/tenant, breach of warranty, declaratory judgment.

   c.  Complex:

   1.  class action

   2.  asbestos

   3.  medical malpractice

   4.  product liability

   5.  professional negligence

   6.  construction contract

   7.  toxic tort

   d.  Standard:  all other cases

   e.  An option will be available for parties who may want to take advantage of Phase I but whose cases do not meet the standard for ''simple'' cases. The following criteria will apply to any such cases:

   1.  The case must have been returned to the Court Administrator for reassignment by a Judge in the Criminal Division.

   2.  An affidavit must be signed by all attorneys or unrepresented parties stating that there is agreement to participate in the settlement phase of the program and that there is a reasonable likelihood of settlement.

   3.  The attorneys/unrepresented parties must complete a settlement memorandum form, available in the Office of the Court Administrator, on or before October 31, 1996.

   4.  Upon completion and receipt by the Court Administrator, the case will be screened by the President Judge's chambers and, if approved, assigned to the Program.

   5.  The assigned Judge Pro Tem may thereafter, at the conclusion of Phase I, either include the case with the program or return the case to the unassigned pool. This decision will largely be based upon the parties' efforts at settlement during Phase I.

   6.  Should counsel/unrepresented parties not receive notice from the Court by September 30, 1996 advising of the case's inclusion in the program, the aforementioned steps must be followed by October 31, 1996 in order to be considered for inclusion in the program.

   7.  From time to time, the President Judge may supplement the program with additional case assignments.

   4.  Settlement Memoranda. Notices and Settlement Memoranda forms will be forwarded to attorneys/unrepresented parties beginning September 15, 1996 for those cases which have been selected initially by the Court for inclusion in the Program. All attorneys/unrepresented parties whose cases have been initially selected by the Court for inclusion in the Program must fully complete and return the Settlement Memorandum, along with copies, to the Court Administrator who will then file the original memorandum with the Office of Judicial Support on or before October 31, 1996.

   5.  Settlement Conference. Cases will be assigned to Judges Pro Tem by the Office of the Court Administrator, after which the Judges Pro Tem will schedule their cases for conference in the time period from December 1, 1996 through February 28, 1997. The conferences will be held at the time and place of choosing of the individual Judge Pro Tem.

   The parties will be required to attend the settlement conference. In the event that a defendant is insured, then an authorized claims manager or supervisor of defendant's insurer, with complete settlement authority and control of the claims file, is required to attend the conference. The conference must also be attended by trial counsel.

   The Judge Pro Tem will settle, continue or reschedule the matter or determine that it cannot be settled. In the latter case, the Judge Pro Tem shall determine whether the parties will stipulate to a trial before a Judge Pro Tem or whether the case will need to be reassigned to the unassigned trial pool in the civil division. The parties must notify the Judge Pro Tem at the conference or within one week after the settlement conference of their decision of whether or not to proceed to Phase II. The outcome of the settlement conference will be reported by the Judge Pro Tem to the Court.

   6.  Trial.

   a.  Judge Pro Tem. If the parties agree to proceed non-jury with a Judge Pro Tem, the Judge Pro Tem will be assigned by the Court. The Judge Pro Tem assigned will not be the same judge as at the settlement conference, unless the parties so agree. The parties will be considered attached for trial for the date provided to them by the Judge Pro Tem and will be on one hour call.

   If the parties agree to proceed with a Judge Pro Tem with a jury, the settlement conference judge will also be the trial judge. The Judge Pro Tem will schedule a pretrial conference and proceed accordingly. The Judge Pro Tem, in conjunction with the Office of the Court Administrator, will determine courtroom and jury availability.

   The Judge Pro Tem will have the authority to resolve disputes regarding continuances and may attach attorneys for trial.

   b.  Trial by the Court. If the case is returned after the settlement conference, and the parties have not stipulated to a trial under the Program, the Court Administrator will return the case to the unassigned pool by complaint date order prior to ''new'' cases which are defined as filed as of June 28, 1996. The filing date for purposes of arbitration appeals will be the date of appeal.

   7.  Motions. The filing of motions will not delay the scheduling of a settlement conference. To the extent possible, all non-dispositive motions will be decided prior to the time of the Settlement Conference. Decisions on dispositive motions will be deferred until after the settlement conference.

   If the case does not settle, and the parties do not proceed to Phase II, the Judge Pro Tem is to advise the Court of any outstanding motions. The motion will then be forwarded to the Civil Pre-trial Unit. All motions filed in cases assigned to judges in the Civil Trial Division are to be referred to and decided by the assigned trial judge.

   If the parties do proceed to Phase II, the assigned Judge Pro Tem is authorized to decide all non-dispositive motions. Any issue which is final and appealable, and therefore dispositive, will be decided by the Trial Judge Pro Tem under the supervision of the President Judge for purposes of decision and written opinion.

   In the event that a motion is filed after assignment to a Judge Pro Tem in Phase II, the moving party is required to file the original with the Office of Judicial Support and to provide a courtesy copy directly to the assigned Judge Pro Tem.

   8.  Noncompliance. Failure to comply with the Court's Order regarding the mandatory settlement conference in the Pro Tem Program, including the personnel required to attend with settlement authority, and/or failure to comply with all requirements stated herein, will result in a recommendation by the Judge Pro Tem for a hearing before the President Judge. The President Judge will review the case and determine whether or not a hearing should be scheduled and/or sanctions need be imposed.

   9.  Changes in Procedure. The procedure set forth herein may be changed from time to time by notice appearing in the Delaware County Legal Journal.

   10.  Effective Date. The within procedure will become effective thirty (30) days after publication in the Pennsylvania Bulletin.

   As required by Pa.R.C.P. No. 239, the original Order shall be filed with the Office of Judicial Support and copies shall be submitted to the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts, the Legislative Reference Bureau and the Civil Procedure Rules Committee. Copies of the Order will also be submitted to Legal Communications, Ltd., The Legal Intelligencer, and the Delaware County Legal Journal.

By the Court

President Judge

[Pa.B. Doc. No. 96-1669. Filed for public inspection October 4, 1996, 9:00 a.m.]

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