No one, whether they are the plaintiff or the defendant, wants to be involved in a lawsuit if they can avoid it. But sometimes there is no other way to resolve a dispute. And, if you must go to court, every litigant wants resolution to come sooner rather than later. Centuries after they were first penned, the words “justice delayed is justice denied” are as true as ever. That is why we at MKR are so appreciative of the way our local superior court serves the citizens so well.
The Maricopa County Superior Court is regularly held up as a model for other metropolitan court systems across the country to emulate. It is, as county courts go, enormous in size, but still remarkably efficient in its operation. The Maricopa County Superior Court is the 4th largest trial court jurisdiction in the U.S. With a population of 4.009 million, Maricopa County is home to 60 percent of all Arizonans! Serving a county more than 9,200 square miles in area, it has superior court facilities at six different locations. Despite the fact that it must meet the demands of such a large land area and titanic population, our local court system still manages to process cases with a level of expediency that is unheard of in many large population centers. Our superior court judges are committed to setting, and enforcing, case discovery and trial schedules that do not let cases languish. In Fiscal Year 2014, 41,036 new civil cases were filed in the MCSC. Even with that flood tide of new cases, the court managed to conclude 93% of civil cases within 18 months of filing. For thousands upon thousands of Arizonans, justice was not delayed.
How does the MCSC manage this feat? There are many reasons, of course, but we would probably highlight two, if asked. First, our superior court judges encourage litigants to do early discovery in cases and then explore the possibility of settlement through ADR, or alternative dispute resolution. The parties may participate in ADR through the retention of a private mediator, or may take advantage of settlement judges provided by the court at no charge. Either way, it gives the parties an opportunity to attempt a resolution of the case before each side has spent so much money on litigation that a trial seems inevitable. And it works. In FY 2014, there were 253 civil trials in superior court; this meant that only 0.60% of cases filed actually went to trial. The presiding judge has said, more than once, that if even 2% of cases wound up going all the way to trial, it would overwhelm the court’s capacity to process.
The second thing which the MCSC does very well is provide the machinery to handle the small percentage of cases that do go to trial. If the court facilities and personnel were not equipped to process these folks in a streamlined fashion, it would be chaos. Because the number of bodies that go in and out of our court buildings every day is staggering. In FY 2014, more than 1.375 million visitors to the court facilities were screened by security. The Office of the Jury Commissioner summoned 513,364 to superior court to serve on jury pools. About another 3,000 were summoned for state and county grand juries. This cost the county $916,668 in juror pay, and $2.4 million (!) in juror mileage reimbursement. Again, only a top-notch operation could work on this scale.
So, while we’ll gripe now and then when a judge doesn’t rule the way we’d like on a particular point of law, we recognize how good we’ve got it. In Maricopa County, our cases get to trial early, are presided over by energetic, competent judges, and we interact with professional court staff. If you are a firm of trial lawyers, as we are, you can’t ask for much more.