Judges Must Be at the Helm of Civil Justice Reform

Judges are the linchpin of the court system—the piece that that holds the wheels on. When a judge is engaged, attentive, and dedicated to assuring that each litigant gets the best the system can offer, then the process moves smoothly. When a judge is overworked, out of touch, or unprepared, then the wheels fall off.

District Court Judge Kevin Burke of Minnesota and Judge Steve Leben of the Kansas Court of Appeals have written and presented extensively on procedural fairness. They are also both judges who work to make it happen in their courts.

In sum, procedural fairness is due process that is respectful and efficient: due process that is geared to the needs of the litigants, not the needs of the lawyers or the courts. The research suggests that litigants really care about procedural fairness—as much as, or perhaps even more than, outcomes. They care about a process that is efficient, understandable, and fair. They want a judge to be in charge of their case—a judge who is focused on attempting to assure a fair outcome, and who listens to both sides of the case with an open mind. In short, judges are the ones who make procedural fairness happen.

As we find ourselves on the verge of a new era of civil justice reform—rules changes, case flow management changes, and administrative changes—IAALS recognizes that it is the judges who can translate those changes into real impact for litigants.

We at IAALS salute the judges across the country who are already leading their courts toward innovation and impact. We are privileged to work with a great number of them.

Fall is the time when judges' training programs occur with most frequency. This fall in particular, in the Federal Courts, judges are being trained on implementation of the new Federal Rules, with a focus on procedural fairness and leadership. State court judges, too, are coming together to explore how they can better serve litigants in their courts. I have been honored to present at some of those sessions, and my message has been the same across the country.

Just, speedy, and inexpensive civil litigation can only happen if the judges are steering the process with care, focus, and dedication.