Are The Courts Broken?
Wyoming’s District Courts might be broken. The old adage “Justice Delayed Is Justice Denied” is a huge problem.
I have not been involved in court- and bar-sponsored forums on court management and reorganization, nor in legislative hearings. There are undoubtedly people who have studied these problems and have more information than I do.
But, these problems are too obvious to deny:
The courts are clogged with criminal, juvenile and divorce cases.
Criminal and juvenile cases take priority, largely due to constitutional requirements.
The foregoing cases are extremely time-consuming; there is no “efficient” way to adjudicate a juvenile case or a divorce involving minor children.
The same District Courts which are clogged up with these cases are the courts which resolve high stakes land use, commercial and personal injury cases. Those cases do not get timely settings for hearings and trials because the courts are so busy with juvenile, criminal and divorce cases.
Personal injury litigants may have thousands of dollars of unpaid medical bills, co-pays or other bills; they may be behind on their mortgages because they cannot work; they may be dealing with collection agencies while they await resolution of their claims. In Wyoming, unlike Montana, it is NOT bad faith for an insurance company for an obviously liable party to deny reimbursement of medical bills while the case moves toward trial. Forcing an injured party into bankruptcy is an accepted strategy of insurance companies; they hope to starve the victim into submission. Faster resolution of court cases would reduce the effects of these heartless tactics; legislative reform would be better. But the insurance lobby owns the legislature.
Sage Grouse poll: Hey!! Insurance companies !! Say I am wrong!!!
Industrial companies make agreements to develop oil and gas resources, or coal, or land, or water. Deals fall into dispute and the courts have to sort things out. Millions of dollars of investments, perhaps hundreds of jobs, bunches of tax revenues, all await the outcome. File the suit and wait two years for the trial.
Scam artists con investors out of large sums of money. Emergency motions need a hearing to freeze accounts and prevent further hemorrhaging of funds. Sorry, the court has no time; wait six months.
Rich people with critical business disputes may not look like they deserve priority over the less fortunate in the competition for court time, but if many jobs and tax revenues and public interests are involved, maybe a big case should deserve to be advanced to the head of the stack.
Meanwhile, what to do with the juvenile and divorce cases? These are real people with real problems too.
Some smarter people than I have suggested creation of separate juvenile courts. I like the idea, but with that must come a commitment to fund guardians ad litem for the juveniles.
Next, I can’t think of any reason to make it easy for people who made marital commitments and then had children to casually walk away. First is my radical idea: make people who obtain marriage licenses post a bond of $5,000; the bond will be refunded if they do not get divorced in five years. (This idea will never be enacted.) Second, make mediation mandatory in divorce cases; mediation must be conducted with good faith participation within six months of filing. Each party must put up $500 to the Clerk of Court when the divorce is filed, to partially defray the cost of mediation.
Next, since the Rules of Civil Procedure are less than clear about prioritizing hearings on emergency motions, let’s change the Rules: if a party files for a Temporary Restraining Order or a Preliminary Injunction in a case involving more than $200,000 in cash or land value or interference with business activities, the case will be set for hearing within two weeks. If the party moving for such extraordinary relief is found to have exaggerated the claim to get expedited consideration, that party will be fined $5,000 or a larger sum at the discretion of the court, which fine will go into a special fund to pay mediators to resolve divorce cases.