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May 01, 2020

Statement by the Philadelphia Bar Association on Civil Trial Litigation in the Court of Common Pleas of the First Judicial District of Pennsylvania

Chancellor Hon. A. Michael Snyder (ret.) issued the following statement regarding civil trial litigation in the Court of Common Pleas of the First Judicial District of Pennsylvania:

“The Philadelphia Bar Association is now, and always has been a strong supporter of the First Judicial District of Pennsylvania and the Judges of the Court. We have long felt that it is essential for lawyers and judges to work in cooperation with one another in order to ensure the fair and efficient operation of the Courts. We are justifiably proud of the quality of our judiciary, and of the significant efforts of the Courts in past years to eliminate backlogs in the system. Indeed, our Courts have often been recognized nationally for their innovative procedures.

“We recognize that the COVID-19 pandemic has created challenges for attorneys, Judges, and the Court system itself. Technological challenges exist for the Courts, the Judges, and for members of the Bar. In addition, the need to limit physical access to the Courts of the First Judicial District in order to ensure safety of court personnel and the public has complicated all aspects of litigation.

“However, we believe that there are significant parts of the civil litigation system that can be effectively handled remotely. Motions, case management conferences, discovery matters and settlement conferences can, and should be, handled remotely. It is critical that the system not become backlogged so significantly that recovery becomes drawn out. We must each remember that justice delayed is justice denied.

“We are pleased to learn that the Court has just issued Orders relative to settlement conferences, allowing them to be conducted by Judges Pro Tem using telephonic or videoconferencing technology. In addition, the Court has instituted a new procedure to address Case Management Conferences which had already been scheduled, but not held; in that case, those conferences have been waived and the new procedure is posted on the Association’s website. Both of these new procedures have been sent to all members of the Association by HTML e-mails.

“Motions for Extraordinary Relief, discovery matters, and other Motions have not yet been affirmatively addressed. It is our understanding that various working groups of the Court are addressing these issues, although we have not been given any specific timelines for their implementation.

“Therefore, we urge the Court to expeditiously adopt temporary changes in practice in civil matters which will allow these matters to be heard and decided without delay. We believe that many of the matters before the Courts can be handled remotely, whether by the existing Judges of the Court of Common Pleas, or by Court-appointed Discovery or Settlement Masters, or by Judges Pro Tem.

“We stand ready to assist the Court in implementing the required procedural changes so that the civil justice system in Philadelphia can remain the vibrant entity that it has been.”

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