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Letter From The President
The first half of 2017 sure has flown. In this letter, I focus on the recent Western Region Civil Justice Reform Summit, which should be of interest to us all. I also outline an important issue concerning proposed revisions to the Restatement of Laws, Liability Insurance, which has captured the attention of the defense bar on a national level.
In May, the Conference of Chief Justices (CCJ) conducted the western region summit in Park City, Utah. The CCJ is a non-profit organization that was founded in 1949. Its members are the nation’s highest judicial officers. The mission of the CCJ is “to improve the administration of justice in the states, commonwealths, and territories of the United States.” The CCJ provides a forum for the judiciary to meet and discuss issues of common interest and concern.
The western region summit was attended by Chief Justice Charles Daniels, Justice Barbara Vigil, Judge Nancy Franchini, Geoffrey Romero, Art Pepin, Ed Marks, and William Anderson (on behalf of the NMDLA). The purpose of this summit was to educate the participants on civil justice reform measures that have been implemented in other states. I understand our Supreme Court is very interested in civil justice reform due to a variety of factors including increasing litigation costs, increasing numbers of self-represented litigants, lack of adjudication on the merits, and delay in the litigation process. Nationwide studies suggest the majority of civil cases involve debt collection, landlord/tenant claims, mortgage foreclosure, and small claims cases involving relatively modest monetary amounts. The high-value tort and commercial contract disputes comprise only a small proportion of civil caseloads. Accordingly, for most litigants, the cost of litigating a case through trial can greatly exceed the monetary value of the case and some litigants with meritorious claims and defenses are effectively denied access to justice because the cost puts litigation beyond their reach. The studies also suggest that over the last several decades there has been a dramatic rise in self-represented litigants and recent numbers indicate more than 75% of civil cases involve at least one litigant who is self-represented.
To address these concerns, the CCJ established the Civil Justice Improvements Committee, which was charged with (1) developing guidelines and best practices in civil litigation for the implementation of rule changes based upon evidence derived from state pilot projects and applicable research; and (2) making recommendations for better case management to improve the civil justice system in the state courts. Several states across the country have already implemented several rule changes, which the committee is reviewing. Many ideas were discussed by the New Mexico team during the summit including tiered levels of case management, summary jury trials, informal motions practice for discovery, mandatory disclosures, and proportionality.
Our Supreme Court intends to follow suit and establish a New Mexico team to develop and implement a civil justice improvement plan to improve the delivery of civil justice in New Mexico. The Supreme Court would like to form a subcommittee comprised of members from the defense and plaintiffs’ bars, the judiciary, the legislature, and the business community. The subcommittee will be tasked with developing a civil justice improvement plan. The goal is to create a plan to pilot in the 2nd and 5th judicial districts.
The NMDLA Board of Directors has been asked to help identify a representative from a large defense firm as well as a representative from a small defense firm. Justice Vigil has asked for the Board’s input on who should be invited to join the subcommittee. Please let me, Bill Anderson, or any member of the NMDLA Board of Directors know if you are interested in serving on this subcommittee or otherwise getting involved in helping this important cause.
Also on the topic of reform, I encourage you to get involved in the discussion about the American Law Institute’s (ALI) proposed changes to the Restatement of Law, Liability Insurance. The ALI publishes the Restatements of Law, which are considered by most courts as persuasive authority. The Defense Research Institute (DRI) is opposed to the adoption of the Proposed Final Draft of the Restatement of the Law, Liability Insurance. DRI has expressed concern over several of the proposed revisions, which are “at odds with the common law of insurance, and their adoption will impede the ability of our members to represent policyholders and insurers.” Another stated concern is that the proposed revisions “may engender more insurance coverage controversies and litigation.” ALI was scheduled to vote on the proposed revisions at its annual meeting on May 22-24, 2017, but the vote was postponed until further notice. Therefore, there is still time to get involved and join in this national discussion.
Finally, welcome to the new NMDLA Student Chapter President, Sara Klemundt and thank you to all who attended and helped make the NMDLA Young Lawyers Division “mixer” event in May a success. To support our Student Chapter, NMDLA will have a presence at the incoming class (1L) orientation at the UNM School of Law on August 16-18, 2017. Some of our firm members have agreed to sponsor student memberships. Please let me know if you are interested in joining us at the orientation and/or sponsoring a student membership
Courtenay L. Keller, Esq.
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