Bench Pressed

The logjam in Denver's federal district court is one of the worst in the country. Blame Congress, Timothy McVeigh, greedy lawyers -- and judges who don't have time to judge.

Barring wholesale changes in the rules of civil procedure, or greater use of technological innovations such as video-conferencing and electronic filing, Kane doesn't anticipate the process getting any faster or more efficient. "All I see is more confusion," he says. "We're in the absurd situation of trying to enforce rules that are sixty years old and have no relevance to life at the turn of the millennium."

Other judges are equally pessimistic. "Is there a magic bullet?" asks Walker Miller. "Other than adding more judges, I don't think so."

Judge Matsch says he's concerned that too much emphasis on speedier case management could erode the adversarial system of justice--not only by restricting a judge's ability to handle his caseload his own way, but by hampering "the lawyer's ability to practice law the way he wants to do it."

"We're not just processing cases," Matsch says, "we're resolving disputes among human beings. To some extent, the technology gets in the way of recognizing the humanity in this process."

But long delays, Matsch admits, also dehumanize the process. Litigants rack up legal bills; sometimes they get fired, declare bankruptcy, become incapacitated or die--all without obtaining the relief they'd sought. "Obviously, delays have a negative effect on public confidence in the court system," he says.

Three years into his lawsuit, with no trial date in sight, Philip Fisher knows whereof the chief judge speaks.

"I have plenty of patience," Fisher says. "But at my age--I'm 68 years old. Maybe they're waiting for me to die of old age, huh?

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