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VOL. 123 | NO. 70 | Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Court Filings Drop in First Quarter

By Bill Dries

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THE BUSINESS OF LIFE: Civil Court filings for the first three months of 2008 were down from the first quarter of 2007 in Probate, Circuit and Chancery courts, which call the Shelby County Courthouse home, as well as U.S. District Court. The cases were a mix of divorces, wills and estates, job discrimination claims and allegations of civil rights violations. -- Photo By Bill Dries

Civil court filings in the first three months of 2008 were down from first quarter 2007.

The business of Chancery and Circuit courts continued to be dominated by divorce filings. In Probate Court it was wills, and in federal court it was job discrimination claims as well as civil rights violations.

Probate Court filings were down a little more than 5 percent from Q1 2007 - from 341 in the year-ago period to 323 in the most recent quarter, according to The Daily News Online, www.memphisdailynews.com. But Q1 filings were up from the 283 in fourth quarter 2007. More than half of the
Probate Court cases were wills, which is consistently the top category for the two divisions.

U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee, Memphis office, saw a drop in civil filings both from the same time a year ago as well as the fourth quarter of last year. The office reported 203 civil filings originally filed in the quarter and does not include cases reopened during that time. It's a 14 percent drop from the 236 filings in Q1 2007.

Job discrimination claims (33 filings), Civil Rights Act violations (20), prisoner civil rights violations (13) and personal injury claims (11) were the top four categories, in that order.

Paint by numbers

The Chancery and Circuit Court filings reflect case types that can be heard by both courts.

Divorces with and without children in both jurisdictions totaled 739 in Q1 2008, according to The Daily News Online. Those divorces accounted for 178 of the 556 cases filed in Chancery Court during the quarter. And they accounted for 561, or more than a third, of the 1,570 civil cases
filed in Circuit Court, among case types for which information was available by press time.

Adoptions represented the next highest category in the three divisions of Chancery Court, with 49 filings for the quarter.

Auto accidents were the second-highest category in the nine divisions of Circuit Court, with 306 filings.

A filing does not necessarily mean that a case went to trial and was decided by the judges. Most cases filed are decided with a compromise or settlement, whether it's out of court or court-approved.

Overall, Chancery Court's 556 filings in the quarter marked a 13.3 percent drop from the year-ago period. Circuit Court's 1,570 were a little more than an 8 percent drop from Q1 2007.

Finding resolution

Of 7,071 cases disposed of in Circuit Court in 2007, more than half, 4,449, were resolved with a settlement out of court or a court-approved settlement, according to Circuit Court figures.

Circuit Court Judge D'Army Bailey said it's important for judges to keep both sides in the cases on track even if the matter most likely won't go to trial.

"There is often the perception that it takes too long to have legal matters resolved. I think that we have a responsibility as judges to address those perceptions, which are not necessarily always true," Bailey said. "The judge plays a pivotal role in seeing to it that there's a timely resolution of cases."

The average number of days it took to resolve a case in Bailey's court last year from filing to a final order was 410 days, the shortest average for the nine divisions. He was assigned 767 cases, according to the same Circuit Court figures.

The average time in all nine divisions ranged from 410 days to 763 days with caseloads from 757 to 887 cases per division.

"I have a responsibility to litigants first and foremost. I think they are entitled to have their cases handled with attention and with some dispatch," Bailey said. "Different cases have different kinds of complexities, but I think that if a lawyer takes a client's case, that they have a duty to that individual client to give steady attention to their case."

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