Friday, May 28, 1999

Justices make deep
cut in cases

By Ian Y. Lind


Chief Justice Ronald Moon disclosed this week that the Hawaii Supreme Court has dramatically reduced its backlog of cases after implementing emergency procedures in 1996.

"It was a crisis," Moon said, referring to a backlog that seemed out of control.

By streamlining the court's procedures, the backlog was cut from 1,323 cases in 1996 to just 571 last year, while the average age of pending cases fell from 495 days to 155 days.

The announcement was made in an unusual joint public appearance by all five justices before a Supreme Court courtroom crowded with attorneys Wednesday afternoon.

The meeting was prompted by concerns expressed by some attorneys that the emergency changes have eroded key parts of the traditional legal process.

It was the first time the justices have appeared publicly to discuss the procedures adopted in September 1996, which replaced written opinions in nearly half of all appeals with short "you win-they lose" notices and eliminated oral arguments in most cases.

"It was outrageous," said Associate Justice Mario Ramil, pointing to statistics showing that two-thirds of cases pending in 1996 were more than 2 years old, and 33 cases had gone more than four years without a decision.

"The costs to the public were too devastating to allow this to continue," Moon said.

"Children were getting older, some reaching the age of majority before said.

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