Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Judge Braun, lighten up!

I appeared in court yesterday of counsel in Judge Richard Braun's courtroom in Supreme New York County for a simple preliminary conference. For those who do not practice law in New York, at a preliminary conference, the parties set a basic discovery schedule. Most lawyers believe that this conference is completely bogus. If the court system would like to save resources, they should set a scheduling system by computer because the time line is nearly always the same.

The matter before the court was a subrogation claim where the insurance company that I was representing was suing for approximately $200,000 in damages to recover payment to its insured due to a gas leak. In Kings, Bronx and Queens County, these conference are held before a clerk and the parties simply check in with the clerk when they are ready to proceed. Most conferences are held at 9:30. The parties can agree before hand to appear any time before 11 a.m. If, for some reason, a party is not in the courtroom before 10:30 you are simply told to contact your advesary. This system appears to work because it allows attorney's to cover more than 1 case in a courthouse. For solo's, this system is necessary because they cannot be in two places at once.

Judge Braun on the other hand does not appear to understand the plight of solo's (even though he was one). Yesterday, I was late by ten minutes because I was delayed by a clerk in the Court of Claims who appeared at 10:15 for a 9:30 conference. When I arrived, at Judge's Braun's part, I was told that he dismissed the case because I arrived at 10:40 for a 10:30 conference. Incidentely, two of the defendants were missing. Thereafter, Judge Braun, called the parties before the court and asked the parties if they would be willing to consent to vacate the default. Thankfully, all parties agreed. Thereafter, we conferenced the case before one of the judges clerks. All parties agreed on the particulars of the conference. The clerk then asked me for a demand (the amount of money that my client was willing to settle for). None of the defendants have offered a penny. I stated that our demand was specific and was based on how much the insurance company paid to its insured for each item. I told the clerk that it was our intention that the insurance company be made whole for its loss. Additionally, I stated that we were willing to negotiate, however, it would be on an item basis (i.e., if they did not agree on the price of a damaged desk, we may lower the amount). The clerk then stated that the judge wanted an automatic lowering of our demand and that we would be punished by a delay in the case if we did not do so. I held my ground. However, it appears that Judge Braun did not delay the case.

Anyway, my suggestion to Judge Braun is to be more liberal and allow solo's to check in with the clerk on conferences. Additionally, the court should not dictate an arbitrary settlement demand.