Burlington County Civil Referee Program
Contact: Robert Seidenstein (609)292-9580 (Trenton)
or Jo Anne Peterson (609)518-2815 (Mount Holly)
The Burlington Vicinage has begun a pilot project that uses two local lawyers as part- time Civil Referees to help manage Civil Division cases in an active and ongoing manner.
The program -- approved by the Supreme Court -- began in January and will last 18 months. Half of the new cases filed in the vicinage will be assigned on a random basis to the program. Goals of the program include expediting the handling of cases and encouraging productive pre-trial activities. The program applies to civil cases in which damages of at least $10,000 are being sought. Under the program, the two referees:
- Screen new cases for referral to Complementary Dispute Resolution procedures such as arbitration, mediation, binding arbitration or summary jury trial.
- Work with counsel to develop a pre-trial discovery schedule tailored to the individual case and to the requirements of the CDR procedure identified as most appropriate.
- Enter a case-management order -- to be signed by counsel and the referee, and executed by Civil Division Presiding Judge John A. Sweeney -- setting a discovery schedule and date for the CDR procedure that is to be used.
- Handle all subsequent discovery issues. Formal discovery motions will be filed only with permission. Parties filing unwarranted discovery motions will be subject to sanctions and attorneys fees.
Approximately a month after the first answer to a lawsuit is filed, the case is scheduled for an initial case-management conference. Attendance at the conference is mandatory. After the first conference, each referee continues to work with his or her cases as they move through discovery until they become ready for the appropriate type of CDR or trial.
In its first three months of operation, the program has been well-received. The referees have entered case-management orders in more than 300 cases. Several cases settled at or as a result of the first conference. Unnecessary parties have been dismissed. Legal and factual issues have been narrowed.
Lawyers will be sent evaluations forms that may be returned to Jo Anne Peterson, Civil Division manager.
The two referees are Susan Claypoole, a Medford lawyer, and William R. Powers Jr., a Mt. Laurel lawyer. They each serve as referees two days a week and are paid for their work.
In the court year that ended on June 30, 1998, 4,307 civil cases were filed in the Burlington Vicinage in which the amount in controversy exceeded $10,000.