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Still the “Rocket Docket” after all these years…

It seems the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia is still far and away the speediest venue available among the 94 U.S. District Court in the country according to a report issued by the United States Courts.  

The report covers the 12 calendar months ending Sept. 30, 2010.  During that time frame 2,067 cases were filed in the Eastern District of Virginia, which by my rough estimate puts the court in the top 10 nationwide in terms of volume.  By way of comparison in the Western District of Virginia, only 582 cases were filed for that period. 

During that time frame, it took 4.8 months for the Eastern District of Virginia to handle a case from beginning to end.  There is a mere 4.2 months, on average, between the date of service of a complaint and the date of the final pretrial conference. 

Only 52 cases out of the 2,067 filed actually went to trial.  Given that the interval between service of the complaint and the final pretrial conference is usually 4.2 months, at first it seems strange that it would take an average of 11.1 months to conclude a trial. 

It is interesting to compare the E.D.Va. with the D.D.C.  The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia had an equal volume of cases but took a leisurely 7.7 months on average from service of process until the final pretrial conference–and a staggering 41.2 months from service of process to the trial (for those cases that went to trial.)

I attended the VBA Labor and Employment Law section meeting last year, and we were privileged to have Judge Brinkema speak to the conference.  The lawyers at the conference were universally in agreement that the fast pace of the E.D.Va. is definitely a good thing for clients and lawyers alike.  Judge Brinkema agreed and mentioned that she had been asked to speak to various judicial meetings about the speed of the rocket docket, and more specifically, about ways other district courts could speed up their docket. 

I for one was not surprised when the Judge told us what happens at such meetings.  The Judge, of course, shares her insights on how courts can speed up their dockets, and each individual suggestion is usually met with:

“Well, we wouldn’t want to do THAT necessarily.”

Judge Brinkema has concluded that the speed of the courts is a function of the legal culture of a given area, and she is no doubt right.