New York Bench And Bar: Working Together To Improve The Administration Of Justice

Tuesday, March 2, 2010 - 01:00

The Editor interviews the Hon. Jonathan Lippman, Chief Judge of the State of New York.

This interview is based on an address delivered on January 27, 2010 by Chief Judge Lippman on the occasion of receiving the Stanley H. Fuld Award from the New York State Bar Association's Commercial and Federal Litigation Section (Section).

Editor: I understand that many of the accomplishments of the New York State Court System are attributable to the support provided by the Section.

Lippman: For over 20 years now, the Section has partnered with the court system on some of the most important reforms and initiatives that we have undertaken to improve the administration of justice. And, of course, it was the Section that was the driving force behind the creation and growth of the Commercial Division, from putting together a persuasive report that made crystal clear the need for a specialized court to hear commercial disputes to serving on the Task Force (chaired by Judge Milonas and Bob Haig) that eventually supplied the blueprint for everything that followed. Today, as we all know, the Commercial Division continues to bring great credit to New York and its courts and to serve as a key ingredient in the economic vitality of the Empire State.

The relationship and dialogue we shared have been instrumental to the successful evolution of the Commercial Division - to ensuring that it provides a level of service that is equal to the needs and expectations of the business community and the commercial bar. It is this same spirit of cooperation that enables us to do so many other things together, large and small, that contribute to commercial law practice in New York - putting out the Commercial Division Law Report, making the Commercial Division Clerkship Program a success, and staying abreast of legal and other developments affecting the commercial courts.

In the coming years, I look forward to continuing to work with the Section to ensure that our court system meets the challenges that lie ahead.

Editor: You mentioned in your address to the Section that there were two specific issues that you felt were vital to the future of the Commercial Division and New York State courts. These were e-filing and e-discovery. Tell us about e-filing.

Lippman: We worked hard under the voluntary pilot programs that existed since 1999 to make e-filing a success, with over 13,720 attorneys registered to e-file; over 200,000 cases and 500,000 documents e-filed in the New York courts; and e-filing authorized for commercial cases in 17 counties statewide.

But as long as e-filing remained voluntary, and as long as it remained a pilot subject to legislative sunset, I firmly believe we never would have achieved the kind of progress necessary to move the New York courts into the twenty-first century. That is why I am so delighted that we have finally made a historic breakthrough with the enactment of Chapter 416 of the Laws of 2009. What does it mean for New York?

It means that e-filing is now permanent in New York - no more sunset provisions.

It means that from now on we don't need legislative approval to expand voluntary e-filing to additional counties and case types.

And, finally, we can now mandate e-filing in three locations around the State.

Editor: Have any plans been finalized in connection with the mandatory e-filing programs?

Lippman: Yes, mandatory e-filing will commence in New York County Supreme Court in commercial cases involving $100,000 or more beginning on May 1, 2010. From that day on, no more paper filings will be accepted. I am excited about this program. I believe it will be a showcase for the rest of the state and will demonstrate, beyond any reasonable doubt, that e-filing is the wave of the future.

The second mandatory e-filing program will involve tort cases in Westchester County, with a target start date over the summer.

The third program will take place in a county outside New York City. The finalists are Rockland, Monroe, Tompkins and Livingston counties, where we are in the process of interviewing the County Clerks and local bars to ascertain their interest and readiness.

For anyone who is worried about adjusting to mandatory e-filing, please know that we are committed to making it as convenient as possible. Our Statewide Resource center, based in New York County, provides free e-filing training sessions for the Bar every week, and they also do a traveling program for upstate practitioners.

New York is home to the most sophisticated business community and commercial bar in the world. We must be a national leader on this issue. With the Bar's support and cooperation, it will be only a matter of time before e-filing becomes a permanent, accepted part of the legal landscape - very much the norm in the courts of the state of New York.

Editor: You also mentioned that e-discovery was the other issue that you considered vital to the future of the Commercial Division and the New York State Courts. What is being done to address that issue?

Lippman: Electronic discovery is an area where the New York Courts - especially our commercial courts - can and must do better. Now that our society is almost totally reliant on creating, transmitting and retaining information by electronic means, we are seeing an exponential increase in the number of electronic records that could be relevant to any legal dispute. Commercial practitioners are well aware of the consequences for the litigation process and their clients. Electronic discovery is much more complex and expensive than ordinary paper discovery - and not just in commercial matters but, increasingly, in the full range of civil and criminal cases.

You will be interested to know that the court system is issuing a report in February that addresses what the courts can do, without the need for legislative action, to improve the management and resolution of e-discovery issues. The report focuses on providing judges and court staff with the enhanced training, tools and procedures they need to take an earlier and more active role in e-discovery. Early court involvement is key to getting the parties to communicate and resolve most e-discovery issues, to preventing avoidable disputes that increase costs and delay, to narrowing the scope of discovery, and, ultimately, to ensuring that the costs of e-discovery remain proportionate to the amount in controversy.

It is critical for the state courts to stay ahead of the curve on this emerging issue so that we are managing and deciding e-discovery matters as expertly, efficiently and cost-effectively as possible. The bench and bar must work together on e-discovery, because what is at stake, once again, is the status of the New York State courts as a leading forum for commercial litigation.

Editor: Do you have any closing comments?

Lippman: I must acknowledge the spectacular work of our dedicated Commercial Division Justices, past and present, and our non judicial staff. All the advances we have made wouldn't have been possible without their dedication and commitment. I want to thank them as well as express my gratitude for the incredible support the Commercial Division has received from the Bar, and especially from the Commercial and Federal Litigation Section. Nothing gives me greater pleasure than to continue to work with the Section and the Bar to ensure that the New York courts continue to flourish as a national and international center of commercial litigation.