Eleven Years Too Long to Have Case “Under Advisement,” Says Panel

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A CalendarThe ABA Journal reports that the Tennessee Court of the Judiciary has reprimanded a county judge who, it said, violated the rule requiring judges "to dispose of all matters promptly." That is a flexible rule, as it has to be given the caseload judges face, but the TCJ decided that 11 years was too long.

The judge heard the case, which involved claims against an insurer, in a bench trial held in November 1999, and then said he would take the case "under advisement" (the legal term for "let me think about it").

Time passed.

Counsel and the parties were very patient. The plaintiff filed a "motion to ascertain the status of the case" in 2003, and his counsel apparently set a reminder to check again in six years or so, when the plaintiff filed a second motion. The court responded to that one, saying an opinion would be forthcoming in about three weeks. That date came and went. The court eventually did respond promptly to a letter from the TCJ, and produced an opinion on October 12, 2010, 10 years and 11 months after the trial. The judge has not commented on the case and there has been no explanation for the delay.

Now, 11 years does seem like a long time to wait, but it doesn't seem like either party (especially the defendant) was overly concerned about getting a quick decision. It is always a difficult call as to when to "prompt" a judge, but 3 to 6 months seems like a decent target date for a reminder. (There might have been intervening letters or calls to the clerk, of course.)

Possibly a More Useful Calendar for Some JudgesBut let's keep this in perspective, because 11 years is by no means the longest anyone has had to wait. Last year, we learned that a judge in Montana had resolved a breach of contract case filed in March 1983. The last entry on the docket was in March 1985, the Soviet Union fell in 1991, the judge retired in 1994 and found the case file at home while doing some spring cleaning in 2009. The Montana Supreme Court said he could rule on it, and he did, 26 years after it was filed. (His former assistant said he had taken "very good, very copious notes" at the time.) That judge was not disciplined – of course, he had retired, but there was also the fact that neither party to that multi-million-dollar case had ever bothered to check in during the quarter-century it was pending.

I guess the moral of the story is that after about the first decade or so, you might want to suggest that the judge check up in the attic, just in case.