Circuit Court

Fairfax County, Virginia

CONTACT INFORMATION: Our office is open 8AM-4PM Monday-Friday

4110 Chain Bridge Road
Fairfax, VA 22030

John T. Frey,
Clerk of the Court

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Differentiated Case Tracking Program (DCTP)

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In the Fairfax Circuit Court our goal is to afford every litigant access to the courts to resolve their dispute by trial or settlement fairly and efficiently. The principal result of the implementation of DCTP is to give the court complete control of the pace of litigation. Once a case is filed the court schedules a firm trial date and directs the attorneys to focus their preparation in a way to conclude the case within one year of the date of filing of response to the suit. The court sets deadlines for preparing the case, conducting discovery, motions, settlement conferences and trial. The court assists the attorney in time planning and preparation by incorporating certainty into caseflow.

Prior to the program, only 50 percent of civil cases filed were disposed of within one year. Now 78 percent of all law cases are completed in a year. Under this program, the parties and lawyers know that the case will be tried on the date it is set for trial. Prior to trial the court will assist the parties in reaching a settlement in proper cases.

Differentiated Case Tracking Program

In response to an increasing caseload and a mounting backlog of civil cases, the Fairfax Circuit Court, serving a population of 838,000, devised an innovative Differentiated Case Tracking Program (DCTP) to schedule cases according to individualized timelines established by the court, not by litigants and attorneys which was previously the norm.

DCTP drew upon research that suggested early classification and court control of the docket moves court cases quickly through the judicial system. The program monitors civil cases, and schedules an individualized series of scheduling conferences, settlement conferences, and Neutral Case Evaluations (NCEs) based on case complexity.

Before the implementation of DCTP, the court responded to caseload increases by hiring more judges. Each civil case was treated alike. Simple cases were scheduled for trial much later than necessary, and more complex cases were subject to repeated continuances. From 1986-1989, the court's civil caseload increased so rapidly that it became clear more judges were not the answer.

When the program was initiated, the theory of Differentiated Case Management had not been tested in courts. According to the theory, since certain factors (the type of case, the number of parties) are indicators of delay, early screening and classification of cases can save court resources. Courts are memory dependent; the further in time the trial is from the event that gave rise to the litigation, the less likely facts will be recollected or even be accurate. Therefore, a system needed to be implemented that not only was efficient, but timely, so cases that needed to be heard were scheduled in a reasonable time frame. With technical assistance from outside sources, a few courts were developing differentiated case management pilot programs. Before results were available from those programs, the court secured funding to develop its own experiment with differentiated case tracking in 1989. This program is a departure from other programs as it was developed by judges and court staff. The court is also the first to develop an automated tracking system specifically designed to accommodate the program.

The principal result of the implementation of DCTP was to give the court complete control of the pace of litigation. By establishing deadlines, every attorney who practices in Fairfax County is bound to meet specific cut-off dates by court order. The court assists the attorney in time planning and preparation by incorporating certainty into caseflow.

Prior to the program, only 50% of civil cases filed were disposed of within one year. Now 78% of all law cases are completed in a year. DCTP also implemented a Delay Reduction Program to conclude cases that had been dormant for years.

DCTP is working towards the goals of the American Bar Association's Standards Relating to Court Delay Reduction, which state: "from the commencement of litigation to its resolution, whether by trial or settlement, any elapsed time other than reasonably required for pleadings, discovery and court events is unacceptable and should be eliminated."

DCTP serves citizens and attorneys in law cases (monetary claims over $10,000) and in child custody or visitation disputes. 7,070 (53 percent) of the 13,350 civil cases filed in 1992 were DCTP handled. Including litigants, counsel, and witnesses, there were approximately 30,000 people aided by DCTP in 1992.

The program's success led to a number of unexpected results. The Chief Justice of Virginia mandated that all courts statewide design and implement a case tracking program. In addition, to automate the program, the court installed a sophisticated Local Area Network (LAN) and an integrated case management software program that has made cases readily accessible via computer. This LAN benefited other agency programs as well. Savings of $50-100,000 were realized through an agreement between the court and the software vendor. The court allowed the vendor to use the program in sales promotions in exchange for the lower price.

As the program grows in recognition, the court continues to enhance its objectives. Settlement conferences, which before were not considered a valuable mechanism, are increasing in popularity and are settling cases at a 65 percent rate.

In 1993, DCTP has added to its accomplishments. The Neutral Case Evaluation program enlists 75 senior level attorneys to hear settlement conferences pro bono to help reduce the judges docket. This program plays a central role in producing the high settlement rate. Finally, the program's success merited inclusion in the National Center for State Courts' publication, Courts that Succeed.

As in any jurisdiction seeking to establish such a program, one of the biggest obstacles that the Case Tracking Program overcame was the natural resistance to change. Some lawyers were reluctant to relinquish control over their cases. Some argued that delay is not necessarily bad because cases need time to mature. Even some judges viewed the caseflow management system as a threat to judicial independence. The court overcame these obstacles by working closely with the bar to develop this program.

In addition to jurisdictions in Virginia, courts nationwide have looked at DCTP as a model for reducing their civil case backlog.

The cost of implementing the case tracking program was well worth the expenses involved. The budget for the project was $521,305. During this three-year period, $279,579 (53.6 percent) came from the State Justice Institute and $241,726 (46.4 percent) came from Fairfax County.

In conclusion, DCTP has been a tremendous savings of time and money for the court. A typical civil case no longer takes years to come to trial. The case now goes through specific cutoff dates to ensure timely disposition. Lawyers and county citizens alike are very pleased with the program. Attorneys are very supportive and feel that it actually helps them manage their law offices more practically by being prepared for every case they litigate. Citizens are pleased because they get "their day in court" much faster and finally, the court wins as well, because they have complete control over their docket. So in all, it's a winner for the county and the legal community!

The Judges of the Fairfax Circuit Court



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