CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Wyoming’s circuit courts will be even busier after July 1 when new rules expanding their jurisdiction go into effect.
The rules are intended to speed up civil lawsuits and lessen the district courts’ caseload. They also increase the jurisdictional limit for cases filed in circuit court from $7,000 to $50,000.
A bill passed by the state Legislature to increase jurisdiction of the circuit courts also becomes law July 1.
The circuit courts will also now have a case management order and hold civil trials within seven months of filing.
Currently there is no limit on when trials must be held, said Circuit Court Judge Roberta Coates of Cheyenne.
Each side in a case will be allowed two depositions of three hours each. Each side also will be limited to 20 requests for production, interrogatories and admissions unless an attorney can show cause for more.
The new rules are part of the Wyoming Supreme Court’s Access to Justice effort.
“It’s an attempt to make the cost and the time of a case proportional to the size of the case,” Wyoming Chief Justice Marilyn Kite said.
“I really think that if these rules work the way we hope they will, we can use them as a template for other cases in the district courts.” she said.
The Legislature in passing the bill to increase the jurisdiction of the circuit courts made clear it expected the rules of procedure for those courts would be reviewed and revised if necessary to encourage expeditious handling of cases.
The Institute for the Advancement of American Justice is looking at courts all over the country to try to make them work more efficiently. It helped the circuit courts prepare the draft rules outlining the changes in procedures.
The goal was to provide discovery proportional to the size of the case, greater pre-trial case management and prompt trial settings.
Another part of the Access to Justice effort is legal services for people who cannot afford to hire attorneys.
A $10 increase in the filing fee for civil and criminal cases went into effect July 1, 2010, to generate money for a new Indigent Civil Legal Services program.
It was expected to raise at least $2 million per year to support legal services statewide. Coates said legal services is more active now.
“We’re seeing retired attorneys who don’t handle these cases volunteering to help,” she said.
Kite said the court passed emeritus rules to allow judges who are no longer members of the bar to provide legal services. The court also encourages retiring lawyers to devote time and effort to services for people with civil legal problems who can’t afford attorneys.
“We can never have enough money to take care of the legal needs, but the bar is really stepping up and developing efforts like mediating divorces and assistance that doesn’t require actual representation,” Kite said.