Managing the Unmanageable

A History of Civil Delay in the Los Angeles Superior Court

by Molly Selvin, Patricia A. Ebener


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This study of civil delay and congestion in the Los Angeles Superior Court since the early twentieth century is an effort to provide an empirical basis for determining the extent to which these problems have worsened over the years. It considers (1) whether civil delay has increased steadily; (2) whether sources of delay are the same now as in the past; (3) effectiveness of innovations the court has introduced in the past to improve the situation; (4) larger institutional or political forces that may have influenced the effectiveness of any procedural innovation; and (5) how delay in Los Angeles courts compares with that of other metropolitan trial courts. The authors do not find a conclusive explanation for the recent increases in civil delay in Los Angeles, but believe that changes in the characteristics of the civil caseload may have contributed to increased delay, and find that this conclusion applies to other metropolitan areas as well. They conclude that the court should focus its delay-reduction efforts on adding to its existing resources and more effectively allocating the resources it does have to its most time-consuming cases.

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