Published on:

A Modest Proposal

People complain about the snail’s pace of civil litigation. It takes a minimum of a year for almost any case to get to trial. Bigger and more complex cases take even longer.

If you ask around, you find that many civil litigation lawyers blame the delay on all the family law cases. The trial courts are clogged with divorce, child custody, division of marital property, domestic violence, and child in need of aid proceedings. The judges spend so much time refereeing for all these angry people who for one reason or another can’t run their own lives that they have no time to deal with the “regular” civil lawsuits. (You know, the really important “regular” civil cases, like the ones involving a slip and fall in a grocery store, or a State of Alaska employee who is unfairly disciplined for being an impossible jerk who won’t do any real work.)

It used to be that the Anchorage Superior Court had one particular judge assigned to handle the family law cases. But that practice was never actually authorized by statute so it was abandoned a while back. Now, all the Superior Court judges on the civil side get a slice of the family law cases, whether they want them or not. The civil judges have to juggle all these prickly family law disputes where emotions run high with their “regular” caseload where usually only something unimportant like millions of dollars are at stake.

Some have suggested that Alaska set up its own family law court to handle these cases, as other states have done. But I’ve got another idea. (Notice, I did not say a better idea.) I think the State ought to set up a Judge Judy type program on cable TV. The State could hire some shrill or half-insane retired judge to act as the star of the show. (A few candidates come to mind.) And give the family law litigants the option of volunteering to submit their dispute to a TV judge rather than a real one. No doubt this will clear out a bunch of cases because I bet any number of star-struck dillweeds would jump at the chance to be on TV.

Of course, you would need a savvy TV production person to screen the cases. You would want to televise only the really juicy ones. Like ones involving infidelity, custody disputes over pets, or the misuse of duct tape. (“I tell you, your honor, since he didn’t pay child support, I had to restrain the kids and feed them bowls of paint chips for dinner!”) With good case screening, the State would have a hit TV show on its hands. It could even make some money from all the advertisers wanting to sponsor the show. (“The Alaska Justice Show, brought to you by your friends at VECO Corporation.”)

I have to admit that I question whether the family law TV show would really speed up the pace of “regular” civil litigation much. The civil litigation process, with all that discovery and whatnot, just takes awhile. Besides, you need to give the hard-working lawyers in those cases enough time to earn their fees. But at least the Alaska Justice Show will keep us entertained while waiting for our “regular” civil cases to come up on the docket.