Best Practices – Are They Always Best?

Several years ago, the New Jersey Administrative Office of the Courts and the New Jersey Supreme Court implemented a very well intended program designed to increase the efficiency of the New Jersey court system and reduce the backlog/waiting time for litigants.

One component of the program fixes dates for the completion of pre trial discovery and requires the trial courts to enforce those discovery deadlines.

Unfortunately, as with any such program, it can work as much inequity as equity dependant upon the facts of a particular case or situation.

In a recent divorce case (Ponden v. Ponden, dec’d and approved for publication on 11/29/2004) the Appellate Division held that “adopting a mechanical approach” to the time limitations set by Best Practices can actually be a disservice to the intended purposes of the program.

The Appellate Court directed that trial judges use discretion and judgment, as opposed to a rigid application of the rules, and in the absence of prejudice to the opposing party or conflict with a trial date, to reasonable extensions as and when necessary.

This is a welcome decision which gives the trial judges the authority to do what they do best—apply judgment to particular situations. It addresses the purpose of Best Practices, but at the same time recognizes the need for “exceptions to every rule”.

Best Practices is a sound concept, but care has to be taken that the Court’s effort to create equity for litigants does not create inequity.