The Stress The Economy Is Putting On Our Legal System

by Ryan McKeen

A few weeks ago, I was talking to a probate court clerk. I was testifying as a witness in a will contest. I asked the clerk if the court is seeing an increase in such disputes. She said, “absolutely”.  She said in a given year the court would normally see between 4 and 6 will contests a year. She said they have 6 such hearings this month.

What I’m seeing more and more is that people are willing to fight very hard over even small sums of money even when they’re claims could be called questionable at best.  Other lawyers I’ve talked to have told me the same thing that the fights are becoming more intense over almost any sum of money.

In family court, I was talking with a few lawyers and one of them remarked “everything is a hearing right now, everything…and it didn’t used to be this way.”

In some ways, right now may be the most stressful part of our current economic downturn. Unemployment is still high. Credit is either maxed out or unavailable to many. Home equity loans don’t happen any more. Unemployment benefits are running out for some.  Many people’s life savings has been depleted and home values aren’t increasing.

I don’t know what the solutions are but I hope things get better.  The problem is that people become more desperate they become more willing to fight to get anything. That places an enormous strain on both the legal system and society.

If you want to see the strain this puts on litigants and the system, head down to a family court on a short calendar morning. In some cases there’s no room in the courts and finding a place to stand in the hallways can prove difficult. It’s just one more sign of the times we are in.

What are you noticing out there?

Connecticut Court Filing Fees To Increase On July 1, 2009

by Ryan McKeen

Effective July 1, 2009, the cost of litigating claims in Connecticut is going up:

1. the jury fee in civil actions, from $ 350 to $ 425;

2. the filing fee for bringing a case in the Superior Court, from (a) $ 225 to $ 300 and (b) from $ 120 to $ 175, for a case in which the sole claim for relief is damages of up to $ 2,500 and for summary process, landlord and tenant, and paternity actions;

3. entry fee for small claims court, from $ 35 to $ 75;

4. fees to transfer a small claims case to the regular docket from $ 75 to $ 125;

5. designation of a case as a complex litigation from $ 250 to $ 325;

6. application for a prejudgment remedy, from $ 100 to $ 175;

7. a motion to open, set aside, modify, or extend any Superior Court civil judgment, (a) from $ 35 to $ 75 for housing matters, (b) $ 25 to $ 75 for small claims matters, and (c) from $ 70 to $ 125, for other matters;

8. filing a motion to open or reargue a judgment in any civil appeal rendered by the Supreme Court or Appellate Court or to reconsider any other civil matter decided in either court, from $ 70 to $ 125; and

9. application by a judgment creditor for (a) an execution against the personal property of a judgment debtor or the debt due from a financial institution or (b) a wage execution against a judgment debtor who fails to comply with an installment payment order, from $ 35 to $ 75. Link.

CT Small Claims Filing Fee To Increase?

The best bargain for Connecticut residents in terms of resolving minor disputes are small claims courts.

Right now, for $35 and often not marshal fees a person can get their day in court before a magistrate.

The CT Law Tribune is reporting that the legislature is looking to raise the court entry fee to $60.

Even at $60 bringing a small claims action is a bargain.  Serving papers alone in Superior Court costs more than $60.

Of all places the legislature can raise fees, this one makes sense.

Mediation: The Need To Be Heard

by Ryan McKeen

Learning from the little things.

I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting on litigation and with good reason. Other than a real estate closing, forming a company, or doing an estate plan – it’s most of what I do.

A few weeks back, I was involved in a small dispute between a landlord and tenant. As is often, but not always the case, I was representing a landlord. This just happened to be a security deposit dispute. The plaintiff was pro se.

I tried my darnedest to negotiate a settlement in the case with the plaintiff.

Using my best reasoning skills, I spent a half hour trying to negotiate a fair proposal and avoid a hearing.

The plaintiff heard what I was saying in the hallway that day but it may as well have fallen on deaf ears.


In the plaintiff’s own words: “I paid my filing fee, I want the judge to hear this.” The plaintiff asserted her right to the fundamental right to be heard.

So we went into court and tried the case.

In practice, I see the need to be heard as one of the fundamental needs/wants/hopes of all parties. When a person feels wronged and he wants to tell someone about it. Ideally, he wants someone to validate his claim, but he’ll often settle for being heard.

From what I’ve observed, to most clients, it doesn’t matter who hears the case. It doesn’t matter the title of the person sitting at the head of the table. The person could be a judge, magistrate, JTR, housing specialist, family relations officer, an ATR or a private trained mediator.

Most of the time the only thing that matters is that the person listens and is neutral. That’s one of the reasons why I think mediations tend to resolve cases.

Back to my pro se plaintiff.

We got a ruling from the magistrate in the case and it turns out that my offer was slightly ($23) more generous than what the magistrate ordered in the plaintiff’s favor.

I haven’t spoken with the plaintiff since we left court that day but I’m willing to bet the plaintiff would tell me that the $23 that it cost her to have the hearing was money well spent.

A confluence of interests…

As an attorney, I’m always worried about a conflict of interest but not in this case.

Yesterday, I picked up the Connecticut Law Tribune and saw a case that I briefed and argued had made its way into the Connecticut Law Reporter.

I had a personal interest in this case: coffee.

I was fighting for both my client and my dream of being able to run on Dunkin.

The case is JZ Inc. v. Planning and Zoning Commission of The Town of East Hartford, 2008 WL 437833 (Rittenband J.) in which Judge Rittenband ruled that the Planning and Zoning Commission of the Town of East Hartford acted “unreasonably, arbitrarily, and in abuse of its discretion” when it denied my client’s application for a special permit to open a Dunkin Donuts with a drive thru.

I was excited when I first read the opinion when it was mailed to me by the court. Not only had I won the case but now my client could build a Dunkin Donuts with a drive thru within walking distance to my office.  I could practically smell the coffee and taste the turkey sausage flatbread sandwiches.

That excitement was short lived.

On the last day of the appeal period, I received the Town’s Petition for Certification to appeal Judge Rittenband’s ruling.

After all, I think Judge Rittenband got it right.

Now I’ll have to wait and see if the Appellate Court grants certification before I can get my coffee.

Around the Links: On Blogs, Angels and Lemons.

Between my annual battle with leaves, late nights watching the Red Sox, and early morning hearings, I’ve fallen a bit behind in my blogging.

Right now there’s no more late nights watching the Red Sox. In a few weeks, I’ll be dealing with snow instead of leaves and I’ll always have to deal with court hearings.

There are some great law blogs in Connecticut. I enjoy reading the work of my fellow bloggers because I learn from them not only about the law but about blogging.

Anyway, here’s some of what I’ve been reading over the past few days:

Daniel Schwartz of Connecticut Employment Law Blog has a great post about how inappropriate conduct on social networking sites such as MySpace or Facebook and blogs can result in discipline and even termination at work.

Gideon at a public defender wonders just how long same-sex marriage in Connecticut will last. Perhaps having read Daniel Schwartz’s post, Gideon is careful to note that his posts are his views only and not the views of his employer.

Matt Curtiss discusses how angels (not the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim kind) can help you after your death.

Sergei Lemberg at Lemon Justice shows me where I can find car safety statistics online.

Angel fans (the Los Angeles of Anaheim kind) at Halos Heaven call me a jerk. Scroll about 5/8ths of the way down the page and look for a  pink quote box from someone who goes by the name of Lady Bug to see why.

I got my first ever blog review. Check out  Megan Hates Mr. Miller. Evidently, Mr. Miller is an English teacher who likes baseball and law and Megan is his student. It’s great that the class is reading and keeping blogs. Thank you Mr. Miller and kudos to Megan on her blog.

World Series prediction (for entertainment purposes only): Rays in 4. Go Rays. They are a great team and fun to watch when they are not playing the Red Sox.

Connecticut’s Lemon Law Blog

Last week I was getting an oil change on my car. While I was waiting, I decided to walk over to sales and speak with a representative about purchasing a new vehicle.

Being a lawyer, this caused me to think about lemon laws. Law school does weird things to you and this is one of them.

Attorney Sergei Lemberg has a blog and a whole practice devoted to Conneticut’s lemon laws.

Sergei’s lemon law blog is very well done, informative and entertaining.  I’ve added it to my blogroll.

I’ll continue to read Sergei’s blog so that I can avoid purchasing a lemon of a car.

This weekend is going to be hot, so I hope to enjoy a nice glass of lemonade.

Legislature Should Examine Connecticut Landlord/Tenant Law

In Connecticut, evictions are a winner take all fight over possession.

Landlords are often surprised that the court cannot order a tenant to pay past due rent as part of an eviction proceeding.

Tenants are often surprised to learn that bringing their balance current with their landlord will not stop an eviction proceeding. This situation creates little incentive for a tenant who knows that he is facing eviction to tender use and occupancy while the action is pending.

Therefore the name of the game for the tenant becomes delay. The longer a tenant delays the action the more time the tenant lives rent free.

If a landlord wants to collect past due rent the landlord must bring a separate lawsuit.

Other state’s have housing laws that are not a winner take all battle for possession. Tenants are able to pay past due rent and reinstate their tenancy.

I wonder if such laws would improve the state of housing law in Connecticut? I don’t pretend to know the answer.

I do know that the legislature should take a serious look at landlord/tenant law reform in Connecticut.