The Civil Justice Reform Act (CJRA) of 1990 instituted a nationwide experiment with procedures for decreasing expense and delay in federal civil litigation. Congress required all ninety-four federal district courts to adopt civil justice expense and delay reduction plans and to apply cost and delay reduction measures for at least four years.Congress correspondingly prescribed considerable evaluation of the experimentation which the federal districts undertook. The 1990 legislation mandated that each court annually assess the efficacy of the procedures which the district employed. Moreover, Congress required that an “independent organization with expertise in the area of Federal court management” conduct a comprehensive analysis of measures being implemented in the pilot program instituted by ten districts under the CJRA. Congress also mandated that the Judicial Conference of the United States, the policymaking component of the federal courts, in consultation with the Federal Judicial Center (FJC) and the Administrative Office of the United States Courts, important research arms of the federal courts, thoroughly scrutinize the effectiveness of procedures which five districts applied in the statutorily-prescribed demonstration program. Furthermore, Congress asked that the Judicial Conference submit to Congress reports on the pilot and demonstration court experimentation and a recommendation on whether the pilot project warranted expansion.

The RAND Corporation, the independent entity which undertook the multi-year examination of the pilot program, completed its evaluation of these districts' experimentation during September 1996. The FJC, which had responsibility for assessing the demonstration courts, concluded this study in January 1997. The Judicial Conference submitted its report to Congress during May 1997, and that report is reproduced in last month's advance sheet of Federal Rules Decisions.

Because the Judicial Conference report on civil justice reform represents the culmination of this unprecedented experiment with measures for reducing expense and delay, it is important to analyze the Judicial Conference report and the current status of the Civil Justice Reform Act. This essay undertakes that effort. The first section of the essay affords a descriptive assessment of the Judicial Conference report on federal civil justice reform. The second part offers constructive criticisms of the Conference report. The final portion provides suggestions for the future.

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