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Colorado Civil Access Pilot Project

The Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System (IAALS) at the University of Denver, recently announced its findings on Colorado’s efforts to reform civil court proceedings with new court procedures. This project was supported by SJI based on the Colorado Supreme Court’s request that IAALS evaluate the success of these reforms (SJI-12-N-127).

“The impetus behind the new rules was our growing awareness and concern that the prohibitive costs and delays of civil litigation were foreclosing access to the judicial system,” said Judge Ann Frick, a leader on this issue from the beginning of the initiative. The IAALS report, Momentum for Change: The Impact of the Colorado Civil Access Pilot Project, outlines the results of Colorado’s effort to address those issues, based on two years of data collection and empirical evaluation. “I am grateful for the enthusiastic participation by the bench and bar in the project,” said Judge Wick.

The Colorado Civil Access Pilot Project (CAPP) was developed by a committee of plaintiff and defense lawyers, as well as bar leaders. Beginning in 2012, five state district courts began testing the new pretrial procedures for pleading, disclosure, discovery, and case management in business cases.

As a whole, CAPP has succeeded in achieving many of its objectives, including:

  • The CAPP rules reduce the time to resolution over both of Colorado’s existing procedures (standard and simplified). The rules increase the probability of an earlier resolution over the standard procedure.
  • Four out of five attorneys in CAPP cases indicated that the time it took to reach resolution in a case was proportionate, and three out of four agreed that the costs to get there were also proportionate.
  • CAPP cases benefit from management by a single judge, who handles the case much earlier and twice as often.
  • The CAPP process is not tilted in favor of either plaintiffs or defendants.

The research also highlights a number of persistent challenges in creating new rules, including determining the appropriate basis for differentiating cases, the logistics of how each part of the process relates to the other aspects, and issues of compliance and enforcement.

IAALS, in partnership with the Conference of Chief Justices (CCJ) and the National Center for State Courts (NCSC) has been developing guidelines and best practices for civil litigation based on the work in Colorado and other states through the ongoing SJI-funded Civil Justice Initiative. Their collaboration will also provide templates for civil rules and operational practices that can be adopted nationwide. The IAALS’ evaluation provides a detailed source of information, and further answers the national call for robust empirical data on proposed civil justice reforms. Pilot projects and rules changes for civil cases are being implemented all over the country in both state and federal courts. These projects will provide decision-makers with concrete information on how to improve civil justice in their states and across the U.S.