Lawyers love legal buzzwords. I know I do. Perhaps no buzzword is as frequently misused as “judicial economy” in Illinois’ divorce court proceedings.
If you are ever in an Illinois divorce court and you hear a lawyer say “Judge, in the interests of judicial economy…” an alarm should go off in your head. That lawyer is trying to skip some kind of legally required step because it is supposedly easier for the judge…and good for their client.
Judicial economy is “efficiency in the operation of the courts and the judicial system; esp. the efficient management of litigation so as to minimize the duplication of effort and to avoid wasting the judiciary’s time and resources.” Black’s Law Dictionary (11th ed. 2019)
Judges can run their courtrooms however they wish to an extent. Judges are entitled to enact procedures with the purpose of efficiently handling the cases before them.
“[T]he court’s inherent authority is necessary to prevent undue delays in the disposition of cases caused by abuses of procedural rules, and also to empower courts to control their dockets.” Sander v. Dow Chemical Co., 166 Ill.2d 48, 209 Ill.Dec. 623, 651 N.E.2d 1071 (1995)
Judicial economy sounds great. But, a rule is a rule…no matter how inefficient.
“Principles of judicial economy may not trump the jurisdictional barrier erected by [a rule or law]” People v. Johnson, 208 Ill. 2d 118, 141 (Ill. 2003)
Consider what could happen if a judge prioritized judicial economy over every thing.
A “trial judge should, if motivated solely by judicial economy, deny every motion…except those which are overwhelmingly meritorious.” People v. Enoch, 522 NE 2d 1124 – Ill: Supreme Court 1988
A balance must be achieved between following the strict dictates of a rule and engaging in judicial economy.
The Illinois supreme court considered an “inflexible rule requiring formal proof of earlier court records only by authenticated or certified copies of those records and proof of identity, they are incompatible with considerations of judicial economy and efficiency essential to the disposition of present-day caseloads.” People v. Davis, 357 NE 2d 792 – Ill: Supreme Court 1976
It is unclear how the balance between judicial economy and strict rule-following is to be weighed, exactly.
Failure of a court to make a decision in the face of a rule is looked upon more favorably that a court bypassing a rule with an active decision.
“[An Illinois court] may consider factors such as the orderly administration of justice and judicial economy in determining whether to stay proceedings [i.e. not make a decision]” Estate of Bass ex rel. Bass v. Katten, 871 NE 2d 914 – Ill: Appellate Court, 1st Dist., 4th Div. 2007
The invocation of “judicial economy” is the request for a shortcut. Shortcuts are to be discouraged in something as important as determining an entire family’s life in a divorce proceeding.
If a plea for “judicial economy” is detrimental to your divorce case, remind the court that judicial economy is largely a principle used to encourage full hearings of all issues between all parties in one singular action.
“[T]he broad purposes of judicial economy are best served by having both actions tried together.” Lucey v. Law Offices of Pretzel & Stouffer, 703 NE 2d 473 – Ill: Appellate Court, 1st Dist., 3rd Div. 1998
“[J]oinder and concurrent trials would promote fairness and consistency, while conserving valuable judicial resources.” Boyd v. Travelers Ins. Co., 652 NE 2d 267 – Ill: Supreme Court 1995
“[T]he court [should] decide all matters incident to the dissolution in a single judgment, to the fullest extent of its authority, in order to achieve finality, promote judicial economy, and avoid multiple litigations and complications which can result from the entry of partial judgments, particularly judgments which dissolve the marriage but `reserve’ remaining issues for later determination.” In re Marriage of Leopando, 449 NE 2d 137 – Ill: Supreme Court 1983 (quotations omitted)
Judicial economy is for the benefit of the judge. No one else. A judge must do their job but a judge does not have to do their job twice.
It is “an unnecessary impediment to judicial economy to require a second judge to acquire the knowledge of the proceedings in the dissolution action already known to the judge who has heard it.” In re Marriage of Baltzer, 502 NE 2d 459 – Ill: Appellate Court, 2nd Dist. 1986
If you are in an Illinois court and you hear a phrase you do not fully understand, you had better believe the other side fully understands that phrase and is using it for a purpose that does not include your best interests. Hire a divorce lawyer who understands everything that happens in court…and can react appropriately. Contact my Chicago, Illinois family law firm to speak with an experienced Illinois divorce attorney.