Fines Against Lawyers for Delay?

♫ But I know I had it comin’,
I know I can’t be free,
And I ain’t seen the sunshine,
Since, I don’t know when,
I’m stuck in Folsom Prison,
And time keeps draggin’ on…♫

Lyrics, music and recorded by Johnny Cash.

Angry Judge


Delays in the courts is not news…unless, that is, where the Judges have decided that they will issue fines against lawyers for failing to keep the cases on schedule. In this case it is the judges in Cowlitz County Superior Court in Washington State, USA who will be issuing the fines.

There the Superior Court judges have come up with a novel way of keeping the courts on schedule by fining lawyers.

Starting Jan. 1, attorneys who fail to meet deadlines for providing discovery to opposing counsel, filing motions and other work will face monetary sanctions.

According to Tony Lystra of the Daily News:

The change is part of a wider effort this year to improve the Superior Court, which handles far more cases per capita than any county in the state. The state approved an additional Superior Court judge position for Cowlitz County, but there’s no money in the county’s budget to hire one. The result has been backlogs.

The fines are expected to be between $50 and $75. These fines will apply to all lawyers including publicly employed attorneys, such as prosecutors and public defenders. In these cases, the money will come out of their own pockets “so it hits a little closer to home.”

These changes have come about as a result of “a series of meetings and reports from two consultants, one of which worked for free on behalf of the National Center for State Courts and another who charged a fee of nearly $4,000” according to Evans.

I wonder if they were facing fines if their reports were late?


  1. This seems to be part of a larger trend toward the courts involving themselves in aspects of practice that are properly business matters between lawyer and client.

    It would would be enough for the courts to concern themselves with delivering quality decisions on a consistent and timely basis without worrying about the level of service being delivered by the bar.

  2. The Anglo-Canadian legal system has long recognized the possibility of awards of costs in civil cases being made against counsel personally, though only for egregious misconduct of the case. It does not have to be called a fine to work the same way.

    I disagree with Mr Tarulli that the courts should leave the conduct of cases before them entirely to the lawyers. That is true to some extent – counsel gets to choose strategy and tactics, what witnesses to call, what documents to present and so on – but the courts need to control for delay, bullying, and to some extent costs (to the parties, separately from the costs awards in the first paragraph.)