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Shortly after taking over as the New York City Asbestos Litigation (NYCAL) Coordinating Judge, Justice Manuel M. Mendez changed the method for assigning cases for trial. The new system, intended to put a dent in NYCAL’s bloated docket, was introduced in September 2018 and has been in effect since.
Trial-Ready Cases Assigned to Coordinating Justice
Justice Mendez became the NYCAL Coordinating Judge on April 2, 2018, and in the ensuing months had all NYCAL trial-ready cases reassigned to him. Previously, a NYCAL action deemed “trial ready” was assigned to one of a handful of designated asbestos judges, who would then schedule a trial date for that case based upon the exigency of the circumstances, the parties’ preparedness, and the judge’s own schedule and availability. Under the “old” system, litigants knew who their trial judge would be well in advance of jury selection, but the period from trial assignment to jury selection was somewhat unpredictable. It could take a matter days, weeks, months, or (in some instances) years.
Trial Dates and Judges
By the middle of 2018, with reassignment of trial-ready NYCAL cases complete, Justice Mendez divided those cases into four categories, taking into account the plaintiff’s status (living or deceased) and the discovery docket to which the case had been assigned (in extremis or non-in extremis). Then, giving priority to cases involving a living in extremis plaintiff, Justice Mendez began assigning these cases hard trial dates, generally 60-90 days out.
Under the new system, at least ten “trial-ready” NYCAL cases have been scheduled for trial on just about every Tuesday of the year since September 25, 2018. Cases scheduled for trial that are not settled (or otherwise disposed) by the designated hard trial date are either: 1) sent out for jury selection and assigned to whichever asbestos judge happens to be available that day; or 2) if circumstances warrant, adjourned to another date, usually within 7-30 days. Since Justice Mendez introduced this system, more than half of the cases given hard trial dates have either been marked disposed or sent out for jury selection without adjournment on the designated trial date. There have been some trial adjournments during this period, typically for short periods of time (7-30 days). More recently, though, some cases have been given multiple trial adjournments.
Between September 25, 2018 (the date of the inception of Justice Mendez’s trial assignment system) and today, 445 trial-ready NYCAL cases have been resolved.
LDE represents certain defendants in NYCAL, as well as in other counties in New York State and in the Asbestos Multi-County Litigation in New Jersey. Lawrence Lee is a former New York County Assistant District Attorney, who has been representing defendants in asbestos litigation since 2006.