This Season: It's cleanup time for months-old court cases

Clerks issue notices on cases that have been pending for 18 months

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Spring is the usual time for a wholesale cleaning, but it doesn’t start until the end of summer for court clerks.

In the past starting every August, the 6th Judicial District Court clerks would pull out stacks of files for civil cases that have been pending 18 months. Then notices would go out warning attorneys and plaintiffs their cases would be dismissed by Dec. 31 if no action is taken.

Roxanne Repstien, clerk of court for Linn and Jones counties, said lists now replace those stacks, since cases are filed electronically. But it’s still time-consuming work for the clerks to track down those cases and send out the notices.

This happens every year because, according to the rules of civil procedures, cases have to meet certain deadlines to stay active. Ones filed the previous year and pending more than a year require the clerks to send out notices, Repstien said.

The clerks also periodically take a look at cases after 90 days from when they are filed because many may be dismissed at that point. This has probably kept the numbers down in recent years, she said.

This season’s “cleaning” has uncovered 352 cases that were filed 18 months ago and are pending resolution, Repstien said.

The number varies each year, but here’s a break down for pending cases:

l 123 for dissolution or divorces

l 108 lawsuits

l 83 family law cases, such as child support or custody issues

l 16 equity or foreclosure cases

l 15 for post-conviction relief for defendants

l Seven for name changes.

“Many of the pending cases will be active but maybe the trial is set for next year and nothing has been filed for a while,” Repstien said. “Another example is I found 24 pending cases but those have gone to trial and just haven’t gotten a ruling yet, so they won’t receive notices.”

Repstien said usually lawyers call in after receiving the notices, and about half or more of these cases will be continued. If there is no response, clerks will remove the file and it’s up to the discretion of a judge to reinstate it.

Cedar Rapids lawyer Tom Viner said he received about 15 notices, which is typical.

“Oftentimes the reason for a notice is that the parties are awaiting their trial date,” Viner said. “For instance, I have a notice on a case set for trial in January — just after the deadline.”

Viner said his fear would be to get a case dismissed because of the missed deadline, which would mean having to start over.

“If the case gets reset, it will be set even further out,” Viner said. “There is a new rule in our district that if at the trial setting conference either attorney resists one of the offered dates, that will be noted in the order, which is meant to discourage attorneys from passing on earlier dates.”

Rebecca A. Feiereisen, a lawyer with Arenson Law Group in Cedar Rapids, said she also receives a few notices each year because the typical divorce or family law case just takes time.

Most couples must attend a lass and go through mediation to help resolve some issues.

“This all happens before we even get a trial date,” Feiereisen said. “For example, a case I filed on Aug. 26 has a trial setting conference on Jan. 24. That’s just the time where we pick a trial date.”

Feiereisen said another way the court is trying to expedite cases now is to have mandatory pretrial conferences to review the possibility of a settlement in detail.

“People are more willing to realistically review their options as time passes,” she said. “Wounds heal a little, and people become less emotional about what is worth fighting over.”

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