With the new year, a number of changes have occurred in the Sedgwick County Family Law Department, as the court has transitioned from a centralized docketing system to permanent assignment. This change was mandated by the Kansas Supreme Court to establish consistency among the district courts. With approximately 9,000 domestic cases filed each year in Sedgwick County, our court handles nearly twice as many cases as other district courts in Kansas, which will certainly make the new system an interesting experiment.
The family law motion docket occurs three times each week in Sedgwick County, with hundreds of cases scheduled on each docket. Previously, the central docketing system consisted of the presiding judge calling the case names and the attorneys announcing the cases either for “conference” or “hearing.” If the case was for “conference,” the attorneys would attempt to negotiate an agreement. The court requires that a conference be attempted before the case is announced for hearing. The conference may occur through discussing the case after the docket is called, or through speaking by email or phone prior to the hearing. If negotiations did not result in an agreement, the case would then be assigned to one of the four family law judges for hearing.
If a case had previously been heard by a particular judge, the attorneys could request that judge for the next hearing, but there was no guarantee that the request would be granted, so parties could have hearings in front of different judges every time they went to court. With the new permanent assignment system, each case is “permanently” assigned to one of five judges. However, the permanence of the assignment to a judge may be less than permanent; a different judge would be assigned if the judge leaves the family law department to go to the civil or criminal departments. Since this new system has begun, some judges are also changing the hearing times from the times that had previously been scheduled.
There are benefits and disadvantages to both systems. With the central docketing system and the potential of having hearings in front of different judges, the judges had the task of familiarizing themselves with each case in a very short time period. With permanent assignment, the judges are able to review the court file days before the hearing to be more prepared. The downside to this is that, if you are unhappy with a judge’s order or you make a bad impression on the judge, you will be seeing that same judge the next time you go to court.
Our observations of the new system over the past few weeks are that less cases are being resolved by agreement at court. With attorneys being assigned to several judges’ courtrooms at the same time on different cases, there is less of an opportunity to negotiate agreements at the courthouse. What this means is that you need an attorney who is going to work on negotiating an agreement prior to the day of court, who is going to submit well-written pleadings for the judge to review in advance, and who is going to come to court prepared to argue your case at hearing. At Cameron & Herrman, P.A., we pride ourselves on giving cases the care and attention necessary to obtain results. If you need an experienced, hard-working attorney to fight for you in your case, please call us at (316) 265-0650.