Trials: 30 Minutes to Nowhere

"I don't know of any court in the country that does business on this assembly-line basis," complains U.S. District Judge George Hart of Washington, D.C. So clogged are Washington's federal courts that 950 defendants currently cannot beg, borrow or steal an available judge to try their cases. Courts in other parts of the country have tackled their backlogs with such new devices as computerized assignment of trial dates. But Washington's have tried something else: the "30-minute alert," which may be a good example of how not to solve court congestion.

Under the "alert" system, a defendant must sit around every weekday...

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