Judge Denise Page Hood, a federal judge for the Eastern District of the Michigan,was the speaker in the Silliman University College of Law convocation held last August 22at the Moot Court of Villareal Hall. Judge Hood was invited to discuss about the administration of speedy and sound justice in the United States.
Hood, early in her discussion, established the Decalogue as the foundation of justice and the legal system. In her words, Moses– to whom God entrusted the Ten Commandments–was the first judge, and as such was also the first to deal with the stresses of rendering fair resolutions tothe disputes among his people and determining the guilt or innocence of those accused of violating the Commandments. Hood cited Exodus 18 where Jethro advised Moses to appoint “capable men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain.” Jethro’s counsel was heeded by Moses and an organized institution that would address the people’s need for timely and even-handed judgment.
According to Hood, the legal institution was established to facilitate the efficient and swift dispensation of justice, both in criminal and civil cases. “The speedy trial issues around criminal cases,” according to her, “have to do with protecting the defendant’s right to not have their case drawn out for a long time; to allow them to have finality; to allow them to have their witnesses fresh, and the evidence [against them] fresh,” while in civil cases, the goal is to arrive at a “timely resolution of civil actions brought by persons and corporations to recover various injuries resulting from torts and contract claims, and other civil actions.”
Hood highlighted the judicial procedure ofacquiring all the information necessary to proceed to trial, the process referred to as “discovery” by legal practitioners in the United States. Discovery, as explained by Judge Hood, would determine the duration of a case, and the efficiency with which this crucial stage is handled relies heavily on the judge’s case management skills. According to Hood, “Discovery is one area where I can effectively manage and control the speed of my cases before trial.”
For criminal cases, Hood emphasized the strict adherence to Speedy Trial Act, a statute in the U.S. that sets the start of all trials no later than “70 days from the date the information or indictment was filed, or from the date the defendant appears before an officer of the court in which the charge is pending, whichever is later.” Within this period the judge would entertain and rule on dispositive motions and conduct a pre-trial which will serve as a roadmap for an expeditious and impartial trial.
In civil cases, Hood believes in setting a trial date as early as possible, a move which her colleagues are hesitant to adapt for fear that the litigants would later on complain should the trial fail to commence as scheduled. Judge reasoned out that a fixed deadline would actually encourage the parties to come with an amicable solution before the trial starts. “I give them a trial date. When they get to a month before the trial date, they get really nervous about in civil cases. They start really talking about whether or not there’s an amount of money that will resolve this case or something that we could do to amicably settle it.”
During the Open Forum, Hood entertained the questions asked by the Law students and faculty. Atty. Mikhail Lee L. Maxino, the dean of the college, raised the question whether it was mandatory or not for lawyers in the US to go through the modes of discovery before the trial in which Hood responded that it was not but elaborated on the possible surprises that may happen in trial if lawyers chose not to. (by: Susanah Jane L. Lapa)