President Carter yesterday proposed several major revisions in the federal court system designed to reduce the number of cases and speed up the legal process.
The legislation, much of it proposed earlier, would encourage the settlement of many minor disputes before they reach the federal district court level.
It would expand the jurisdiction of federal magistrates to include misdemeanor cases and minor civil cases and facilitate the use of court-authorized arbitration procedures.
One of the new elements is a provision to protect people who win damages in civil cases from suffering further financial loss through protracted appeals from the losing side.
Carter invited the chairmen of the congressional Judiciary committees, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Rep. Peter W. Rodino Jr. (D-N.J.), to the news conference where he made his proposals. Both men indicated that the legislation would receive priority consideration this year.
"How would you assess the chances?" Carter asked Kennedy."I think they're very good," was the response.
The legislation is part of Carter's government-wide reorganization drive, which included last year's successful effort to revamp the civil service system.
That measure cut far deeper into the established system than the president's judiciary proposals.
Five provisions, all being reintroduced this year, would reduce the federal court caseload. They are:
Federal district courts would be authorized to send minor civil cases involving less than $100,000 to arbitration outside the formal court structure.
Magistrates could hear lesser cases with the consent of both parties.
District courts could stop hearing cases brought to them solely because the opposing parties live in different states.
The Supreme Court would have wider discretion in deciding which cases it would consider.
The federal government would work with private organizations and state and local governments to develop extra-judicial resolutions of disputes and to improve the nation's system of small claims courts.
Carter's new proposal, called the Federal Court Improvements Act of 1979, would combine the Court of Claims and the Court of Customs and Patent Appeals into a new U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.
It also focuses on the problem of long delays in appeals of civil suits that force the winning parties to continue suffering financial loss even after a favorable ruling at the district court level.
Under the Carter proposal, the loser in a civil suit under some circumstances would have to pay set amounts of interest to the winner during the appeal period.
Currently, Carter said, "a plaintiff who is unlawfully deprived of the use of $20,000 in 1976 and who does not receive a judgment until 1979 could have obtained $4,500 in those three years" through investments.