Chess clocks help speed up justice in US court | india | Hindustan Times
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Chess clocks help speed up justice in US court

CHESS CLOCKS are helping wheels of justice spin faster in a massive legal battle over Vioxx, an arthritis drug pulled off the market in 2004, in the US, after being linked to heart attacks and strokes with long-term use. More than 9,650 suits have been filed in state and federal courts in America, by former Vioxx users or their survivors, who blame the drug and say its Whitehouse Station, New Jersey-based manufacturer should be held accountable.

india Updated: Apr 10, 2006 00:56 IST

CHESS CLOCKS are helping wheels of justice spin faster in a massive legal battle over Vioxx, an arthritis drug pulled off the market in 2004, in the US, after being linked to heart attacks and strokes with long-term use. More than 9,650 suits have been filed in state and federal courts in America, by former Vioxx users or their survivors, who blame the drug and say its Whitehouse Station, New Jersey-based manufacturer should be held accountable.

Imagine the time involved considering Merck has ‘vowed’ to fight every single of these 9.650 suits! A solution was needed to accelerate the case without compromising on justice.

So, when the trial began on March 6, 2006, lawyers for plaintiffs Thomas Cona and John McDarby got 40 hours to present their case, not including opening statements and closing arguments. Lawyers for Merck got 35. Their arguments were timed by using tabletop chess clocks, activated manually, each time one side or the other put a witness on the stand.

A chess clock has two connected time displays, linked so that only one clock can tick at a time. When an opponent makes a move, he presses his side of the clock and his time freezes and your time starts ticking! Why didn’t someone think of this before? Particularly, in India?

According to official figures in India, 2.91 crore cases were pending in various high courts and subordinate courts as on December, 2005 while the figure for the Apex court stood at 33,636 cases. Concerned over the time taken by courts to decide cases, President APJ Abdul Kalam has suggested that a study be conducted to examine judicial delays. Of course judicial delays occur because of several reasons and not just long drawn-out arguments by the lawyers.

In the Merck case, a lawyer remarked that, “Often, judges need to assert some sort of reasonable control. If Merck is to be taken at their word, they’re never going to settle and there are 10,000 cases to go. The court system’s going to have to be creative in adjudicating the cases”.

The idea for the clocks came after state Superior Court Judge Carol Higbee, who presided over a Vioxx trial that took seven weeks, asked the lawyers for ideas on how to limit the next one’s length. Cona’s lawyer, Mark Lanier, a chess enthusiast, suggested the clocks and even provided them!

Merck’s lawyers argued for equal time, but plaintiff lawyers persuaded Higbee to give them five hours more, since they have to lay the medical and factual foundation from which both sides will build.