Land Court gets an extreme makeover

Issue July 2005 By Andrea R. Barter, Esq.

When first created over 100 years ago, the Land Court Department of the Trial Court simply exercised jurisdiction over land registration and title disputes. However, the court’s jurisdiction has expanded to include exclusive jurisdiction over foreclosure and redemption of real estate tax liens, as well as concurrent jurisdiction over specific performance of contracts relating to real estate, petitions for partitions of real estate, zoning matters and mortgage foreclosure cases.
With expanding jurisdiction came the need to promulgate new court rules. Effective July 1, the Land Court will operate under new rules designed to simplify practice in what could be a bewildering arena for the uninitiated.
The changes bring the Land Court into conformity with the rules and regulations of other courts. The result: significant benefit to attorneys who regularly practice in superior or district court and may not be familiar with special rules and practices developed by the Land Court.
Uniformity aids practitioners
Property Law Section Chair Kathleen M. O’Donnell, Kopelman & Paige, said Land Court “was a special court with its own rules of procedure, not all of which might be written down and wouldn’t be known by people who did not regularly practice there.”
“It has been an extraordinarily friendly place to practice, but it has operated on its own for so long, a rules change was necessary to get all the courts organized in the same fashion,” said O’Donnell.
The court also needed a comprehensive rules change to reflect its recent adoption of time standards and the individual calendar system, according to Land Court Judge Keith C. Long.
Last, the court looked at the old rules and discovered some were clearly outdated. “It just made sense to redo the rules,” Long said.
Under the guidance of Chief Land Court Judge Karyn Faith Scheier, the court adapted rules used in Superior Court and federal court.
“There are important differences, but they are our starting point,” Long said, noting that lawyers played an important role in guiding the revisions. The overall goal, he said, was to make sure Land Court remained lawyer and litigant friendly.
According to Debbie Patterson, recorder of Land Court, the new rules “are more substantive, meatier. From the experience of litigation over the last few years, the court was able to update the rules so they are more relevant to the current practice in our court.”
“Land Court has always been known as a lawyer-friendly court,” Long explained. “The clerks are very helpful and friendly; the judges are genuinely interested in the cases. But our ability to schedule [firm trial] dates made this an unusual court and particularly user friendly.”
“To the extent these new rules make us more like the other courts, that’s a good thing, I think,” he added. “If you have a familiarity with superior or federal court rules, you will be familiar with the new Land Court rules. Our goal is to make things easier for the lawyers and us.”