The new world inside Philadelphia's courthouse was on display last week in Courtroom 503 as Municipal Judge Charles Hayden presided over a mixed docket of accused burglars, drug dealers, drunken drivers, and other defendants.

At 9:15 a.m., Tipstaff David Airey announced to the crowd of witnesses, defendants, and lawyers that the judge would make no final rulings until later that morning.

For the time being, he said, no bench warrants for ducking court would be issued against anyone who hadn't shown up. He promised the judge would call the list of cases once more.

"We're going to go over all the names again," Airey said. "So no one will officially have a bench warrant until 11 a.m."

This was all in keeping with a sweeping directive issued April 1 by Pennsylvania Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille aimed at turning the Criminal Justice Center into a more efficient place and preventing witnesses from becoming frustrated by repeated postponements.

The Castille directive specifically barred judges from making final decisions on cases too early in the day.

In particular, the directive was aimed at stopping overwhelmed or lazy judges from dumping cases from their dockets.

To that end, it banned a little-known practice under which some judges had been marking cases "Ready - not reached." This meant that the judge chose not to hear a case on the list that day - even though the lawyers, defendants, and witnesses were in the courtroom and ready to go.

In Courtroom 503 on Wednesday, no case would meet that fate.

As Hayden worked through his docket, he turned first to defense lawyers, not prosecutors, to ask if they were prepared to proceed.

Defense lawyers must now state their intentions blindly, without knowing whether prosecutors are ready.

This, too, reflected a change ordered by Castille.

Under the old system, prosecutors were always questioned first. According to prosecutors and even some members of the defense bar, some defense lawyers would seek spurious postponements by asking for delays once they knew that the prosecution was ready for trial.

Castille said this was a ploy to buy time in the hope witnesses would give up.

"They're trying to wear these people down. That's all," he said.

Outside Hayden's courtroom Wednesday, veteran defense lawyer David Desiderio said he was troubled by the implication that defense lawyers might mislead a judge.

"I have no reason to lie to a court," he said.

Hayden was hearing cases on the Criminal Justice Center's fifth floor - a space that under the new "Zone Court" plan is dedicated solely to cases from South Philadelphia.

The hall outside 503 was filled with police and detectives serving in South Philadelphia, as well as residents of that area.

In pushing for the creation of Zone Court, Williams argued that police, prosecutors, and neighbors would get to know one another better once cases were centralized. That way, information and intelligence could be shared and neighborhood problems targeted, he said.

For years, cases had been heard mostly in courtrooms in neighborhood police districts. This often led to conflicts - and missed court dates - for police witnesses who might have had to dash from a district court to the main courthouse to testify.

As detectives waited to testify, they said Zone Court was working out well, encouraging communication between prosecutors and police. "So far, so good," one officer said.