Protocol and Practice of Persons Appearing in the Court of Commissioner Steven Lynch
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Specific Comments or Advice for LitigantsSpecific Requirements or Preferences • Young lawyers are not expected to have an answer for everything, but are expected to tell the truth. It is okay to not know an answer, and inform the Court accordingly.
• Pro per litigants are encouraged to (try to) remain calm, and patient, throughout the course of their case. While rules and motions and hearings can be overwhelming, frustration can impact the outcome of a case.
• All litigants should recognize the courtroom bailiff plays an important role; this person deserves your respect and can help you.
Pre-Trial Practice and Management IssuesMotion Practice • E-filing is not yet mandatory across the court system, but when it does apply to this assignment; litigants should understand all pleadings electronically filed will be routed to the trial judge. It is good practice for litigants to consider whether or not the materials e-filed, will reach the judicial officer assigned to their case. If not, hard copies should be delivered to the respective division.
• I review all of the motions, before authorizing my judicial assistant to set oral argument. Efforts may be made to schedule oral argument as a stand-alone proceeding, or to incorporate oral argument into the initial pretrial conference, or comprehensive pretrial conference. Litigants may assume my style on oral argument will be to focus on special points, rather than a resuscitation of the pleadings.
• Any motion to continue or permission for defendants’ to should include victim input from the Prosecutor’s Office. Discovery or Disclosure Disputes and/or Sanctions • I treat attorneys as adults. They appreciate the opportunity to work through case difficulties; I give the parties a reasonable time to settle individual controversies and/or the matter itself. However, I will grant orders for disclosure with timelines when parties cannot work the issues out themselves.
• I am reluctant to place a file under seal because it makes the file difficult to access for everyone. However, I will seal plea agreements in which there are cooperation agreements, or sentence reports regarding cooperation agreements, in an effort to protect the defendant who is cooperating.
• Historically, I have been slow to give sanctions for discovery disputes and this has worked well for my division. Yet, if there is a problem I will strictly enforce the rules. Additionally, the Court may always hold someone in contempt.
• The purpose of a master calendar is to keep counsel accountable through discovery. A defendant will have an initial appearance within twenty-four (24) hours of being taken into custody. Approximately ten (10) days later, arraignment is held, followed by an initial pretrial conference. Thereafter, during scheduling conference, trial dates are issued once the Court inquires about possible discovery disputes. A pretrial conference is held six (6) weeks later to check on the status of discovery. A final trial management conference is the last step, enabling a judicial officer to confirm discovery has been completed. Complex cases involving homicide, or complicated paper matters, may be granted longer timelines, and are typically routed directly to a trial judge. Other Pre-trial Practice Guidelines or Comments • In general, it is good pretrial practice for the parties to confer about matters to which the other party would object. If the Court is not notified of party positions, hearings must be set to question the other side on record, causing delays in decision-making.
• Depending upon whether or not a defendant accepts a plea, the case may be routed through a Grand Jury, the Regional Court Center, or Early Disposition Court for preliminary actions.
• Parties are required to participate in a settlement conference. The goal of Donald hearings is to advise the defendant of the plea offer, what could happen at trial, when the offer expires, and if a wavier is possible.
• Whenever a plea agreement is made, or sentencing is conducted, the judicial officer will ask counsel about compliance with victim’s rights. It is human nature to answer yes, but it is important for all litigants to answer the question honestly. Again, it is okay for young attorneys to inform the Court of what they know, as well as what they don’t know.
• In light of technical difficulties associated with telephonic proceedings, parties should first attempt to file a stipulation, before requesting a telephonic hearing to resolve matters on the record.
Trial Practice and ProtocolTrial Schedule • Jury selection is accomplished in the afternoon in my court because of my busy morning calendar. Trial testimony will begin the following afternoon.
• Attorney time estimates will be solicited, but future reliance depends on good experience.
• This Court will work with the parties on accommodation requests. If this courtesy is abused, the Court will scrutinize future requests. Joint Pre-Trial Memo and/or Conference; Exhibits and Objections • The marking of exhibits must be done in accordance with the preferences of the court clerk. At a minimum, the clerk will prefer exhibits be submitted for marking prior to jury selection.
• Speaking objections are acceptable.
• Motions in Limine must be filed twenty (20) days ahead of trial, and be limited to small issues. The Court will consider if such motions are being used as a second motion to suppress, or a second substantive motion. Jury Selection • The struck method is preferred because it gives counsel more information than the strike and replace method.
• The Court tires to be very thorough when it conducts voir dire. Attorneys may submit questions in writing, which they would like the Court to ask during voir dire, in advance of the selection process. The Court makes a point to disallow lawyer questions that mirror the facts of the case. After the Court’s voir dire, attorneys may ask follow up questions that were not initially addressed.
• Jurors may be challenged for cause.
• Extra alternate jurors are especially helpful during holiday seasons.
• A certified set of jury instructions will be relied upon; as such instructions are complex by nature. Trial Practice and Procedure • Since the Crawford holding requiring the cross examination of a witness, video depositions are rarely used.
• Counsel should not speak longer on rebuttal closing than initial closing.
• At the end of a case, a defendant is always asked if they have resources to hire appellate counsel. If not, the defendant may be found indigent, and counsel appointed, so as to protect the rights of the defendant. The defendant may then file a notice of appeal, and the Court may remove the trial attorney on record.
Courtroom Etiquette • My experiences as a Commissioner have been positive to date. I treat litigants as adults. For example, beverages are permitted, personal electronics may be accessed, and conversation may occur during a proceeding, so long as these privileges are not disruptive. However, during breaks, it is best for counsel to carry out personal matters in the gallery, and resume their professional persona when they return to the counsel table.
• Court staff must be respected, as they are an extension of the Bench. Please make every effort to make their lives easier via common courtesy. For example, notify staff if you are running late. Your consideration will be both appreciated and remembered.