44th Judicial District Court
Hon. Carlos R. Cortez, Presiding
SCHEDULING ORDERS/COURT’S SETTINGS:
Does the Court use a specific scheduling order? What specific dates are included in the scheduling order and are there specific time periods used (e.g. mediation set at 6 months from filing, trial date set at 10 months from filing). Is the scheduling order used in all cases or just in level 3 cases?
The 44th Court’s Scheduling Order is used only in Level 3 cases and only if an Agreed Level 3 Scheduling Order is not submitted by the parties to the Court within 120 days of the filing of the answer. The Order contains specific deadlines for filing amended pleadings asserting new claims or defenses, joinder of additional parties, designation of expert witnesses/reports, motions challenging expert qualifications, filing and hearing of dispositive motions, designation of responsible 3rd parties, closing of discovery, mediation deadlines, exchanging of trial materials, pre-trial conferences, etc.
Trial dates are set approximately one year from the answer.
Mediation Order requests the parties to select a mediator within fourteen (14) days of the date the Mediation Order is submitted to the parties. If a mediator cannot be agreed upon by the parties, the mediation order contains the name and phone number of the mediator that will be assigned to the case. Mediation must occur no later than forty-five (45) days prior to trial setting.
Does the Court have any settings such as DWOP, mediation, trial dates, others that are set and noticed automatically upon filing suit or some other triggering date?
60 days after the filing of a lawsuit, if there is no answer/service of citation, etc. on file the Court will set the matter on the DWOP docket.
Trial dates are set approximately one (1) year after the filing of an answer.
Mediation must occur no later than forty-five (45) days prior to trial setting.
EMERGENCY RELIEF/CONTACTING THE COURT:
What is your preferred procedure for contacting the court in a true emergency? What if the emergency occurs after hours?
Co-ordinator or clerk can be called at any time from 8:00 a.m. to 6 p.m. They are instructed to contact me immediately concerning any “emergency” that occurs during those hours, even if it occurs during a jury trial.
Can the court be contacted by e-mail or fax? If so, what is the number or address? Yes but only on specific matters and with permission by the Judge.
Describe your expectations or specific requirements of parties bringing discovery disputes before the Court. How does the Court handle discovery disputes that arise during a deposition? Can the attorneys contact the Court directly? If the Court is not available can the attorneys contact the master and, if so, who? Does the Court refer all discovery disputes to the master initially?
Most discovery disputes will initially be heard by the associate judge. The Court does not have specific requirements for parties to bring discovery disputes to the Court because I treat attorneys as officers of the Court and expect that all measures to resolve the discovery disputes were exhausted prior to having the Court spend time on the matter. Having said that, the Court does entertain sanction requests for abuses in the discovery process.
Disputes that arise during a deposition can be handled by the Court directly. If the Court is not available (due to a jury trial, etc.) the attorneys may contact the associate judge (Snelson).
PLEADINGS & MOTIONS:
Describe any specific requirements of the Court regarding filing pleadings or motions with the Court? Is there any specific time or other requirement for filing responsive or reply motions prior to the hearing (other than summary judgment motions)? How soon before a hearing should all responses be filed for the Court to have the opportunity to review the response?
There are no specific requirements by the Court regarding filing pleadings or motions other than the time deadlines set out in the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure and/or the Court’s Level 3 Scheduling Order.
The Court requests that a party that files a motion or response with the Court longer than twenty (20) pages also submit a “summary” that the Court can rely up with greater ease during the actual hearing.
All responses should be filed with the Court no later than 72 hours prior to the hearing date.
How do you like briefs to be organized?
Organized in a manner to where even a judge can understand it.
Does the court accept filings by fax or e-mail? If available, is this filing limited to the District Clerk or can fax filings be made directly with the Court’s clerk?
Filings, including e-filings, are limited to the District Clerk. No filings are to be made directly with the Court’s clerk, however, upon request letters to the Court, copied to all counsel, may be faxed directly to the Court on specific matters.
What is your preferred procedure for contacting the court or court staff regarding the status of motions (e.g. rulings on motions taken under advisement)?
The days of having motions taken under advisement in the 44th State Civil District Court are over. If a motion is taken under advisement, it will be ruled upon in less than 24 hours.
PRE-TRIAL HEARINGS/HEARING DOCKET:
Describe any specific policies of the Court relating to hearings, scheduling hearings, days of the week set aside for hearings, certain types of hearing on certain days or at certain times of the day (e.g. default judgment, discovery disputes, special exceptions, sanctions, severance/ consolidation, summary judgment, others).
The Court has a motion docket every morning (8:30 a.m. – 9:30 a.m.) Tuesday through Friday and after 4:30 p.m. when needed. Monday’s motion docket (9:30 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.) is set aside solely for longer hearings (typically motions for summary judgments) that begin after the Court’s Monday dismissal/trial docket.
When and how should motions be set for submission or oral hearing? (i.e., does the Court automatically set hearings and notify the parties or should the movant contact the coordinator to set the hearing)?
Movant should contact the clerk of the Court to set the oral hearing or written request signed by all counsel for the matter to be ruled upon by submission.
Does the Court automatically allow oral hearings if requested? What procedures should be followed to obtain an expedited hearing?
The Court automatically allows oral hearings if requested. Expedited hearings are accommodated on a case by case basis and upon written request outlining the emergency.
Do you allow telephone conferences for the resolution of motions? If so, who arranges them and when and how are they scheduled?
Telephone conferences for motions/hearings, if requested, are allowed if one or both sides are represented by out of town counsel. Telephone conferences are handled by contacting the clerk of the court who will schedule the conference.
What is your preference on cases attached to briefs or motions? Do you prefer pertinent provisions of the cases to be highlighted?
I would prefer pertinent provisions of cases attached to briefs or motions (that will be discussed during the actual hearing) to be highlighted.
How are attorneys or parties notified of rulings on motions not made during the hearing?
Rulings on motions, not made during the hearing, will be faxed to the attorneys by the Court. However, rulings will not be taken under advisement for longer than 24 hours.
MASTERS & VISITING JUDGES:
Describe the Court’s policy on the use of masters, visiting judges, visiting judges and masters the Court uses, for what purposes or types of matters, and the Court’s policy on the parties objecting to the use of masters or visiting judges.
The Court does not allow dispositive motions (i.e. summary judgments) to be heard by the associate judge. I believe that this is a waste of the associate judge and attorneys’ time as 99.9% of the rulings on dispositive motions are appealed to the presiding judge of the Court.
ALTERNATIVE DISPUTE RESOLUTION:
What is the Court’s policy on appointing mediators and setting mediation deadlines? What is the Court’s policy on referring cases to alternative dispute resolution? Under what circumstances do you order mediation, when is it ordered, and how is the mediator chosen? Is the Court amicable to the parties agreeing on and using a mediator other than the one appointed by the Court? Is a motion to substitute mediators required before the Court will allow the use of an alternate mediator or may the parties simply agree on and use another mediator? What if the Court has already appointed a mediator?
The Court deems cases appropriate for mediation pursuant to §154.001 et seq. of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code. The mediator may be selected by agreement of all parties; if one cannot be agreed upon within fourteen (14) days of the date the Mediation Order is submitted to the parties, then the mediator listed in the mediation order will be the mediator for the case. It is ordered that the parties shall mediate their case no later than forty-five (45) days before the trial setting.
What is the Court’s procedure for setting a trial? How are cases that are not reached reset? Do you grant special trial settings, and, if so, under what circumstances (e.g. lengthy trials, witnesses or parties with handicaps or serious health conditions, out of town parties or witnesses). How should they be requested?
Absent a special trial setting, the court’s procedure for setting a case for trial is based on filing date (oldest to newest). The Court favors granting special trial settings for cases which will be lengthy in duration, containing multiple litigants, multiple witnesses, out of town parties/experts/witnesses, and/or parties with serious health conditions.
Requests for special trial settings should be in writing and should contain the reason(s) for the request and multiple proposed trial dates signed off by all attorneys.
When and in what form do you want proposed jury charges or findings of fact and conclusions of law presented (e.g., prior to trial, first day of trial, charge conference)?
Proposed jury charges should be exchanged between the parties no later than seven (7) days prior to trial and submitted to the Court at the time of the pre-trial conference the Friday before trial.
What is your procedure for continuing trials? How early or late will you grant/deny a request and how early do you want the request made? Is a first motion for continuance usually granted if requested at a reasonable time prior to trial? Are agreed motions for continuance usually granted?
Age of the case (i.e. over 2 years) would be the only scenario upon which an agreed motion for continuance would possibly be denied. Further, I do not require agreed motions for continuance to be signed off by the attorneys’ clients. The attorneys’ signatures representing that the continuance is sought not for the purposes of delay but in the interest of justice is sufficient for me.
However, any agreed motion for continuance filed will require an agreed discovery control plan/scheduling order to be submitted simultaneously with the motion for continuance to the Court.
All contested motions for continuance will be set for hearing, and if granted, will likewise be required to submit a discovery control plan/scheduling order to the Court.
When should parties present motions for continuance, motions to exclude, motions in limine, Robinson/Daubert motions, or any other specific trial motion? What is the Court’s policy on hearing such motions? Do you have any particular rules governing pre-trial exhibits, motions, or orders (i.e. witness lists, draft jury charges, etc.)? Is a form available? When is it presented?
All dispositive motions, including any objection or motion to exclude or limit expert testimony due to qualifications of the expert or reliability of opinions must be filed and heard no later than sixty (60) days before trial. Absent an agreed scheduling order, pre-trial exhibit lists, witness lists, jury charges, motion in limines will be heard the Friday before trial at the pre-trial conference.
Describe the Court’s specific policies on conducting voir dire. Does the Court conduct any portion of the voir dire and, if so, describe what the Court does. What is the Court’s policy on setting time limits on voir dire? Does the Court have specific time limits for certain types of cases and, if so, what are they? (e.g. MISTI cases) What are the Court’s procedures for striking jurors (peremptory, for cause – i.e. during voir dire outside the presence of the panel, en masse after completion of voir dire, other matters)?
The Court does not conduct any portion of the voir dire. It is my judicial philosophy that judges should stay out of the attorneys’ way as much as possible during the course of the trial, including voir dire.
The Court does not have specific time limits for voir dire. The Court will only set time limits for voir dire if there is an objection by counsel to the time requested for voir dire, at which time the Court will make a decision on a case by case basis.
Striking jurors (peremptory, for cause) are done outside the presence of the jury panel after completion of voir dire.
Describe any specific requirements the Court has regarding opening statements. Does the Court impose specific time limits? What are they? Do they vary by type of case? Give examples of typical time limits, if any, for common cases.
The Court does not have specific time limits for opening statements. It is my judicial philosophy that judges should stay out of the attorneys’ way as much as possible during the course of the trial. The Court will only set time limits for opening statements if an objection to the time requested is made by opposing counsel, at which time the Court will make a decision on a case by case basis.
Describe any specific policies on direct examination. For example - do you require attorneys to stand, sit, use a podium, or use microphones.
The Court does not require specific policies on how attorneys conduct direct examination. It is my judicial philosophy that judges should stay out of the attorneys’ way as much as possible during the course of the trial. Attorneys will use microphones as they conduct their direct examination either at counsel’s table or standing at the podium.
Describe any specific policies on cross examination.
The Court does not require specific policies on how attorneys conduct cross examination. It is my judicial philosophy that judges should stay out of the attorneys’ way as much as possible during the course of the trial. Attorneys will use microphones as they conduct their cross- examination either at counsel’s table or standing at the podium.
Describe any specific requirements the Court has regarding closing statements. Does the Court impose specific time limits? What are they? Do they vary by type of case? Give examples of typical time limits for common cases.
The Court does not have specific time limits for closing statements. It is my judicial philosophy that judges should stay out of the attorneys’ way as much as possible during the course of the trial. The Court will only set time limits for closing statements if an objection to the time requested is made by opposing counsel, at which time the Court will make a decision on a case by case basis.
Does the Court provide its own blackboard, easel, Elmo, overhead projector, video equipment, or other presentation equipment? What arrangements must be made to use them? What arrangements can be made to become familiar with them or prepare them before trial?
The 44th State Civil District Court has state of the art audio/visual equipment. Arrangements can be made to become familiar with the equipment before trial by calling the co-ordinator of the Court.
What is the Court’s procedure for notifying parties of assignment to trial? Describe any specific policies of the Court relating to its trial docket, scheduling trials, continuances, days of the week set aside for trials versus hearings. Does the Court set aside certain days, weeks, or months for certain types of cases (e.g. MISTI cases, complex commercial litigation, others).
Upon filing of an answer to a lawsuit, the Court will send out a pre-trial order setting a date for trial. Trial starts on Tuesday and runs through Friday and if it continues to the next week, it resumes on Tuesday (as Mondays are set aside for lengthy motion hearings).
The Court is mandated to give priority to asbestos litigation during certain weeks of the year. Other than that, the Court does not set aside certain weeks for certain type of cases, however, Dallas County does not call jury panels to the courthouse on certain weeks and on those weeks, the Court will obviously conduct non-jury trials.
What are the Court’s procedures and criteria for court appointments of ad litems?
Ad litems are appointed to cases based on their experience in handling similar litigation.
Anything the Court would like attorneys practicing before it to know that is not covered above. For example: Do you have any special rules governing courtroom decorum? (e.g., addressing the court, opposing counsel or witnesses, requirement that counsel use only podium, approach the witness, talking or passing notes at the counsel table, beverages allowed at the counsel table).
Beverages are allowed at counsel table as long as it has a screw top/lid to avoid spillage.
Counsel should extend every professional courtesy to opposing counsel. Counsel should not talk while opposing counsel is conducting direct or cross-examination, therefore, passing notes at the counsel table between co-counsel would be a preferred method of communication, although brief whispering is acceptable as well.
I do not require attorneys to stand up when they speak to me as a show of respect to the judge. If attorneys want to stand up for me while addressing the Court that’s fine, but I believe respect should not be mandated … it should be earned.