One part of the court process is a “pre-trial conference.” This is a scheduled court date that usually occurs after the discovery process is complete and the parties have attempted some negotiations. A pre-trial conference means that the two attorneys meet with the Judge in his chambers and discuss the case in an attempt to resolve the matter. The Judge listens to arguments and then makes suggestions on how to settle the matter. This gives the attorneys an idea of how the Judge may rule in a trial and often helps to resolve the issues.
The pre-trial court date can be set based upon the request of either or both parties or at the insistence of the judge. The pre-trial conference is also one way the judge can insure that there is progress being made in the case. Local rules vary on whether or not you are required to attend the pre-trial conference, so ask your attorney. Of course, as with all court dates, you can always be present if you wish. However, since you will not be able to participate in the pre-trial conference, bring something to keep yourself busy. It is not unheard of for a conference to last over half an hour.
In order to prepare for the pre-trial conference, both attorneys are required to file a Pre-trial Memorandum. Local rules in each district or county will dictate the exact form of the memorandum. However, the memorandum will lay out the facts of the case, such as names, ages, employment, background of the marriage and the assets and debts of the parties.
This is your attorney’s opportunity to show your case to the judge in a light most favorable to you. The memorandum usually contains the unresolved issues, what you want and why. If local rules allow, it can also contain legal argument to support your position on the issues.
In a way, the pre-trial conference is a summary of a trial. The benefit to this summary is that the attorney’s are not bound by the strict rules of evidence. Fore example, they can show the judge a document without having to have it admitted into evidence. The attorney’s can argue issues with out calling witnesses. The judge understands that both attorneys are arguing the case for their client, and that at a trial the assertions of the attorneys must be proved. Hence, the judge usually does not make findings and “orders”. Rather, the judge “recommends.” You can reject the judge’s recommendation, and go forward to a trial. However, most judges order the same as what they recommended, unless some new evidence appears at trial that was not present at the pre-trial conference. Your attorney can advise you on the chances that the judge would vary from his or her recommendations.
This is why it is so important to supply your attorney with as much information as possible when completing discovery and when discussing the upcoming pre-trial conference. That way your attorney can have a complete memorandum to give the judge. A complete memorandum, will render a more effective pretrial conference. This will result in more accurate judge’s recommendations, and the greater likelihood of settlement.