Standard Operating Procedures
Courtroom Procedures Generally
Respect & Courtesy
Judge McGuffin expects all attorneys to be respectful and courteous to each other and to all parties and witnesses. To add to the sense of civility and respect, when in Court, attorneys and parties should refer to each other, Court personnel and/or anyone else in the Courtroom, by their last name or title only (Mr. Jones, Ms. Smith, defense counsel, etc.).
The Court expects candor from Counsel both as to factual statements made by counsel and also when Counsel is citing legal authority to support his or her position.
Legal Authority / Briefs / Memos
The Court welcomes and encourages the submission of legal authority, either by a concise memorandum of law, a short letter brief, and/or by copies of relevant cases, statutes, etc. Please provide copies for Judge McGuffin, for his law clerk, and also provide a copy of any such submission to opposing counsel and/or to parties that are unrepresented.
The Court's Role
The parties and their counsel may be fully confident that the Court has read the relevant pleadings, Conference Officer's reports and recommendations, CCES and other reports, and legal submissions in advance of the hearing or argument. Testimony should be presented accordingly and the Court respectfully suggests that counsel not waste all of our time eliciting testimony, especially background testimony, on items clearly outlined in the reports, etc.
Counsel's Role / Conferences
Counsel should be fully prepared to present their client's case the day of the hearing or argument. Conferences the day of the hearing or argument are generally conducted to do one of two things, either to resolve the matter, or to identify and streamline the issues. The Court gives each counsel an opportunity to present their position in Conference and to respond. Counsel shall not speak over each other, or engage in unnecessary posturing.
The Court prefers that parties exchange and pre-mark exhibits before a trial begins. Therefore, if they have not already done so, the parties should arrive in Court early and confer with one another regarding the exhibits. It is the duty and responsibility of the litigants to bring sufficient copies of all exhibits to provide a copy to all parties, a copy to any witness who needs to refer to same during the presentation of the case, and a bench copy for the Court.
The Court believes that the parties should be able to stipulate to many facts and therefore, at the beginning of the case or controversy, the parties should precisely set forth, to the Court, the following:
- Subject matter and nature of the dispute
- Stipulations of fact which are necessary to develop a record, but which are not contested
- A precise statement as to what is being contested and each party's position regarding each matter contested
Objections should be stated formally and directly to the Court and Counsel should state the specific basis for the objection and the objection should then be responded to formally by the other counsel. Objections should not be used as an opportunity to bicker or to make extraneous statements not specifically related to the objection, nor should objections be made simply to throw off the rhythm of opposing counsel.
When, following a hearing or settlement conference in any type of matter, the Court asks for a proposed Order, the proposed Order shall be submitted by email in Microsoft Word format so that the Court will be in a position to conveniently craft or modify the precise language of the proposed Order.
The Court endeavors to start all matters promptly at the scheduled time. Counsel and parties should arrive a minimum of 15 minutes early for scheduled hearings or argument, and shall be fully ready to start at the scheduled time. Should counsel or any party anticipate not being able to arrive on time, please timely notify Chambers in advance or as soon as possible in the event of emergencies.
De Novo Equitable Distribution Trials
Prior to presenting evidence at a De Novo Equitable Distribution Trial, counsel and/or the parties (where parties are unrepresented) must confer with one another to make a good faith effort to limit the scope of the trial, by entering into a written stipulation of facts identifying all relevant facts which are agreed upon and identifying with specificity those issues of fact which have not been agreed upon. Said stipulation should be submitted five days prior to the hearing so as to allow the Court sufficient time to review the issues in the case prior to Trial. Presumably the parties have already appeared before a Master, and a Master's report has been issued which has identified most, if not all, of the assets, as well as various facts relevant to the Court's final determination (i.e.: length of marriage, income levels, health of the parties, tax consequences, etc.) Counsel and the parties may wish to use that report to help them focus on the stipulation that they will jointly present to the Court. If at the beginning of the trial it appears that a good faith effort to complete the stipulation has not been made, counsel and/or the parties will be sent to another room, on the day of the hearing, to begin working on the project, until the project is completed.
While the Court recognizes that De Novo Proceedings are just that, "de novo", the Court will, in almost all cases, introduce the Master's report as a Court Exhibit to provide background information in the case and to serve as a frame of reference for the issues in the case, but, as the law requires, the report does not substitute for the Court's findings.
Depending upon the number of stipulations reached (the more, the better) and also depending upon the complexity of the issues, in some cases, the Court will direct Counsel to submit proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law at the conclusion of testimony. Generally the Court requires these submissions within thirty days of the last day of testimony. When requested, the Court will expect hard copies delivered to chambers, but may also ask Counsel to submit these via email in Microsoft Word format.
In all Equitable Distribution De Novo proceedings, Counsel will be asked to submit a Proposed Divorce Decree with the standard Decree language and additional language outlining the respective distribution of assets, alimony awards, etc. The Court will generally ask Counsel to submit the proposed Decree by the close of testimony, or within five business days thereof. While the Court welcomes hard copies to reference during argument, it is specifically required that the proposed Decree be submitted via email in Microsoft Word format.