Standard Operating Procedures
Initial scheduling of hearings or trials is handled by filings with the Prothonotary, Clerk of Courts, or Clerk of the Orphans' Court, who in turn forward things to the Court Administrator's Office.
Requests for continuances of matters on any Civil Trial or Arbitration List are handled by the Court Administrator's office. The procedures can be found on the Court Calendar page.
Requests for continuances for matters specifically scheduled before Judge Liller should be addressed to the Judge's Chambers by mail or fax. No such requests will be considered unless in writing. Continuance requests must be sought as soon as possible. Continuances are not favored. Counsel must have good cause for any requests. All requests for continuances must indicate the steps counsel has taken to seek the approval of all other counsel or unrepresented parties of the continuance. The position of all other counsel or unrepresented parties to the request should be stated in the letter making the request.
Conferences on cases assigned to Judge Liller should be arranged by contact with the Judge's Administrative Assistant. Judge Liller is willing to hold conferences to assist in the routine pre-trial processing of cases or to consider possible settlement of cases. Generally, conferences are only scheduled where all parties are represented by counsel. Conferences are normally held in Chambers and are not on the record except when specifically ordered by the Court. Conferences can be held by telephone when both counsel are in agreement.
When requesting a conference, counsel should indicate the purpose for the conference, the length of time requested and the position of the other counsel as to having a conference. In addition, to the greatest extent possible, the person requesting the conference should be prepared to advise the Judge's Administrative Assistant as to the times when the participants will be available.
For all Pre-Trial or Settlement Conferences, actual trial counsel and all individual parties shall be physically present unless specifically excused by Judge Liller. If there are any entities that are parties in the case, the persons or persons with final decision-making authority for the entity shall be physically present at the conference unless specifically excused by Judge Liller. In any case where there is an insurance carrier that has any control over the resolution of the case, the person or persons with full decision-making authority for the insurance carrier shall be physically present at the conference unless specifically excused by Judge Liller. Any request for any person to be excused shall be made in writing immediately after notice of the conference if first given. Late requests will ordinarily not be considered.
Counsel should expect to meet with the Court prior to the start of any trial or hearing to discuss things such as voir dire in jury trials, Motions in Limine, timing of witnesses, proof, etc, and any other potential trouble spots.
Unanticipated Trial Issues
If you have reason to anticipate that a difficult question of law or evidence will arise during trial, counsel should alert his or her opponent and the Court should be supplied with a Memorandum of Law on the issue as soon as feasibly possible before the commencement of trial.
Usually, counsel will conduct voir dire but it will be done on the record in the presence of the Court. If disputes arise, the Court will handle them, usually in Chambers. The Court prefers that counsel cooperate to expedite voir dire including the striking procedure. If you are taking too long, the Court will take over the process. If individual voir dire is requested, the Court shall establish the terms under which it is to be conducted.
- Under local practice, the party with the burden of proof is seated at the counsel table closest to the jury box or witness stand.
- If there is a request for more than a total of two counsel tables, or any other special requests for seating, visual aids, such as TV/video equipment, etc, please notify the Court Administrator's Office at least two weeks before the scheduled date of the trial or hearing.
- Only counsel and parties, if desired, shall sit at counsel table. Witnesses shall sit in the spectator section or in the hall, unless otherwise authorized by the Court. If any party desires sequestration, that motion shall be made at the outset of the trial or hearing. If sequestration is ordered, all witnesses for all parties will likely be sequestered. Counsel will be responsible for informing their non-party witnesses that they should remain outside of the courtroom until called and that they should not discuss their testimony with other witnesses until the trial or hearing is concluded.
Decorum of Counsel
- Counsel shall dress in an appropriate and professional manner. The trial or hearing shall at all times be conducted in a dignified and formal manner. Always address the Court and not one another. Conversations between counsel are permitted only to expedite the trial and should be avoided in the presence of the Judge and the jury. Counsel should never act or speak disrespectfully to the Court or to opposing counsel/opposing party in any manner.
- Counsel's demeanor should be one of courtesy and professionalism. Counsel shall not exhibit familiarity with the parties, jurors or opposing counsel. The use of first names should be avoided.
- Counsel are expected to rise when you address the Court.
Objections to Questions
When objecting, counsel should only state "objection." If the Court asks for it, counsel should then give a brief statement of the legal grounds for the objection. Do not offer extensive argument or explanation unless requested to do so by the Court, and that shall be done at sidebar. Counsel will not be permitted to state additional reasons after the Court has ruled. Do not use objections for the purpose of making a speech, recapitulating testimony, or attempting to guide the witness.
Examination of Witnesses
- Counsel should ordinarily conduct examination of witnesses while seated at counsel table. If counsel is more comfortable standing, counsel shall stand at the center podium. At either location counsel shall use the microphone. Do not approach a witness without specific permission. When permission is granted, please return to counsel table or podium when the purpose of the permission is concluded.
- If a witness is to be examined on the basis of prior written statements made by the witness, and these statements have not previously been received into evidence, the witness shall first be shown the statement and asked whether he or she acknowledges having made it. Thereafter, counsel may read the question(s) and answer(s) slowly and ask the witness if such was a correct reading.
- Witnesses should be treated with fairness and consideration; they should not be shouted at, ridiculed, or abused in any manner.
- Witnesses and parties should be instructed to wear proper attire to court. Shorts, tank tops, etc, are not permitted attire. Witnesses or parties not properly attired may be excluded from the courtroom.
- Avoid the use of argumentative questions when questioning an opposing party. Keep your questions clear and to the point.
- If a witness was on the stand at a recess or adjournment, the witness should be on the stand ready to proceed when Court is resumed. Counsel are reminded that they may not discuss a witness's testimony with him or her once that witness has begun testifying until the witness is excused. If there is going to be a problem with the scheduling of any witness(es) inform the Court at the preliminary conference and at the beginning of that day's proceedings.
If counsel is going to cross-examine a witness on the basis of a deposition or transcript, first give a copy of the deposition/transcript to the witness. Then allow the witness to read to themselves the deposition/transcript or the portion at issue and to say whether they previously gave that testimony. Once this procedure is complete, cross-examination may proceed.
- Arrange with the Minute Clerk to have your exhibits marked at a time when it will not delay the proceedings.
- Any exhibit any party or counsel intends to use should have sufficient copies made in advance so that there is at least one copy for each counsel or unrepresented party plus one for the witness and one for the Court.
- Exhibits may be moved into evidence at any time during one's own case, once the proper foundation is laid. It is not necessary to hold all exhibits until the end of your case and move them at that time.
- Each counsel should keep a list of exhibits and should keep track of when each exhibit has been admitted into evidence. Exhibits admitted into evidence should be delivered to the Court's Minute Clerk.
- Counsel should refer to an exhibit, by exhibit number. Witnesses should be asked to do the same.
- Exhibits that are used but not admitted will be returned to the attorney or party offering it, and that person shall be responsible for maintaining the exhibits pursuant to the requirements of any state or local rule regarding the safekeeping of exhibits.
- For jury trials, counsel shall have enough copies of all exhibits they may want to be passed to the jury or go with them during deliberations, so that each juror and each alternate will have his/her own copy.
- Until and unless an exhibit is admitted into evidence, the contents shall not be revealed to the trier of fact (Judge or jury) except to the limited extent revealing it to the Judge is necessary to make a decision on admissibility. Once admitted into evidence, in non-jury proceedings, the Judge will read all exhibits. Therefore, there is no need for any witness or counsel to read it to the Court.
Other Courtroom Tools
- If planning to use videotapes or similar items, such as DVD or flash drive, be sure they are shown to the opposing side in advance and they are ready to play. Be sure to review any objections made on them with the Judge in advance. Any objections that result in exclusions of any portion of any videotaped deposition or testimony shall be edited out so that there are no gaps or delay in the playback. Please note, if you have a video on DVD it must be in DVD Format (NTSC).Simply burning a video from your computer to a blank DVD is not DVD format, it is a computer data file which a standard DVD play will not play back. Please refer to the Court Room Staff page for further courtroom technology.
- If any party or counsel plans to use any of the audio/visual or electronic equipment in the Courtroom, they need to review those items with the Court staff prior to the start of the proceeding to ensure that everything is available and working.
- Although jury views are not encouraged, they may be done with advance arrangements by counsel and the court when essential to a case. Highly detailed photographs are preferred and can prove just as informative.
Points for Charge, Verdict Slips & Closing Arguments
- The Court generally uses Pennsylvania Suggested Standard Civil/Criminal Jury Instructions. A charge conference will always be held prior to closing arguments in jury trials. Points for charge and a proposed Verdict Slip should be submitted electronically in Microsoft Word Format prior to the first day of trial. If a party wishes to submit a jury instruction which is not part of the standard jury instructions, the submission should be accompanied with legal authority and an explanation of why the specific request is not adequately covered within the standard instructions. They shall be submitted by email to the Judge's Administrative Assistant. At a minimum, you should supply a list (by number) of the standard jury instructions (using the latest version of the standard instructions) that you want read to the jury. Give a copy to opposing counsel as soon as possible so intelligent objections can be made at the conference. Counsel are required to consult with each other, and to the greatest extent possible, agree upon the Verdict slip and the items to be included in the Points of Charge.
- All exceptions to the Court's charge must be placed on the record before the jury is dismissed for deliberations.
- The Court will consult with counsel concerning limits on the amount of time for opening and closing arguments/statements and will hold counsel to the time limit set.
You should contact the Court Reporter involved with the hearing directly to make any requests for transcripts. Please get the name of the Court Reporter in any case from them at the time of the hearing. If you need a transcript and you do not have the name of the Court Reporter, you should review the Court sheet in the file to obtain it. If there is no Court sheet, contact the Office of the Chief Court Reporter by telephone at 215-348-6715 or via email.
De Novo Divorce & Equitable Distribution Cases
In all such cases, immediately upon receiving the Order for hearing, all counsel and unrepresented parties are required to confer with each other and to work out a stipulation as to all facts which are agreed upon, including an inventory itemizing each and every marital or separate asset which is in dispute, together with the stipulated value, or the value each separate party intends to prove.
They are required to provide a comprehensive written stipulation setting forth all facts agreed upon and identifying, with specificity, those issues or facts which have not been agreed upon. The Court will use that document throughout the trial to focus testimony and argument. Presumably, the Master's Report has already identified most, if not all, of the assets, so 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 on the morning of the trial it appears that a good faith effort to complete the written stipulation has not been made counsel and/or the parties will be sent to another room to work on that project and the hearing will begin after the stipulation is completed. In addition, any counsel or party who fails to abide by this requirement, will be subject to sanctions including being held in contempt of Court.
Child Witnesses in Custody Cases & Children in the Courtroom in General
The children who are the subject of a custody case and any other children residing in the applicable households are not to be involved in the preparation or presentation of the case until and unless that has been specifically authorized by Judge Liller.
Unless previously authorized, Judge Liller does not hear the testimony of any child who is the subject of a custody case until all other testimony and evidence has been presented.
In no circumstance should children be brought into the Courtroom for any matter without preapproval from Judge Liller. Participants in court proceedings are reminded that the court staff is not responsible to monitor any children and if any participant brings any child to the Justice Center with them, it is their responsibility to bring another responsible adult who will be able to monitor the child while the court participant is in the actual courtroom.