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§ 10.1 Introduction
Trial lawyers eagerly anticipate the day they begin opening statements in the courtroom and get to take their client’s matter to trial. With a trial comes a lot of hard work, preparation, and navigation of the civil rules and local rules of the jurisdiction. This chapter provides a general overview of issues that a lawyer will face in a courtroom, either civil or criminal. The authors have selected cases of note from the present United States Supreme Court docket, the federal Circuit Courts of Appeals, and selected federal District Courts, that provide a general overview, raise unique issues, expand or provide particularly instructive explanations or rationales, or are likely to be of interest to a broad cross section of the bar. It is imperative, however, that prior to starting trial, the rules of the applicable jurisdiction are reviewed.
§ 10.2 Pretrial Matters
§ 10.2.1 Pretrial Conference and Pretrial Order
Virtually all courts require a pretrial conference at least several weeks before the start of trial. A pretrial conference requires careful preparation because it sets the tone for the trial itself. There are no uniform rules across all courts, so practitioners must be fully familiar with those that affect the particular courtroom they are in and the specific judge before whom they will appear.
According to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 16, the main purpose of a pretrial conference is for the court to establish control over the proceedings such that neither party can achieve significant delay or engage in wasteful pretrial activities. An additional goal is facilitating settlement before trial commencement. Following the pretrial conference, the judge will issue a scheduling order, which “must limit the time to join other parties, amend the pleadings, complete discovery, and file [pre-trial] motions.”
A proposed pretrial conference order should be submitted to the court for review at the conference. Once the judge accepts the pre-trial conference order, the order will supersede all pleadings in the case. The final pretrial conference order is separate from pretrial disclosures, which include all information and documents required to be disclosed under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26.
§ 10.2.2 Motions in Limine
A motion in limine, which means “at the threshold,” is a pre-trial motion for a preliminary decision on an objection or offer of proof. Motions in limine are important because they ensure that the jury is not exposed to unfairly prejudicial, confusing, or irrelevant evidence, even if doing so limits a party’s defenses. Thus, a motion in limine is designed to narrow the evidentiary issues for trial and to eliminate unnecessary trial interruptions by excluding the document before it is entered into evidence.
In ruling on a motion in limine, the trial judge has discretion to either rule on the motion definitively or postpone a ruling until trial. Alternatively, the trial judge may make a tentative or qualified ruling. While definitive rulings do not require a renewed offer of proof at trial, a tentative or qualified ruling might well require an offer of evidence at trial to preserve the issue on appeal. A trial court’s discretion in ruling on a motion in limine extends not only to the substantive evidentiary ruling, but also the threshold question of whether a motion in limine presents an evidentiary …