1. Do you have any prior personal or professional experience in family court?
Other than some pro bono matters while in private practice, I have not had extensive experience with Family Court matters. Of course, since joining the Family Court on June 1, 2009, my work has been exclusively related to family law. I am comfortable with family law issues.
2. What procedures are you following for emergency and/or ex parte motions (by phone or in person, representations as to efforts to notify the other side, go to the signing judge or a blocked judge)?
If a matter is already pending before another family court judge, I will contact that judge’s chambers to see if they wish for me to review any emergency or ex parte motion, or if they want to handle it themselves. If they want it, we will walk it to them. If they do not want it, then I handle it. I normally expect the moving party to have attempted contact with the other party, unless it appears that to do so could put a party or a child in danger. The moving party will be asked to share with the Court the efforts that were taken to contact the other party, or why such efforts were not undertaken. When appropriate, my staff will attempt to contact the other side and, when appropriate, I may put the parties briefly on the record to discuss case status.
3. How are you dividing the workload between judges and referees, in terms of types of cases and issues?
This question is more appropriately answered as a bench. Other than reviewing recommendations/orders of one or more referees, my caseload is determined according the blocked assignment process used in Family Court. Additionally, I regularly cover the Domestic Abuse calendar as well as signing judge duties.
5. Are you using case management conferences, and if so, when in the process are they scheduled, who is present, who is conducting them (judge or referee), and are motions allowed to be considered?
Yes, I use case management conferences, although I do not generally call them that after the first conference. The general flow for a “typical” family law matter before me is: Initial Case Management Conference (ICMC) within two weeks of assignment of the case to me; a telephone conference with the attorneys of represented parties approximately 6-8 weeks later to follow-up on preliminary decisions reached at the ICMC on items such as mediation, ENE, and the like (or another court appearance for pro se parties); determining if/when any written agreements reached by the parties will be provided to the court, with a telephone conference scheduled within a week of that date to ensure the written submissions are received; determine if a GAL should be appointed (if not done at the ICMC or the first telephone conference) or a Custody and Parenting Time Evaluation should be completed; schedule the pretrial; and then, as needed, trial.
No motions will be considered or orders made at the ICMC, unless it is to document an agreement reached by the parties.
I expect attorneys and parties to be proactive with their cases, including cases involving a pro se party on the other side. I am disappointed if I hear attorneys or parties “have not had a chance” to talk with the other side prior to some later court date. Additionally, before any discovery dispute is brought to my attention, I want the parties first to talk with an eye toward resolving it.
I am not a huge fan of motions for temporary support with represented parties, where I feel the attorneys need to have candid discussions with their clients about the law’s expectations and requirements regarding such support. Temporary voluntary child support arrangements are preferred. The same is true of appropriate spousal maintenance.
6. Are you using and mandating any ADR, specifically including the settlement/arbitration program, judicial case management, early neutral evaluations, mediation, arbitration, or trials by private magistrates? What are the consequences of failing to do some type of ADR?
My staff reviews all J&D’s in cases involving post-decree motions. If the J&D includes a mediation clause, the parties will be notified they must first attempt mediation unless there is an Order for Protection that would hinder any mediation. It is important for the parties to follow any previously agreed to procedural process to avoid coming to Court. It is consistent with the parties’ earlier agreement and representation to the Court, as well as the Court’s prior order – and it will generally save the parties time and money. Other than in that situation, I rarely “mandate” ADR, although I will suggest various appropriate alternatives such as SENE, FENE, the Settlement Program, and the like.
I have not yet referred a matter to arbitration (except as a backup to a mediation effort) or trial by special magistrate.
7. Are you imposing any timelines on Family Court Services for completion of their studies?
Because our Family Court Services staff is being inundated with a dramatically increased workload, I look to FCS to tell me when they believe they can reasonably get a particular study done. I generally use the “standard” turnaround time for any given report.
8. What criterion are you using for the appointment of guardian ad litem, and is it any different for private guardians ad litem or guardians ad litem from the panel?
I will generally look to the attorneys for the parties with regard to any request for a GAL, but I have no problem appointing a GAL in appropriate cases even without a request from one of the parties. I believe the GALs serve a very important function – for the child(ren), the parties, and the Court. Many times, the GAL also serves an important function for an attorney, in helping that attorney relate “the practical (and legal) realities” to his or her client. I have not had an occasion to apply any different criteria for private or panel GALS.
9. Are you continuing to schedule trials on a day certain basis, or are you scheduling several trials at the same time for week certain consideration?
We schedule trials on Wednesdays and Thursdays, and use the day-certain process. This provides greater certainty to the parties, but also means the parties have less leeway to request changes to the scheduled trial date. I expect attorneys and parties to be fully ready to go on the trial date; if either side anticipates any witness problems, they need to first talk with the other side about taking a witness out of order, possible agreement on stipulated testimony, or such other ways of addressing the “problem” before bringing it to the Court.
10. Are you enforcing the timelines for motion paper filings, and if a violation occurs, what is your typical sanction?
Generally, yes. This is particularly true for represented parties. I will consider whether or not there has been prejudice caused by the violation, and if a brief continuance for the other party might be an appropriate resolution. I have refused to consider submissions that were late-filed.
11. What are your expectations of pro se litigants?
I explain to pro se litigants at the ICMC, and any other appropriate opportunity, they must comport themselves with the same rules as the attorneys. I inform them orally and in writing that the Self-Help Center is available to assist them with forms and to answer process-related questions, although the SHC will not provide legal advice. I provide them all of the contact information for the SHC – in person, via telephone, and on-line. I also ensure they are aware of other programs or educational opportunities so they have a clear expectation of family law and the family court process. Bottom line, I expect pro se litigants to invest themselves in their case, to be respectful of the process and the participants (just like I expect of attorneys), to meet deadlines, and to make a meaningful effort to cooperate when possible.
12. Do you have any policies or practices for controlling parties who continue to bring frivolous motions in the same case time and time again?
I have not yet had to deal with this situation. I would have to consider the particular case and the motions being brought. Obviously, some matters cannot be revisited until passage of a certain amount of time. Additionally, if a party is simply contributing to the length and expense of litigation for a non-substantive purpose, then sanctions may be appropriate.
13. Do you have any timelines that you enforce in moving a case from case management conference to temporary relief hearing to trial?
I do not generally favor temporary hearings. The “typical” case that comes before the Court that ends up settling through resolution by the parties could likely take about 13 weeks: two weeks for the ICMC, 6-8 weeks for the ENE, and 4 weeks to finalize the stipulated J&D. If a case goes to trial, the timing will be largely dependent upon the issues in dispute. Of course, if a Custody and Parenting Time Evaluation is needed, that will delay things some 16 weeks. If there is extensive property or discovery, that will cause a delay.
14. Will you receive correspondence sent directly to the court from a neutral expert in the case?
Yes, provided the parties approve such a process and the parties are simultaneously served. I would not, however, be receptive to receiving correspondence if it somehow invades the work product of the parties or deals with payment or discovery disputes relating to the neutral expert.
15. How would you characterize your willingness to award attorneys’ fees as a sanction in a case?
This is a delicate issue. Each case stands on its own. With that said, if an attorney submits a motion for attorneys’ fees, I expect that attorney to carefully review his or her own submission. I have had cases where the fee charged by the attorney differs from the hourly fee recited in the retainer agreement; I have had cases where it is evident from the time sheets submitted that an attorney is attempting to recover fees for other work done on the file; etc. This not only weakens the attorney’s/party’s claim for attorneys’ fees, but it raises larger issues. I have yet to award attorneys’ fees in the amount sought.
16. What is your level of involvement in settlement discussions, and will you tell the parties what you would do in the case if the issue were then before you for decision?
I tell parties that they largely control their destiny in Family Court. If they can work together in a cooperative manner, then this process can be quick and efficient. I note the expectations of the Court, and the “typical” progression of matters involving the Court. I also tell them they can continue to talk with each other (through counsel, as appropriate) to try to resolve their case and, if they are able to do so, they will be able to promptly have this matter resolved.
If I believe the parties are close to resolution, yet need a different perspective, I will offer my thoughts in appropriate cases. Oftentimes, on the record, I will tell the parties what the relevant statutes say, to ensure they understand what it is they must show, what factors the Court must consider, and the like. I do this to ensure the parties themselves are aware of what they or their attorney must show in order to prevail. I may provide candid observations based upon the information then known to me if I believe it will help break an apparent misperception about the law or the facts or to try to facilitate a discussion among the parties, but I would note that I would always be privy to more information following any evidentiary hearing or trial. I do not prejudge cases.
18. Will you allow parties to have motions heard at pre-trial conferences?
I am not a fan of temporary motions, but I understand they may be necessary. If a motion at the pre-trial conference would assist in resolving the case or if it addresses the introduction of evidence at the trial, then I will hear the motion. Other motions depend upon the circumstances.