1. Do you have any prior personal or professional experience in family court?
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)?
Hennepin County Family Court has standard procedures for emergency and ex parte motions, which I follow. If the motion is in a case that is just being filed, it will need to include a request to the signing judge for emergency opening of a file to enable a judge to be assigned. If I am the assigned judge, I will review the papers, and one of the first things I will look for is whether the other side has been notified. If no notification has been provided, I will often grant an emergency hearing and require notice to be provided as soon as reasonably practicable. It is a rare case in which I will grant substantive relief without having the opportunity to hear from both sides.
3. How are you dividing the workload between judges and referees, in terms of types of cases and issues?
In Hennepin County, individual judges do not get to decide this; the division is standardized on a court-wide basis. Under our current arrangement in Family Court, judges and referees carry similar caseloads, with two exceptions: the referees are primarily responsible for hearing the County Attorney IV-D and paternity calendars, and the judges are primarily responsible for hearing the Domestic Abuse/Order for Protection calendars. Aside from that general division, judges and referees regularly hear all types of cases and issues in Family Court.
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?
In Hennepin County, all judicial officers in Family Court use initial case management conferences for newly-filed cases. When a case is filed, an ICMC will be scheduled, and both attorneys (if retained) and clients are expected to attend. I conduct the conferences. Since the conference is the first time I meet the parties and counsel, I rarely hear motions or rule on substantive issues. I use the conference as an opportunity to gauge what issues remain unresolved between the parties, to discuss possible alternative dispute resolution methods, and to develop a game plan for getting the parties through the legal process in the manner that appears to be most effective, efficient, and economical for their particular circumstances.
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?
We have many forms of ADR available for parties in Family Court, and I encourage parties to consider using one or more of them in every case where it is appropriate. Sometimes it may not be appropriate, as when one party has an Order for Protection in place against another party. But in a significant majority of our cases, we are able to refer parties to some form of ADR, such as Social Early Neutral Evaluation, Financial Early Neutral Evaluation, mediation, or the Settlement Program, and the parties can negotiate a resolution of their issues without need for a full-blown trial.
7. Are you imposing any timelines on Family Court Services for completion of their studies?
Family Court Services currently takes four months to complete a custody and parenting time evaluation, and three months to complete an investigation by a Guardian ad Litem. Based on the understanding that these time frames have been developed in order to ensure that the evaluators have sufficient time to complete a thorough evaluation, I do not impose shorter timelines on Family Court Services. Only in rare cases will I request a shorter turn-around time, and when it is necessary to address an urgent situation. On occasion, where I need a quicker turn-around from a Guardian ad Litem, I will request an oral report at the review hearing as opposed to a written report in advance of the hearing.
8. What criteria are you using for the appointment of a guardian ad litem, and is it any different for private guardians ad litem or guardians ad litem from the panel?
I have not yet had occasion to appoint a private guardian ad litem, but have appointed all guardians in cases before me from the panel. In addition to the mandatory appointments required by law, I will appoint guardians on a permissive basis when there is an unusual situation between the parties, or when there is need to provide the parties with assistance with parenting time, reunification, or other issues that the parties have not and will not be able to resolve without help. Guardians are selected from the panel by district court administration based on the specific situation between the parties.
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?
I schedule trials for a day certain. I ask parties at the time of trial-setting what amount of trial time they expect to require, and I advise them that they will be expected to complete the trial within the time set aside for them, based upon their estimate.
10. Are you enforcing the timelines for motion paper filings, and if a violation occurs, what is your typical sanction?
I expect parties to follow the motion filing timelines as set forth in the rules. Sanctions for violations will depend upon the situation. If the parties agree to a shortened briefing schedule, I will usually go along with their agreement. If one party objects that insufficient time was allowed for responsive papers, I will often allow that party to make a post-hearing submission. Depending on the circumstances, I may also consider disregarding a late submission, awarding attorney’s fees, or other sanctions tailored to the situation.
11. What are your expectations of pro se litigants?
I expect pro se litigants to behave respectfully in court, and to do their best to understand and comply with our court procedures. I do not expect them to have the knowledge or expertise that a lawyer would have, but I do expect them to make use of the many resources available here to help them do things correctly. I will often refer them to the self-help center for assistance with documents and navigating the court system.
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 been in Family Court long enough to have developed a policy on how to deter repetitive frivolous motions, largely because I have not yet seen many such motions (which is a good thing).
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 have any specific timelines that I enforce. I try to manage my cases actively to ensure that they keep moving forward expeditiously, with the expectation that the vast majority of them will be resolved within one year after filing.
14. Will you receive correspondence sent directly to the court from a neutral expert in the case?
I regularly receive reports from family court services personnel, such as early neutral evaluators, custody evaluators, and guardians ad litem that I have appointed to address specific issues in cases. I typically do not receive reports directly from private experts, except as exhibits to submissions by the parties. At trial, I will accept expert reports in lieu of direct testimony, by agreement of the parties.
15. How would you characterize your willingness to award attorneys’ fees as a sanction in a case?
I am never eager to award attorney’s fees as a sanction, but I am willing to do so when I determine that the evidence supports a finding that one party has unreasonably contributed to the length or expense of the proceeding.
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 do not usually become involved in settlement discussions unless the parties request it. If I am asked what I would do on a particular issue, and if I decide that giving preliminary feedback may help the parties move forward in their negotiations, I may give a tentative response, while making clear that my ultimate decision may be different, since I have not yet heard all the evidence or legal arguments that may be advanced at trial.
18. Will you allow parties to have motions heard at pre-trial conferences?
Not usually. In my view, the purpose of a pre-trial conference is to identify the issues remaining for trial, to explore whether all possibilities of settling those issues have been exhausted, and if settlement is not feasible, to set the case for trial. Motions generally should be heard before the pre-trial conference. If a party wishes to raise a belated motion at the pre-trial, I may allow the date to be used for the motion hearing and continue the pre-trial to a later date.