Just a few more tips for those of you who might find yourselves in Federal court, especially in the Southern District of Florida . . .
1. You probably know that everything in Federal court gets filed electronically on CM/ECF. To avoid getting too many nasty-grams from the Clerk’s office for improper filing, it’s probably a good idea to visit the Clerk’s website and download a copy of the Administrative Procedures governing CM/ECF.
2. If you’re a civil attorney whose case gets assigned to a Judge that runs a “rocket docket,” you should consider consenting to the jurisdiction of a United States Magistrate Judge. Most often, you’ll have the ability to special set your hearings and trials, and you might get a bit more time to work the case up effectively. To consent to the jurisdiction of one of the Magistrate Judges (notice that I am NOT referring to them as “magistrates”–that term is for state court only), you can obtain the proper consent form from the Local Rules. Both sides need to agree, as do the clients.
3. If you’re a criminal defense attorney who handles a lot of sentencing hearings, you might want to reconsider sending in all those letters extolling the virtues of your client. Several Judges who were at the Federal Bench Bar conference in West Palm Beach on April 27, 2012, actually said that they are not really persuaded by the letters. Rather, the Judges would find it more helpful for criminal defense attorneys to focus the court’s attention on the sentencing factors listed in 18 U.S.C. section 3553(a). As required by United States v. Booker, 543 U.S. 220 (2005), the Judges said they really try to focus on determining a sentence that is “sufficient and not greater than necessary.” However, if you do find it necessary to submit letters, some of the Judges said that any person submitting a letter should not also be called as a witness. As for the length of the hearings, the Judges also said that most sentencing hearings should be completed in about 30 minutes. Finally, several of the Judges said that since Booker, they might be more apt to go along with a sentencing variance, as opposed to an outright departure, since departures are more vulnerable to reversal on appeal.
4. Finally, whenever you are in the Federal courthouse, as in any courthouse, be nice to everyone. Negative comments about lawyers spread quickly. Deputy Marshals will gossip just as much as the CRDs, Clerks’ staff, and chambers staff. Be nice to everyone there, and they will be nice to you (well, for the most part . . .)