If you’ve ever been in Federal court in South Florida, you already know that there is a huge difference between State and Federal Court. In keeping with the Federal bench Bar Conference that happened in West Palm Beach on Friday, April 27, 2012, I thought some practical tips might come in handy.
1. If your client gets slapped with Federal criminal charges, or your civil case gets removed to Federal court, DON’T PANIC.
2. For civil cases, the first thing you should do is familiarize yourself with the Local Rules for the Southern District. They are available on the Southern District website.
3. For criminal cases, you’ll need to call the Assistant United States Attorney (AUSA) assigned to the case to determine if he or she will agree to release your client on bond or whether the Government is seeking pre-trial detention. Unfortunately for criminal defense lawyers and their clients, most criminal defendants, at least those that have their cases assigned to the West Palm Beach courthouse, have historically been detained without bond. But, there is potentially some good news: with two new Magistrate Judges on the bench this year, maybe things will change. After all, Magistrate Judge Brannon (already on the bench) is a former Federal P.D., and the next Magistrate Judge to be sworn in, Bill Matthewman, is also a former criminal defense lawyer.
4. As your case progresses, some other things to keep in mind are:
(a) Try to keep phone calls to chambers to a minimum. Scheduling of matters is, for the most part, handled through the courtroom deputy (CRD), not chambers. If you have to call chambers, be polite. After all, the person answering the phone might be a law clerk who will be writing the order on your case!
(b) Don’t call chambers with questions like “what does the Judge want me to do,” or “how would the Judge like me to handle . . .” As the lawyer on the case, it is your responsibility to figure things out for yourself. Although many Judicial Assistants in State court will tell you what the Judge would like you to do, many chambers in the Southern District are required by the Judge to answer those kind of questions by simply referring you to the Local Rules. Don’t take it personally. Most Judges just want to avoid the possibility of ex parte communications. Some Judges in the Southern District won’t even entertain calls to chambers or the law clerks.
(c) Don’t presume you’ll get a hearing on anything. Most matters in Federal court are handled on the written pleadings only. If you need a hearing, you must file a separate motion requesting the hearing.
(d) Since most matters are handled on the pleadings, put your best effort into your writing. Say everything you need to say up front. Acknowledge weaknesses in your case candidly, but then explain why those weaknesses should not affect the result in your case. Be precise, be succinct, clearly cite all authorities and record references in support of your position, and conclude.
(e) If a Magistrate Judge handles your motion/pleading, you will have the chance to file an objection within the requisite time frame (14 days). The objection will then be handled by the District Court Judge, like an appeal. If your pleading was disposed of by the District Court, you would appeal any rulings to the Eleventh Circuit, according to the Rules of Appellate Procedure. For criminal cases, bond/detention orders are appealed to the District Court.
More tips to follow next time!