Federal Judge Neff explains use of pre-motion conferences

By Roberta M. Gubbins

Legal News

"I am pleased to talk about my pre-motion conference procedure, which I adopted after I was at a seminar with some judges from the southern and eastern districts of New York where this is a common practices," said Judge Janet T. Neff, Judge, U.S. District Court, Western District of Michigan, speaking at the Federal Bar Association meeting in Lansing recently.

"What it is and why we do it. I knew going in that anytime you introduce something new there would be some resistance. Secondly, I knew that busy lawyers (litigators) are looking at another step in the process and their immediate response is 'oh, gees, just another hoop to jump through, one more tedious thing to deal with to get to the end of my case.'

"I don't believe that is the case and I will tell you why.

"The what of it is--After you have had your Rule 16 (Pretrial conference) and you have had discovery, the bell sort of goes off and you think 'I think I can get out of this case, I can file a motion and dispose of it without further expense to my client and time out of my schedule.'

"You want to get that process moving as fast as you can and that is where this process comes in. If you want to file a dispositive motion on one of my cases, you first have to file a request for a pre-motion conference that gives me a brief (not more than three page) explanation of what motion you want to file and why you want to file it.

"Your opponent gets a chance to reply. Once both pleadings are filed, I get everyone together, usually in chambers but on the record. We sit around the table and we talk about the motion.

"I do that for a couple of reasons, first of all, it helps me and it helps them to flesh out the case and it helps to be there in person. The conference on the record involves me and my law clerk, counsel of record who will be trying the case and arguing the motion and the court reporters.

"The final thing we do after we talk it through--if the motion is going to go forward, then we set a briefing schedule and I try to accommodate the lawyers--I ask how much time do you need to get your brief and then we set the schedule for the responding party and the moving party response.

"Why of it. Focus--I want the lawyer proposing the motion to focus on what do you want and what is the basis for your motion? It gets to the hinge issue in the case--what is the heart of the matter upon which a motion to dispose of this case can be decided.

"Not a bunch of fuzzy stuff--some affirmative defenses go on for paragraphs. All that boilerplate is worthless and time consuming and it gets us going off on the wrong track on some cases and we research things that are not important so I want you to focus on what it is you want and why you think you are entitled to it.

"The results that we have had include streamlining the briefing process and that is maybe its primary purpose but secondarily, I have found that sometimes issues fall away, claims fall away and every once in a while a case actually gets resolved.

"Records of the pre motion conferences held in the past year and a half indicate -43 conferences held, 15 resolved and 18 partially resolved. I am sure you understand what that does for your time. And ours."

The purposes of the pre-motion dialogues are multiple

* Informal dialogue that goes on between and among the lawyers really does help move things along.

* A lot of things become clearer.

* Many things become resolved.

* We get a clear picture of what the case is about and where it is going.

* We have a more efficient bundling of the motions.

* It results in a better product from our chambers.

"We all want to resolve civil litigation as fairly and as efficiently as we can. It serves your clients, and it has the effect of conserving our resources, which are limited. If you are going to file a request for a conference, please read the requirements that are on the Web site: www. miwd. uscourts.gov."

Hon. Janet T. Neff graduated from the University of Pittsburgh. She received her J.D. from Wayne State University Law School. Before her appointment to the Federal Bench in 2007, she was Judge, Michigan Court of Appeals.

Published: Thu, Dec 24, 2009