INSTRUCTIONS TO ATTORNEYS RE TRIAL PROCEDURE & COURTRROOM DYNAMICS
From MN Bench Book - Trial Procedures & Practices for Judges
TRIAL GROUND RULES This section was prepared by JUDGE JENNIFER L. FRISCH, District Court Judge
2d. Judicial District, Minnesota
Additional comments by Professor Steve Simon
Most judges inform attorneys trying a case in their courtroom how a trial should be conducted.
Judges vary in how they like attorneys to try a case in their courtroom.
While experienced trial attorneys do not need such rules they like to hear her or his opponent hear the judge's trial rules as this creates a much fairer and less combative environment.
New or inexperienced attorneys will find such instructions helpful.
TRIAL GROUND RULES
- A. The standard schedule is as follows: morning session from 9:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m., lunch from 12:00-1:30 p.m., and afternoon session from 1:30-4:30 p.m.
- B. There will be a 15-20 minute mid-morning and mid-afternoon break.
- C. Motions and hearings outside presence of jurors may be heard at 8:30 a.m., 1:00 p.m., or 4:30 p.m.
II. Standing and Sitting
- A. Stand when the jury is sworn and when jurors enter or leave the room.
B. Sit for all questioning and objections.
III. VOIR DIRE
- A. Do not repeat questions already asked.
- B. Do not argue your case or question potential jurors about case theories.
- C. Do not ask questions about the panel member's understanding of the law. Any such questions will be asked by the court.
IV. OPENING STATEMENTS
- A. Obtain approval from the Court before using any exhibits.
- B. State the facts to be proved, challenged or where there will be a failure of proof
- C. Do not argue.
- A. Do not make speaking objections.
- B. State the legal basis of the objection and wait for a ruling. When objecting use 1 ,2 or 3 words or the rule. No further argument will be allowed unless requested by the Court.
- C. If you believe an argument on an objection is required, request to approach the bench. Not all such requests will be granted.
- D. If you make a foundation objection, be prepared to state, if asked by the Court, where foundation is lacking.
- E. Do not thank the Court for evidentiary rulings.
- F. Offers of proof shall be made outside presence of the jury and on the record.
VI. MOTIONS DURING TRIAL
- A. All motions made during trial shall be outside the hearing of the jury.
- B. Motions made at the bench may not be recorded. If they are not, it is the responsibility of the attorney making the motion to make a record of the arguments on the motion during a break.
- A. Do not instruct the witness how to answer the question. However, leading questions for preliminary or non-contested facts are permissible.
- B. Do not editorialize or repeat the answers. Do not testify for the witness.
- C. Do not use first name of adult witnesses.
- D. One request to approach your own witness is usually sufficient. If a witness is hostile, ask to approach each time. Do not loiter by witnesses. When questioning a witness do not stand between the witness and the jury.
- E. Let the opposing attorney complete their question before objecting to it.
- F. It is appropriate and helpful to direct your witness(es) to turn toward the jury and speak loudly at the beginning of their testimony.
- A. Meet with the court reporter to pre-mark all exhibits before trial.
- B. Show exhibits to opposing counsel before handing them to the witness.
- C. Always refer to the exhibit number when showing the exhibit to the witness, offering the exhibit into evidence and when requesting to publish the exhibit.
- D. Stipulate to undisputed exhibits.
- E. When requesting to publish an exhibit after it has been received, be prepared to explain to the judge why the jury needs to see the admitted exhibit now, rather than waiting until deliberation.
- F. If available, use electronic evidence presentation technology for publishing exhibits. If such technology is not available have duplicate copies of documentary and photographic exhibits that you would like to publish when admitted.
IX. CLOSING ARGUMENTS
- A. Act Professionally in Closing Arguments.
- B. Relationship to Jury
- Do not invade the jury’s space during openings and closings.
- Do not approach too close to the jury.
- Do not lean over the jury rail.
X. BENCH AND CHAMBERS CONFERENCES
- A. These will be held only if necessary.
- B. Anticipate and raise potential problems as soon as possible.
- C. Motions made at the bench and in chambers may not be recorded. If they are not, it is the responsibility of the attorney making the motion to make a record of the arguments on the motion during a break.
XI. OVERALL DECORUM
- A. Refer to counsel and witnesses in courteous terms and refrain from disparaging remarks.
- B. Refrain from making facial expressions, gestures, or audible comments to indicate approval or disapproval of testimony, arguments, or rulings. Ensure that your witnesses and clients refrain from such behavior.
- C. Comply with the General Rules of Practice for the District Courts. See Title I, Rule 2. Court Decorum, Conduct of Judges and Lawyers, and Title II, Part H. Minnesota Civil Trial Notebook.