Documents and Papers from a Court : Pretrial

What is a pretrial procedure?

Many Ohio courts use a pretrial conference in civil lawsuits. Check the local rules of the Court in your case to see what procedure applies to your case. The purpose for pretrial procedure is to quickly and fairly resolve the parties’ conflict.

What are local rules?
Local rules make clear that settlement should be an important part of the discussion in a pretrial conference. At the beginning of a lawsuit, the parties agree to how the case will proceed through the Court. A pretrial conference may cover the following topics:

  • possible settlement of the lawsuit

  • simplification of the issues

  • itemization of expenses and special damages

  • whether pleadings need to be amended

  • exchange of expert witness reports

  • exchange of medical reports and hospital records

  • limiting the number of expert witnesses

  • imposing of sanctions

  • determining the possibility of getting admissions of fact and any other evidence of documents or other exhibits that will avoid unnecessary proof at trial

  • other matters that may help dispose of the case.

What happens if I do not come to a pretrial conference?
If an attorney or party doesn’t appear at a scheduled pretrial conference – or if an attorney or party fails to be prepared or cooperate in good faith during the pretrial conference – the court may sanction or punish the party severely. Fines could include court expenses and reasonable attorney’s fees. The judge could even dismiss the case if a party fails to fully participate.

It is important to remember that the purpose of going to trial is to hear and weigh evidence related to the claims in the lawsuit. The pretrial process is intended to eliminate surprises during the course of the trial; pretrial conferences and decisions by the court and the parties are meant to help the trial process run smoothly and efficiently. All parties are required to participate in this effort.

Example of a Local Rule concerning Pretrial Procedure: Local Rule 21 of the Court of Common Pleas of Nowhere County governs case management and pretrial procedures. It is one of the more extensive local rules for pretrial conferences. This rule sets forth a two-conference pretrial procedure to prepare the case for trial.

What are the goals of a pretrial conference?
The goals of the initial pretrial conference are as follows:

    • sort each type of case (i.e., personal injury, contract, malpractice, commercial, collection, products liability etc.), get an idea of how complex the facts and legal issues will be; determine how difficult the discovery process will be and set the amount of money in dispute;

    • set a discovery schedule that is agreed on by all parties;

    • decide whether the case should be sent to arbitration;

    • set a deadline for parties to exchange the reports of expert witnesses;

    • set a deadline for filing all motions;

    • set the date for the final pretrial conference.

When notified of the date and time of your pretrial conference, you should plan to cooperate. One of the main goals of the pretrial conference is to work toward a settlement of the case.

The ultimate purpose of trial is a fair resolution of the dispute without wasting money or time. The judge will hear the final pretrial conference, and if settlement cannot be reached, this conference will:

    • set forth the legal and factual issues going to trial;

    • provide a list of all expert and non-expert witnesses who will testify;

    • project how long the trial will be, as well as special legal problems that might be come up; and

    • let the court know what special equipment will be needed for trial.

Are there alternatives to going to trial?
The court may order that the case go to arbitration. If not, a trial date will be set no later than 180 days after the final pretrial conference. Civil Rule 21 gives the judge the power to sanction parties who fail to cooperate with the pretrial conference in the following ways:

  • dismiss an action if the plaintiff and/or plaintiff’s attorney doesn’t appear at a pretrial conference;

  • order the plaintiff to proceed with the case and decide and determine all matters “ex parte” – meaning without the defendant – if the defendant fails to appear.

Failure to obey the court’s orders related to a pretrial conference can have a huge effect on the outcome of a case.

What does arbitration mean?
Arbitration is a dispute resolution process in which evidence is presented to one or more neutral third parties (the arbitrator[s]) instead of being handled in the judicial system by a judge or a judge and jury. The arbitration may be agreed to by the parties, ordered by a court, required by a provision in a contract for settling disputes, or provided for under statute. See dispute resolution.

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This content was created by the Ohio State Bar Foundation's 2006 Fellows Class - Keys to the Courtroom Project.

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The information in this site is not intended as legal advice.
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