This section covers the events which occur prior to the trial date such as required hearings and conferences. This is also the time period in which in which you get ready for trial by gathering evidence, including gathering evidence from the other side (referred to as "discovery").Many judges have policies, procedures, and guidelines to supplement state statutes and rules relating to discovery. These may be found online for each judge as follows:
Be sure to read these before proceeding. Limited Civil cases do not have general policies or guidelines, but do adhere to state statutes and rules.
More and more people are using other ways to solve their legal problems outside of court. These alternatives are called "alternative dispute resolution" or "ADR" for short.Using ADR to resolve your disputes without going to court can:
To learn more about the types of ADR click here.
Local Rule 315 also requires that the parties file a joint Meet and Confer Statement (L-0964) within 30 days after service of the responsive pleading.
A case management conference is when both sides, the lawyers (if any), and the judge meet to talk about how to handle the case. The court will schedule the Case Management Conference and it usually happens between 120 and 180 days from filing of the lawsuit.CASE MANAGEMENT STATEMENT:
You must file a Case Management Statement (CM-110). Rule 3.725 of the California Rules of Court says every party has to file this form at least 15 days before the first Case Management Conference. Parties may file a joint statement that they all sign or they may file individual statements. It is important that you include in your statement any dates within the next 6 months when you will not be available for trial. This is to let the court know not to schedule the trial date for a time when you will not be available, like a planned vacation out of town or a hospital stay.
If your case is an Unlimited Civil case, all parties must appear at the hearing.
At the Case Management Conference judge will determine if everyone has filed their papers on time and if the parties have tried to settle the case. Even if the case has not settled yet, you can still continue to try to settle. The judge will try to help you choose a good process for working on a settlement. Read the section Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) for more information on settling your case.
You will also discuss whether the case is ready to be scheduled for a trial date. If it is, you may also get your trial date assigned at your Case Management Conference.
If the plaintiff does not go to the Case Management Conference, the court can schedule the case for a hearing for the plaintiff to explain why he or she did not go, and the court can impose a sanction on the plaintiff for failing to appear. A sanction is like a fine. If you do not go to a scheduled hearing, you run the risk that the court will make rulings that you disagree with, that you may get ordered to pay sanctions, or after your repeated failure to appear at scheduled hearings, the court might dismiss the case.
Superior Court of Orange County Local Rule 332 says when any party to a limited civil action, other than unlawful detainer, requests a jury trial or requests a court trial with an estimated time for trial of one day or more, the judge may schedule a Pretrial Conference to determine if the matter can be disposed of by way of settlement, or whether the case is ready for trial.
All parties must be present unless counsel has unlimited authority to act, or if good cause exists, available for telephone contact with counsel during the conference. All parties must bring to the conference a Pretrial Conference Brief/Statement which must contain the material facts and damages.
The court will schedule the trial date based on information you provide to the court in forms you must file, or at the Case Management Conference. If the court schedules your trial based on information you provide in your Case Management Statement (CM-110), it is important to include in that Statement the dates when you will not be available for trial, how long you estimate the trial will last, and whether you want a jury trial or a court trial. If the trial date is set at the Case Management Conference, both sides have to tell the judge whether they want a jury trial or a court trial. A jury trial means that a jury of your peers will decide the case. A court trial, also called a "bench trial," means that the judge alone makes the decision on your case. If you ask for a jury trial, you must pay the jury fees.DECIDING BETWEEN A JURY TRIAL OR COURT TRIAL:
First, you do not always have the right to a jury trial in all civil cases. But if you do have the option, there are a lot of things to think about when you decide what kind of trial to ask for.
Some types of disputes cannot be decided by a jury. These include claims for injunctive relief or declaratory relief, or questions of law instead of questions of fact. If you have a type of case that a jury can decide, you still may want to have a judge decide the case instead of a jury. Jury trials can be good if you have a case about things that people can identify with, and if you have a lawyer to present the case. Jurors can get bored or frustrated with cases that are technical or complicated, or when they see a party unprepared. Most judges are very good at understanding complicated problems. They can deal with those cases easily.
Also think about who is likely to be on your jury and how they will feel about your case. Lawyers who practice in a specific geographical area have experience with juries and the attitudes many jurors bring to court. This experience is important when deciding whether to request a jury trial. Before you decide what kind of trial to ask for, think about your case and what you will ask the judge or jury to solve. Talk to a lawyer about what kind of trial is best for your situation.
Most trials are set at either the Case Management Conference or Mandatory Settlement Conference. However, in Limited Civil, if the parties are ready for trial prior to the Case Management Conference, a party can request a trial date by filing an At Issue Memorandum for Trial Setting (L-0031) pursuant to Superior Court of Orange County Local Rule 339.
If you ask for a jury trial, you may have the option of requesting an expedited jury trial if all parties agree. An expedited jury trial is a short trial, generally lasting only one day. It is intended to be quicker and less expensive than a traditional jury trial. You can read more about this in the Expedited Jury Trial Information Sheet (EJT-010-INFO).
If you request a jury trial, you have to deposit advance jury fees with the clerk before the initial case management conference in the case. Or, if there is no case management conference set, you have to deposit the advance jury fee 365 days after the initial filing of the complaint. If you do not deposit the money in time, you may give up your right to a jury trial. In some circumstances you can ask that jury fees be waived by filing an Application For Waiver of Additional Fees and Costs. You must be prepared to show the court both that you cannot afford the jury fees AND that a jury trial is necessary for your rights to be protected.
For more information on jury trials and jury fees, see California Code of Civil Procedure sections 631 to 636.
At the Mandatory Settlement Conference, which is set by the court after the Case Management Conference in Unlimited Civil cases, the judge meets with the people in the case (or their lawyers). The parties will present the facts of the case to the judge, and the judge will try to find a solution that everyone agrees with in order to settle the case. If you can reach a resolution at the conference, there is no trial. At least 5 court days (do not count weekends or court holidays) before your Mandatory Settlement Conference, everyone in the case has to file a Settlement Conference Statement (L-0052) describing how your settlement talks are going. This statement has to be served on every party in the case. Read Rule 3.1380 of the California Rules of Court to see what must be included in the Settlement Conference Statement.
IMPORTANT: The Superior Court of Orange County has adopted Local Rule 316 which sets forth a number of mandatory requirements such as who must be present at the Conference, duties of the parties and insurance carries, and service of documents. Read this rule carefully.
This section does not apply to Limited Civil cases.
Superior Court oc Orange County Local Rule 317 requires the plaintiff to arrange an Issue Conference at a mutually agreeable time and location at least 10 days prior to the trial in an Unlimited Civil case. Refer to the rule for the purpose and requirements of the Conference.
There are a number of documents, including a Statement of Compliance (L-0081) which must be submitted to the Department of the judge to whom the case has been assigned for trial no later than noon of the Friday before trial. Refer to the Local Rule of Court.
This rule does not apply to Limited Civil cases.
To get ready for trial, you need to put together all the evidence that you want the court to consider to prove your case (and to disprove the other side’s case).
You may have already collected a lot of this evidence, but if not, this is your opportunity to do so. For example, if you have a car accident case, you should already have pictures of the scene of the accident and of the damage to your car. If you have not done so yet, you can interview witnesses and write down their statements, and you can also take measurements of things and distances at the scene. You can also request information from the weather bureau about the weather on the day and time of the accident, and get any police reports or medical bills and proof of your expenses.
In small claims court police reports and medical bills can be introduced into evidence without having the police officer or doctor in court to authenticate the document. In a Limited or Unlimited Civil case these out-of-court statements (called hearsay under the rules of evidence) are generally not allowed, particularly if you want to use them to prove the information that is in them. This is one of the reasons why it is difficult for non-lawyers to try a case in the Superior Court. The rules of evidence are complicated and can make it difficult to get evidence into the court record.
Some information that you need will not be available to you, but the other side may have it. So when you cannot get this information without the other side’s help, you have to work with the other side to give each other the information you want. This process of gathering evidence from the other side is called "discovery".DISCOVERY:
Discovery is the process of gathering evidence from the other side to prepare your case for trial. During "discovery" you and the other side ask each other for information about each other's case and use this information to prepare for trial. That way, when you go to trial, you will know what the evidence on both sides is. This helps you present your case better. It may also encourage the parties to settle because they can see the strengths and weaknesses of the case on both sides.
Both sides have the right to discovery, and both sides have the responsibility to provide the information that the other side requests as long as the request is legal, does not ask for privileged (information that a party does not have to reveal) information, and complies with the rules for discovery.
You can find the rules for discovery in the Code of Civil Procedure starting at section
Discovery can be very complicated and expensive, and the rules are very strict. If you do not follow the rules, you may not be able to use the evidence you gathered in court. Also, there are a lot of strategic decisions involved in discovery. Because of this, discovery is an area of your case where the advice of a lawyer can be extremely helpful.
In general, you have to finish discovery 30 days before the trial date. This includes all motions to force responses to discovery when the other side does not respond. Try to finish your discovery ahead of time. This will give everyone enough time to go over all the papers and get ready for trial.The main kinds of discovery are: