A refresher on pretrial requirements in South Carolina Federal District Court, 0720 SCBJ, SC Lawyer, July 2020, #42

AuthorBy Keegan Miller
PositionVol. 32 Issue 1 Pg. 42

It’s the Final Countdown: A refresher on pretrial requirements in South Carolina Federal District Court

Vol. 32 Issue 1 Pg. 42

South Carolina BAR Journal

July, 2020

It’s the Final Countdown

By Keegan Miller

So, the time has finally come. You have taken all the depositions (at least the plaintiff’s), exchanged more than one set of written discovery responses (and objections), amended the scheduling order (at least twice), attempted resolution at mediation (which stalled), and fell short on your motion for summary judgment. Now your case is about to be called for trial before a United States District Court Judge for the District of South Carolina. What now? – or more commonly - What the heck are we actually supposed to do next?

In my short tenure as an attorney in private practice and a judicial law clerk in the District of South Carolina, it has become readily apparent that the disappearing civil trial has also led to the disappearance of once common civil trial skills and preparation techniques. The decrease in regular exposure to the civil jury trial has increased an unfamiliarity with the rules and requirements of pretrial proceedings in federal court. This article is a refresher on the most overlooked, unknown, and forgotten pretrial requirements in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and the Local Civil Rules in the District of South Carolina (“Local Rules”). I have also included a spotlight on certain District Court judges’ idiosyncrasies and some “pro tips” I have learned along the way.

First, it is important to note that although the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure do contain some specific pretrial deadlines, a majority of the pretrial deadlines applicable in this District come from the Local Rules. Additionally, several of the initial pretrial deadlines are triggered not by the trial date, but the jury selection date. The jury selection date often falls within the first week of that term of court. Trial terms begin on the date of jury selection (this holds true even for bench trials) and may last one to two months.1 Attorneys are expected to be ready for trial on the date set for jury selection.2 Some judges may require you to disclose conflicts with the trial term shortly after the initial scheduling order is issued.

It is also important to note that each judge has the authority to overrule or change the deadlines and requirements within the Local Rules.3 Accordingly, be sure to examine the scheduling order, that judge’s standing orders, standard and specific fling preferences, and any other directive issued by that judge to ensure compliance with the Court’s orders.

Pro tip: If you are unsure of the jury selection date for the term of court set in your scheduling order, the District Court maintains a jury selection calendar indicating each specific judge’s jury selection date for a given term of court and division.4 These dates are subject to change, however. Due to the dwindling number of cases in any given term, judges have been known to cancel their selection dates and borrow from another judge’s jury pool on a different date in an effort to make jury selection more efficient as a whole. It is possible to call the presiding judge’s docket clerk to confirm the jury selection date.

30 days prior to trial

Technically, Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(a)(3) requires that all parties file witness lists (including deposition designations) and exhibit lists 30 days before trial with any resulting objections coming due 14 days prior to trial. However, this deadline is often amended or deleted in the case’s scheduling order or by a particular judge’s standard preferences. This is especially true considering the exact date of trial is often unknown 30 days in advance of jury selection (which is technically when the parties must be prepared for trial), and the substantive requirements of this rule are duplicated in the pretrial briefs discussed below.

Judge’s spotlight: Judge Joseph F. Anderson Jr. exempts all of his civil cases from the pretrial disclosure requirements in Fed.R.Civ.P. 26 (a)(3) as noted in his standard scheduling order. Over the years, Judge Anderson has found that requiring attorneys to designate witnesses and exhibits 30 days before an often-uncertain trial date encourages “over-designation” which creates confusion later. He...

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