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Civil Trial Procedures

Pretrial Motions
Pretrial motions, including motions in limine, must be filed and scheduled for hearing or argument in advance of trial.  Even if the scheduling order applicable to the case does not contain a deadline for such motions, it is understood that such motions will not ordinarily be received during trial.

Jury Selection
The jury will normally consist of seven persons, with one or two alternates also seated depending on the expected length of trial. The jury is selected immediately prior to trial using the "struck jury" method, and all members of the jury venire called for the trial -- usually about 20 persons -- are subject to voir dire. A list of the jurors to be called for the case is sent to counsel by the Clerk approximately one week prior to trial. Potential jurors will be seated in alphabetical order.

The attorneys are permitted to conduct voir dire after preliminary questions from the Judge. The Judge's voir dire will solicit any requests from jurors to be excused from jury duty on the ground of hardship.  Attorneys' voir dire is expected to be limited to relevant questoins and not consist of disguised argument on the merits of the case.

Following voir dire, the Judge will rule on any requests to be excused for hardship. Next, any party having any challenge for cause should make known to the court that matter outside the presence of the jury.  After the Judge rules on any challenges for cause, the parties will take alternate strikes on a single jury list, in a number depending on the remaining members of the panel, in order to reduce the jury to seven, with the appropriate number of alternates. Typically, the selection of those jurors who will serve as alternates does not occur until the case goes to the jury and is accomplished randomly.  Of course, the parties may agree to allow the case to be determined by all jurors.

In the usual case, jury selection is expected to take no more than two hours.

After the jury is sworn, preliminary instructions are given by the Judge. Jurors are told that they will be permitted to take notes. Questions by the jurors are not permitted.

Opening Statements
Opening statements must summarize objectively the key facts, without argument. In most cases, an opening statement should not exceed 10 to 15 minutes.  If there may be a dispute as to admissibility of any evidence or exhibit, counsel should omit it from the opening statement or advise opposing counsel of the intent to refer to such evidence or exhibit, so that opposing counsel may seek a ruling from the court.

Presentation of Evidence
Counsel should familiarize themselves with the evidence display system is use in the courtroom prior to trial. If counsel desires instruction in this regard, please contact Judge Jones's judicial assistant, Sharon Callahan (tel.: 276-628-4080, email: sharonc@vawd.uscourts.gov, fax: 276-628-4597).

It will be assumed that all exhibits have been previously disclosed and that there is no objection to an exhibit unless promptly made. Exhibits should be premarked by counsel in order to speed introduction. Counsel should provide a list of witnesses and exhibits to the court reporter and courtroom deputy. Counsel should provide an extra copy of each exhibit for the Judge.

In complex cases, exhibit notebooks for the Judge and each member of the jury are suggested.

Questions to witnesses and argument to the court must be made from the lectern. Counsel may approach a witness without leave of court to hand the witness a document or exhibit, but must promptly return to the lectern.

Requests for exclusion of witnesses should be made before examination of the first witness and preferably before opening statements.  Although the rule does not prevent talking with excluded witnesses during recesses about their expected testimony, counsel must not disclose courtroom testimony given by other witnesses or permit other witnesses to disclose their testimony.

Witnesses should be released from further attendance as soon as they are no longer needed.  After testifying, a witness is deemed released unless counsel or the court promptly indicates that the witness is not so excused.

Cooperative witnesses not immediately needed may be placed "on call" but counsel remains responsible for having sufficiently available witnesses so that the trial may proceed without early adjournments or lengthy recesses. Plaintiff's counsel should keep defense counsel advised of the progress of the plaintiff's case so that the defense may be ready to proceed promptly following the conclusion of the plaintiff's case in chief.

Exhibits are in the custody of the courtroom deputy clerk and must be returned to the clerk once examination is completed.

Objections
All objections and other remarks to the court must be made while standing. Objections must be succinct, without argument or other comment.  If argument is needed, Judge Sargent will so indicate.

Side bar or bench conferences are discouraged and argument outside of the presence of the jury will normally take place only during regular recesses or before or after court sessions.  Accordingly, counsel should anticipate any evidentiary questions or disputes and bring them to the attention of the Judge ahead of time.

Multiple Party Cross-Examination
When there are mulltiple parties, counsel are responsible for coordination of cross-examination.  Judge Sargent will not permit repetitive cross-examination.

Trial Schedule
Normally, trial begin promptly at 9 a.m. and end at approximately 4 p.m. each day, with an hour break at noon and 15-minute breaks in mid-morning and mid-afternoon.  Matters to be taken up outside of the presence of the jury should be scheduled before or after the trial day or during the recesses. If there are such matters to be taken up, a request should be made to the courtroom deputy clerk or the baliff, and notice given to opposing counsel.

Closing Argument
Closing arguments are normally limited to 30 minutes per side, unless unusual circumstances exist, and leave of the court has been obtained.

Jury Instructions
Judge Sargent has standard preliminary civil jury instructions, as well as standard final jury instructions.  Counsel is responsible for submitting any other instructions desired at least seven days prior to trial, with a copy to opposing counsel.  These instructions are found the forms section.

Submission to Jury
Prior to closing argument the Judge will conduct a charge conference and advise counsel of the substance of the jury charge. The charge is given after closing arguments, and before the jury begins deliberations.  Counsel will be given an opportunity to make any objections to the charge on the record.  In most cases, the Judge will send with the jury a written copy of her charge for the jury's reference during deliberations.  The jury will be instructed that during deliberations it may request any or all of the exhibits.

During jury deliberations, counsel will be expected to remain at the courthouse, unless excused by the Judge.  Following the case, counsel may not discuss the case with jurors, without leave of court.

Settlement
If the court is advised that a case has been settled, the case immediately will be dismissed from the docket and, if no agreed final order or judgment is thereafter submitted within 60 days or, if no party files a motion to reopen within such time, the case shall, without further order, stand dismissed with prejudice.