The following is provided for informational purposes only and is not, nor should be construed as, legal advice.
My Case is Going to Trial. Now What?
When a lawsuit is filed, it is typically resolved either pre-trial or it “goes” to trial. When it “goes” to trial, what does that mean? And what happens at trial? If you are represented by an attorney and your case is going to trial, your attorney will contact you to give you a date range of when your case might be called to trial. In Harris County, Montgomery County and surrounding counties, most cases are set on a two-week trial docket. That means that the court may or may not call your case to trial during those two weeks. If your case is going to be called to trial, the court will likely let you know the Wednesday or Thursday before the Monday trial date. And yes, you have to be available to go to trial for those two weeks. (If the court does not call your case to trial during those two weeks, the court will give you a new trial date.)
Well, it’s the morning of your trial. What happens now? Whether you are a defendant or a plaintiff, make sure you know where you are going. Where is the courthouse? Where is the parking? Remember that traffic can be brutal in Harris County and travel times can be greatly affected by a simple fender bender on any of the freeways. The important thing to remember is this – make plans to get there early. You will have to enter the courthouse through security and sometimes the line to enter the courthouse can be long and take a long time. Make plans to get there early.
Once you have found your courtroom and the judge arrives, the judge, the parties and the attorneys will take care of “pretrial” matters, such as pending motions. If you are either the plaintiff or the defendant, you may choose to sit with your attorney at “counsel’s table.” If you have a jury trial, the next step is voir dire – which is when the jury is chosen. The bailiff of the court is in charge of the jury and takes them to and from the courtroom. The chosen jurors are then sworn in by the judge and the parties begin with their opening statements. An opening statement is a brief overview of what each party intends to show the jury so that the jury can make its decision. The plaintiff in the case typically goes first and the defendant follows.
After opening statements, the witness testimony begins. This can be a very short or very long process, depending on the complexity of the case. If you are called as a witness, you will approach the witness stand, be sworn in by the judge and then be seated. Some trials last one day and some can last weeks or months. Speak to your attorney to determine how long they anticipate the trial to take. If you are a named party in the lawsuit, the likelihood is you will have to be present at the trial for the entire time.
Once the witness testimony is complete, the court will read the jury charge to the jury before they are asked to begin their deliberations. The jury charge is a document prepared by the attorneys and approved by the court that covers the causes of actions, defenses and damages that are the basis of the lawsuit. While the jury is deliberating, the attorneys and the parties wait on their decision. This can take a very short time, or a very long time.
Because of the nature of a trial, it is always best to be prepared. For example, if you have medication that you need to take, make sure you bring it with you. If you need to have little snacks, bring them. If you have a cough, bring cough drops. If you have a babysitter, the sitter needs to be prepared to stay longer than anticipated because oftentimes the trial won’t stop at 5p.m. You cannot eat in the courtroom but you can, and will have, short breaks during the day when you can take the necessary steps to keep you comfortable. Most courthouses have a cafeteria or there are restaurants nearby.
Once the jury has deliberated, the bailiff of the court will announce that the jury has reached its verdict. The jury will tender the signed jury charge to the court and the court will read the jury’s verdict. The court will then sign a judgment reflecting the findings of the jury. The judgment is oftentimes signed days after the trial has ended to give the parties the time to prepare a proper judgment.
It is important to note the importance of a jury. Most of us want our cases to be decided by our peers. So it is always important that when you or your friends and neighbors receive a jury duty request, you do your best to honor it. Without a jury, many cases do not see justice or completion. To those of you who have served on a jury before, thank you! If you have not had the privilege of serving on a jury, I hope you get to do it soon.
Marta E. Martin is a bilingual attorney and is admitted to practice before all Texas courts as well as the Federal Courts for the Eastern and Southern Districts of Texas. She is a member of the State Bar of Texas and the Texas Bar College and has been licensed for over 15 years. Mrs. Martin concentrates her practice in the areas of bankruptcy and litigation. She is an associate with Currin, Wuest, Mielke, Paul & Knapp, PLLC (“CWMPK”) located at 800 Rockmead Dr., Suite 220, Kingwood, Texas 77339. In addition to the areas in which Mrs. Martin practices, attorneys at CWMPK provide legal counsel in the areas of estate planning, probate, family law (including divorce and custody issues), employment law, litigation, business formation and operations, construction and commercial real estate. CWMPK is a debt relief law firm. CWMPK attorneys help people file for bankruptcy relief under the Bankruptcy Code. For more information, please call 281.359.0100 or visit www.cwmpk.com.