Trial lawyers practicing in Travis County district courts should be aware of proposed changes to the standing pretrial order for civil jury cases. A redlined draft of the new proposed standard order is available here.
One of the most significant proposed changes is how jury charges are to be handled before trial.
The Old Way
The current pretrial order requires the parties to exchange proposed charges three days before trial. In most cases, that’s the Friday before a Monday docket call.
The parties are to cite the Texas Pattern Jury Charges or other authority supporting the submission and provide proposed charges to the court at the pretrial hearing.
The New Way
The parties would have to exchange proposed charges six days before trial. I doubt that would impose a Sunday deadline for a Monday docket call, but that’s what the draft says.
The requirement of citing the PJC or other authority is carried forward into the new order.
The biggest change is that the proposed order (in ¶ 7.1) would force the parties to actively confer about the charge before presenting their proposals to the trial court. Three days before trial, the parties “shall confer in person or by telephone, in good faith, in an attempt to resolve . . . all disputed language in the opposing party’s proposed jury charge.” Any disputes not resolved during this conference will be taken up at the pretrial hearing.
A new provision (¶ 10) would specify the mechanics of presenting proposed charges to the court for the pretrial hearing.
I have long preached that jury charges should not be an afterthought. Trial lawyers should prepare a proposed charge early in the case and use it as a roadmap for discovery and developing evidence as the case moves along. While this approach takes some front-end work, following it will decrease stress when getting ready for trial.
Under the proposed standing pretrial order, lawyers who leave their proposed charges to the last minute will see their stress load increase. Travis County district judges will expect counsel to have meaningfully conferred on the charge to minimize the time needed to resolve objections informally and get the document into final form for the formal charge conference.
Charge error remains one of the primary reasons why trial-court judgments get reversed. Going to the trouble to make sure the charge is done right the first time is well worth the investment. The alternative may be trying the case a second time or, worse yet, getting poured out on appeal.