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Family Law Bench Book

Court Scheduled Hearings and Trials

Hon. Archie C. Brown

  1. Pre-Trial Conference. Pre-Trial Conference is the Court's opportunity to evaluate cases and determine which will be readily settled and which will require more intervention. The Court's goal is to expedite the parties' focus on the issues and facilitate communication between the parties and counsel toward resolving those issues.

    1. Scheduling. Within 60 days of filing an Answer to the Complaint for Divorce, the Court will schedule a Pre-Trial Conference (NOTE: If no Answer to the Complaint is filed, a Pre-Trial Conference will not be scheduled by the Court unless requested by the parties.) This applies to both DM and DO cases. Pre-Trial Conferences will not be conducted by the telephone. Although parties represented by counsel are not required to attend, they are strongly encouraged to attend. If settlement is reached at the Pre-Trial Conference, the Court will allow proofs to be placed on the record. The Pretrial Conference either will be conducted by the Judge or the Judge's judicial attorney. Parties are expected to bring and exchange the Pre-Trial Statement.

    2. Functions.

      1. Identify the issues and offer direction on substantive issues.
      2. Focus the parties on necessary steps to resolve the issues.
      3. Determine the additional discovery needed and set a schedule for completion of discovery (e.g. business valuations, appraisals, etc.) and exchange witness lists.
      4. Refer cases, as appropriate, for FOC casework evaluations or referee hearings. A referral order will be entered.
      5. Confirm parties' attendance at Mandatory Mediation Orientation Program.
      6. To explore alternative dispute resolution, such as mediation, including issues to be mediated and an appropriate mediator for those issues.
      7. Determine other necessary referrals, such as custody/psychological evaluation.
      8. Schedule Settlement Conference according to the time-table determined in the Pre-Trial Conference.
      9. Enter the Pre-Trial Order.

  2. Motions. Motions in domestic cases are conducted at 8:30 a.m. on Thursdays. Cases are called in the order of check-in. Please, do not check in until all sides are prepared to go forward.

    1. Friend of the Court Referrals. The court clerk has Orders of Referral to the Friend of the Court. If you determine such a referral is all you need, you may get the form, complete it and return it to the court clerk. He/she will approach the bench, get it signed, give you the yellow copy and you can take your client to the Friend of the Court to get an appointment. This can all be done without calling the case. We will make the appropriate notations on the docket to reflect this activity.

    2. Benchbook. The court will make every effort to follow the Benchbook guidelines in formulating the relief given in response to motions.

    3. Settled motions. If you settle a motion, you need not have the case called. Report to the court clerk and tell him/her that an order will follow. He/she will request the name of the attorney who is to prepare the order and when it will be presented. We will make the necessary notations on the docket.

    4. Adjourned motions. If you agree to an adjourned date for your motion on the date of hearing, you do not need to have your case called. Get a new date from the court clerk and he/she will make the necessary notation on the docket. If hearing is adjourned within 48 hours of hearing date, notify the Judge's secretary of the adjournment.

    5. Evidentiary hearing dates. If you need a date for an evidentiary hearing, tell the court clerk, then get the date from Central Assignment. You do not have to have your case called. Be prepared to tell Central Assignment how much time you must have. Be as exact as you can. We will give you the time you need, but keep in mind that the time you request and do not use is taking time from others.

  3. Settlement Conferences.

    1. Time. Settlement Conferences are conducted on Monday mornings beginning at 8:30 a.m.

    2. Place. Settlement Conferences are conducted in chambers either by the Judge or by the Judge's judicial attorney.

    3. Purpose. By the time of the Settlement Conference, it is assumed that the parties have refined the issues, completed discovery and explored settlement. The Court will assist in reaching settlement.

      1. Both parties and their counsel are required to attend.
      2. Parties are expected to be prepared with their issues and to discuss settlement.
      3. The parties are requested to stipulate to adjourn the Settlement Conference, if a necessary recommendation will not be available by the Settlement Conference (e.g. FOC Referee report, custody evaluation, or business evaluation, etc.), so that the Settlement Conference can be meaningful.
      4. If a settlement is reached, the Court will allow proofs to be placed on the record.
      5. If a settlement is not reached, the next available trial date will be scheduled, with priority given to conference trials.
      6. If the parties are almost in agreement but need additional time to put the pieces together, the court may set another settlement conference date if it would be useful. Otherwise, your case will be scheduled for trial.

  4. Conference with minor children. If you are requesting a conference by the court with minor children, please let Ms. Wood know the name of the person at the Friend of the Court who is familiar with the family. Interviews with minor children are conducted by Judge Brown and/or his judicial attorney in the presence of the Friend of the Court between the date of the settlement conference and the trial date.

  5. Evidentiary Hearings and Trial Dates.

    1. Trial dates are firm and no adjournments will be granted after the Settlement Conference.

    2. Depositions will be expected from witnesses who are necessary to your case but who cannot be present.

    3. All exhibits must be marked in advance and exchanged with counsel.

    4. Witness lists containing a short statement concerning the testimony expected from each witness must be exchanged with counsel.

    5. Priority is given to the Conference Trial method over the traditional trial method. If trial is not completed at the end of the scheduled date, the court will schedule a continuation of the conference trial. In case of a traditional trial, Central Assignment will schedule the new date.

    6. If more than one trial is ready to proceed and another Family Court Judge is available, the court will attempt to spin off one of the trials to be heard that day.

    7. Special needs, such as audio visual equipment, flip charts and markers, and so on, must be arranged or checked on at least 48 hours before the trial is scheduled to start. Delays or adjournments will not be granted if such equipment is unavailable to you.

  6. Conference Trials. Many cases are being tried in Washtenaw County by the Conference Trial method. Such a trial can take on almost any format counsel and the parties can agree to. This is a very useful strategy when the client wishes to "tell it to the judge."

    1. To proceed with a Conference Trial, all counsel and parties must state on the record their agreement to be bound by the court's decision resulting from use of the Conference Trial mechanism chosen and their agreement that rights to appeal on the basis of the record created are preserved.

    2. Often, the parties and witnesses, if any, are placed in the jury box and sworn. The court asks each witness what they would like to state to the court. The attorneys ask questions if they desire. Sometimes they agree to time limits on their questioning, such as 5 or 10 minutes per witness.

    3. It can also be an effective mechanism when there is more than one expert. Many cases settle when the experts are sent into a room and asked if they can agree upon a conclusion, whether it is a business evaluation or a custody arrangement. Counsel and the parties will determine at the Settlement Conference and notify the Court if they wish to use a Conference Trial.

  7. Procedure Following Evidentiary Hearing. When testimony is completed in a contested case, counsel may be asked to provide the following:

    1. A written final argument

    2. A written brief on issues arising during trial not previously briefed and which counsel or the court feels would be helpful.

    3. Written proposed findings of fact and conclusion of law.

    4. A proposed judgment or order approved by the Friend of the Court and any other documents or fees necessary before an order may be entered.

    5. Any of these should be presented on paper, with the Judge’s copy preferably filed electronically from the Washtenaw County Trial Court Homepage: