There are 60 Judicial Districts in Pennsylvania. They are the PA Courts of Common Pleas a/k/a the Trial Courts. As to their local procedure you might as well be practicing in 60 different countries. Each has their own procedure and quirks. In this post and a subsequent post I will share with you my 10 part checklist to help guide you through the PA Trial Courts:
- Judges – Each county varies regarding the number of Judges and their assignments and expertise. For example, in counties such as Tioga, Huntingdon and Clarion there is only one Judge as compared to Philadelphia that has over 100 Judges. The size of the judicial bench is important. The more Judges the more the Court tends to specialize. When there are only a few Judges then they tend to handle civil, family, orphans court and criminal matters. You need to know the size of the Court, the background of the Judges and how cases are assigned.
- Judge’s Procedure – Each Judge has their own procedure. You need to check. Sometimes it is in writing and it can be found on the County web site or by requesting it from chambers. Even if nothing is in writing you need to check with the Court staff or local attorneys. It is important to know the Judge’s dos and don’ts!
- Court Calendars – This is not federal Court. Having said that some County Judges do handle their calendar the same as the Federal Courts. You need to find out. Is the Judge married to the case from the filing through trial or is one Judge the pre-trial Judge and another handles the trial? Also, who schedules for the Judge? Is it the Judge’s staff or Court Administration?
- Court Staff – They can be your best friend or your enemy! It is your choice. In could be the Tipstaff, Court Clerks, stenographer, Court Criers, etc. You need to know what role each plays and get to know them.
- Local Rules of Civil Procedure – Most counties have them and most have obscure rules that you would never think they would have. If you have a case in a county you need to get a copy of the Local Rules. Some counties have them on their website such as Montgomery County. Others, you can obtain a copy through the local Bar Association.