The Pretrial Stage
The pretrial stage includes conferences and motions.
The meeting of parties to a case conducted before trial is called a pretrial conference. Such meeting will be held before the trial judge or a magistrate, or a judicial officer who possesses fewer judicial powers than a judge. Any party to a case can request for a pretrial conference, or it may be ordered by the court. A pretrial conference may be conducted for expedite disposition of the case, to help the court establish managerial control over the case, to discourage wasteful pretrial activities, to improve the quality of the trial with thorough preparation, and to facilitate a settlement of the case.
In a civil pretrial conference, the judge or magistrate, with the help of the attorneys, may formulate and simplify the issues in the case, eliminate frivolous claims or defenses, obtain admissions of fact and documents to avoid unnecessary proof, identify witnesses and documents, make schedules for the submission of pretrial briefs and motions, make rulings on motions submitted before the conference, set dates for further conferences, discuss the possibility of a settlement, and discuss the consolidation or management of large, complex cases. After the conference, the judge or magistrate will issue an order reflecting the results of the conference according to which the case is conducted.
Discovery issues are a common topic in pretrial conferences. The process of turning over evidence is called discovery, and the rules that apply to obtaining evidence are called discovery rules. Discovery refers to the right of the parties to obtain evidence from the other. Discovery orders that were issued prior to a pretrial conference may be reviewed for compliance at a pretrial conference, and new discovery orders may be issued after a pretrial conference.
Pretrial motions will help to resolve many important questions about the lawsuit. These are requests to the court asking for a ruling on a particular matter. It will include arguments that certain evidence should be kept out of the trial, that certain persons must or cannot testify, or that the case should be dismissed altogether. If the ruling on the motion could terminate the litigation and end the dispute before trial, it is called a dispositive motion. If the ruling is on some incidental question that arises during the litigation, it is a non-dispositive motion.
A party may file a motion to dismiss in the early stages of litigation, even before conducting discovery. The motion is brought when the defendant believes that the complaint is legally deficient in some way. A motion to dismiss may be based on lack of subject matter jurisdiction, lack on personal jurisdiction, improper venue, insufficiency of process or insufficient service of process, or failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.
A summary judgment motion can be moved before the court if the key facts are not disputed and require that judgment be entered for one of the parties. If the facts are not in dispute, there is no need for a trial. The motion asks the court to consider the undisputed facts and apply the law to them, and argues that the law requires a judgment for the party bringing the motion.
A motion for default judgment is filed when the defendant has not responded to a summons or has failed to appear before the court.
Pretrial proceedings vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Pretrial procedures are designed to make the actual trial run more smoothly and quickly.