Southern District of NY Pro Se Trial Manual

The Southern District of New York provides to all self-represented litigants whose cases are scheduled for trial this Trial-Ready Manual, prepared with the assistance of the Committee of the Federal Courts of the New York County Lawyers’ Association.

As the Table of Contents, pasted in at the bottom of this post, shows, this is a remarkably comprehensive document, which would be of great help to any self-represented litigant.  I would urge its use as a model for other jurisdictions.  (It includes, for example a detailed discussion of the risks of cross-examination, and of techniques to avoid these dangers.)  One strength of the Manual is its inclusion of Practice Tips in many areas (although I might delete the word “practice” from the name.)

But, it also shows the complexity of Federal Court practice, and highlights how difficult it must be for the self-represented to do a good job for themselves in this environment.  I remain of the view that the bulk of self-help work in the Federal courts will be through various forms of unbundled assistance until the Federal Courts have made procedures more self-represented litigant friendly.  This will include educational programs for judges on how to exercise discretion to make the process manageable, as well as the creation of more forms and tools.  This manual is an obvious and highly significant step forward.

The Table of Contents of the Manual is below.

TABLE OF CONTENTS
INTRODUCTION……………………………………………………………………………………………….. 1
Proceeding Pro Se……………………………………………………………………………………………….. 2 The Decision to Proceed Pro Se …………………………………………………………………………… 3 Rules of Procedure………………………………………………………………………………………………. 3 Legal Research …………………………………………………………………………………………………. 4 Trial Ready Checklist ………………………………………………………………………………………….. 6
THE COURTROOM……………………………………………………………………………………………… 7
Courtroom Conduct …………………………………………………………………………………………….. 7 Layout of the Courtroom ……………………………………………………………………………………… 8
TRIAL PREPARATION………………………………………………………………………………………. 10
Theory of the Case …………………………………………………………………………………………….. 10 Trial Notebook ………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 11 Role of Judge and Jury……………………………………………………………………………………….. 12 Consent to Trial by a Magistrate Judge ………………………………………………………………… 13 Motions in Limine……………………………………………………………………………………………… 14 Pretrial Order and Filings……………………………………………………………………………………. 15 Final Pretrial Conference ……………………………………………………………………………………. 17
COMMENCEMENT OF TRIAL……………………………………………………………………………. 19
Setting a Trial Date ……………………………………………………………………………………………. 19 Final Status Conference ……………………………………………………………………………………… 19
JURY SELECTION…………………………………………………………………………………………….. 21
Picking a Jury……………………………………………………………………………………………………. 21 The Jury Pool ……………………………………………………………………………………………………. 22 Voir Dire ………………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 23 The Judge’s Statements to the Jury………………………………………………………………………. 26
OPENING STATEMENT……………………………………………………………………………………… 27
Making an Opening Statement…………………………………………………………………………….. 27 Sample Opening Statements ……………………………………………………………………………….. 29 Waiver of Opening Statements ……………………………………………………………………………. 31 Objections to Opening Statements……………………………………………………………………….. 31
PRESENTATION OF EVIDENCE ……………………………………………………………………….. 33
Types of Evidence……………………………………………………………………………………………… 33 Plaintiff Puts on Evidence First …………………………………………………………………………… 33 Plaintiff Has the Obligation to Prove Its Claim ……………………………………………………… 34 Burden of Proof…………………………………………………………………………………………………. 35 Admission of Evidence ………………………………………………………………………………………. 35 Rules of Evidence ……………………………………………………………………………………………… 36 Common Evidentiary Problems…………………………………………………………………………… 40
WITNESSES ………………………………………………………………………………………………………45
Role of Witnesses at Trial…………………………………………………………………………………… 45 Selecting Witnesses …………………………………………………………………………………………… 45 Order of Witnesses…………………………………………………………………………………………….. 46 Preparation of Witnesses…………………………………………………………………………………….. 47
Non-Party Witnesses………………………………………………………………………………………….. 49 Non-Party Prisoner-Witnesses …………………………………………………………………………….. 51 Deceased, Unavailable or Missing Witnesses ……………………………………………………….. 52 Excluding Witnesses from the Courtroom…………………………………………………………….. 53 QuestioningWitnesses: DirectExamination…………………………………………………………53 QuestioningWitnesses: CrossExamination………………………………………………………….57 Questioning Witnesses: Redirect Examination……………………………………………………… 62 Questioning Witnesses: Expert Examination………………………………………………………… 63
EXHIBITS ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………..64
Selecting and Using Exhibits ………………………………………………………………………………. 64 Admitting Exhibits into Evidence………………………………………………………………………… 65 Demonstrative Exhibits………………………………………………………………………………………. 69 Using an Exhibit to Refresh a Witness’s Recollection ……………………………………………. 70
OBJECTIONS……………………………………………………………………………………………………..72
Making Objections to Evidence…………………………………………………………………………… 72 Deciding Whether to Make an Objection ……………………………………………………………… 73 The Judge’s Ruling on Objections……………………………………………………………………….. 74 Common Objections ………………………………………………………………………………………….. 75 Objections to the Form of a Question …………………………………………………………………… 75 Objections to Substantive Admissibility……………………………………………………………….. 78 Offer of Proof……………………………………………………………………………………………………. 80
DAMAGES ……………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 82
Types of Damages……………………………………………………………………………………………… 82 Proving Damages ………………………………………………………………………………………………. 83 Relief Beyond Damages: Injunctions …………………………………………………………………… 84
RESTING PLAINTIFF’S CASE………………………………………………………………………………86
DEFENDANT’S CASE ………………………………………………………………………………………….87
Defending a Claim …………………………………………………………………………………………….. 87 Burden of Proof…………………………………………………………………………………………………. 88
REBUTTAL…………………………………………………………………………………………………………..89
TRIAL MOTIONS…………………………………………………………………………………………………90
Judgment as a Matter of Law ………………………………………………………………………………. 90 Judgment on Partial Findings………………………………………………………………………………. 91
CLOSING ARGUMENT ……………………………………………………………………………………….92
Making an Effective Closing Argument ……………………………………………………………….. 92 Objections to Closing Arguments………………………………………………………..94
SETTLEMENT ……………………………………………………………………………………………………95
A Case Can Settle at Any Time …………………………………………………………………………… 95 Settlement Negotiations ……………………………………………………………………………………… 96 Written Agreement…………………………………………………………………………………………….. 97 Offer of Judgment ……………………………………………………………………………………………… 98 Settlement After the Jury Is Impaneled ………………………………………………………………… 99

SENDING A CASE TO THE JURY ………………………………………………………………………100
Charging Conference ……………………………………………………………………………………….. 100 Jury Instructions………………………………………………………………………………………………. 100 Verdict Form…………………………………………………………………………………………………… 101 Jury Deliberations ……………………………………………………………………………………………. 101 Jury Verdict…………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 102 Polling the Jury ……………………………………………………………………………………………….. 102 Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law …………………………………………………………… 103
JUDGMENT…………………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 104
Entry of the Judgment ………………………………………………………………………………………. 104 Enforcing the Judgment ……………………………………………………………………………………. 104 Stay of the Judgment………………………………………………………………………………………… 105 Registration of the Judgment …………………………………………………………………………….. 106 Satisfaction of the Judgment ……………………………………………………………………………… 107
COSTS …………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 108
Recovering the Costs of a Trial …………………………………………………………………………. 108 Recovering Attorneys’ Fees………………………………………………………………………………. 108
POST-TRIAL MOTIONS…………………………………………………………………………………………. 109
Renewed Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law ……………………………………………… 109 Motion to Amend Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law…………………………………. 110 Motion for a New Trial …………………………………………………………………………………….. 110 Motion for Relief from the Judgment …………………………………………………………………. 112 Motion to Correct Clerical Mistakes in the Judgment …………………………………………… 113
APPEALS ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………… 114
The Right to Appeal…………………………………………………………………………………………. 114 Notice of Appeal ……………………………………………………………………………………………… 114 Appeal Filing Fees …………………………………………………………………………………………… 116 Trial Transcripts………………………………………………………………………………………………. 117 Proceedings on Appeal Before the Second Circuit……………………………………………….. 117
RESOURCES ……………………………………………………………………………………………………119

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About richardzorza

I am deeply involved in access to justice and the patient voice movement.
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