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Texas Pretrial Procedure
South Texas College of Law Houston
Davis, Byron

Texas Pretrial Procedure
Davis – Spring 2013
 
Chapter 1: Introduction to Texas Courts
 
A.      The Texas Rules of Civil Procedure
 
a.       Rule 3a
 
b.       Local Rules
 
                                                   i.      Every county has local rules
 
                                                  ii.      All local rules must be written down and approved by Supreme Court
 
                                                iii.      Cannot conflict with TRCP
 
                                                iv.      If CPRC and TRCP conflict, CPRC wins
 
B.      The Adversary System and Civil Procedure
 
a.       Rule 1: “the proper objective of rules of civil procedure is to obtain a fair, just, equitable and impartial adjudication of the rights of litigants under established principles of substantive law
 
b.       Overall goals of justice and efficiency
 
C.      An Overview of Texas Pretrial Procedure
 
a.       Pretrial procedure is process by which parties prepare for trial in which their dispute will be resolved
 
D.      An Overview of Texas Trial and Appellate Procedure
 
a.       Always working case at two levels: (1) get a favorable verdict and (2) making a record of trial court errors
 
b.       Avoid waiving error, but sometimes it may be strategic to waive some things and not object entire trial
 
c.        “Fundamental Error” cannot be waived
 
                                                   i.      Does not really exist anymore; SMJ is only non-waivable error that comes up
 
d.       Before appellate court will reverse trial court decision, need to see in the record that:
 
                                                   i.      Counsel clearly pointed out what the court was doing wrong;
 
                                                  ii.      Counsel gave the “grounds” for the complaint (i.e. a rule was violated);
 
                                                iii.      Counsel told court how to avoid or correct the error (unless it was clear from protest); and
 
                                                iv.      The court clearly rejected the protect (e.g., overruled an objection)
 
Chapter 2: The Texas Trial Courts
 
A.      Court Structure of Texas
 
a.       The Civil Subject Matter Jurisdiction of the Texas Trial Courts
 
                                                               i.      All cases controlled by one of two main questions for SMJ:
 
1.       Are my facts such that the amount in controversy, if any, does not matter? OR
 
a.       Ex: eminent domain, divorce, child custody, admiralty
 
2.       What is the amount in controversy?
 
                                                              ii.      Local Trial Courts of Limited Jurisdiction
 
1.       Justice Courts
 
a.       Exclusive jurisdiction over foreseeable entry and detainer cases
 
                                                                                                                                       i.      Note à if LL owed money, that is different – controlled by AIC (breach of K)
 
b.       $0.01 – $20,000
 
c.        Exclusive for amounts under $200
 
d.       Appeal to county court for trial de novo, which can be appealed to court of appeals
 
e.        Function as small claims court, but these are being phased out
 
2.       Municipal Courts
 
a.       Lowest ranking criminal courts
 
b.       Crimes punishable by fine not to exceed $2,000
 
                                                            iii.      Constitutional County Courts
 
1.       $200.01 – $10,000
 
2.       Every county has a constitutional judge (does not have to be an attorney)
 
3.       Exclusive jurisdiction for undisputed probate cases where no other court can hear probate
 
4.       Cannot hear defamation, divorce, eminent domain, forfeiture of corp charter, right to property over $500, recovery of land, enforcement of liens, or escheat cases
 
                                                            iv.      District Courts
 
1.       $500.01 – anything
 
2.       Courts of general jurisdiction
 
3.       Have “residual jurisdiction” in all cases unless exclusive jurisdiction is conferred on another court
 
                                                             v.      Statutory or Legislative Courts
 
1.       Overview
 
a.       Legislature has power to “establish such other courts as it may deem necessary”
 
b.       Can create statutory courts with limited jurisdiction or jurisdiction equal to the constitutional dimensions of a district court
 
c.        Not allowed to reduce the constitutional jurisdiction of a district court
 
2.       County Courts at Law
 
a.       Need to look at statute that created it
 
b.       There are minimum jurisdictional parameters
 
                                                                                                                                       i.      Civil jurisdiction $500.01 – $100,000 (excluding interest, punitive, atty fee, costs)
 
                                                                                                                                      ii.      Workers compensation appeals, regardless of AIC
 
                                                                                                                                    iii.      Also has jurisdiction of a constitutional county court (so AIC $200.01 – $100,000
 
c.        Can go over $100,000 since it varies by statute
 
d.       County judge is in charge of court commission
 
                                                                                                                                       i.      They tell legislature the type of court the county needs and wants
 
3.       Probate Courts
 
a.       No set AIC
 
b.       Constitutional county court has general probate jurisdiction, often delegated by statute to other courts
 
4.       Eminent Domain Jurisdiction
 
a.       Concurrent jurisdiction to county court at law and district court
 
b.       If question of title or some other matter also included and county court at law cannot adjudicate, must be transferred to district court
 
5.       Family District Courts
 
a.       Has power to work as constitutional county court if necessary
 
b.       Calculating the Amount in Controversy
 
                                                               i.      Petition must state the damages sought are within the jurisdiction limits of the court…that is sufficient to put the case within the court’s jurisdiction
 
1.       Opponent is allowed to file a special exception to get the actual amount claimed
 
                                                              ii.      Multiple Parties
 
1.       Claims of multiple plaintiffs against single defendant are aggregated
 
2.       Aggregation does not apply to divest a court of jurisdiction on counterclaims asserted by multiple defendants
 
3.       If one plaintiff asserts separate, independent and distinct, though joinable, claims against multiple defendants, each claim is judged on its own and must independently satisfy the jurisdictional standards
 
                                                            iii.      Other General Rules for Calculating Amount in Controversy
 
1.       Include attorney’s fees and punitive damages
 
a.       Note à county courts at law (and some jurisdictional statutes) specifically exclude attorney’s fees, penalties, and statutory/punitive damages from AIC
 
2.       Include interest, except interest “eo nomine”, interest as interest
 

ies may be connected with him, either by affinity or consanguinity, within such a degree as may be proscribed by law, or when he shall have been counsel in the case.”
 
d.       Recusal
 
                                                               i.      Different than disqualification
 
                                                              ii.      Bias or prejudice enter equation
 
                                                            iii.      Orders rendered by judge who should be recused are not void – merely reviewable on appeal
 
1.       Mandamus not available
 
                                                            iv.      Can be waived (unlike disqualification)
 
                                                             v.      If granted, judge steps down and you get a new judge
 
1.       Effectively non-appealable
 
e.        Statutory Strikes
 
                                                               i.      More common
 
                                                              ii.      Only used to disqualify a retired or former judge who has been assigned to a particular court as a visiting judge
 
                                                            iii.      Need a timely objection, which is denied by judge, then can proceed with mandamus
 
1.       Second exception of not have to show remedy/appeal
 
2.       Judge should have stepped down because subject to statutory strike
 
                                                            iv.      Visiting Judges
 
1.       Former Judge
 
a.       Not presently under Texas retirement system (one strike)
 
2.       Retired Judge
 
a.       Qualified under Texas retirement system (one strike)
 
3.       Sitting Judge
 
a.       Zero statutory strikes allowed, must use motion to recuse/writ
 
4.       Senior Judge
 
a.       May or may not be a retired judge (one strike)
 
5.       If assigned judge lost his previous election, each side has unlimited strikes
 
f.        Bias or prejudice
 
                                                               i.      Not normally enough for a Due Process disqualification
 
                                                              ii.      Objective standard in looking at bias
 
C.      Attorneys in Texas
 
a.       Professionalism
 
                                                               i.      Rule 13
 
b.       Withdrawal of Counsel
 
                                                               i.      Rule 8. Attorney in Charge:
 
1.       On the occasion of a party’s first appearance through counsel, the attorney whose signature first appears on the initial pleadings for any party shall be the attorney in charge, unless another attorney is specifically designated
 
                                                              ii.      Rule 9. Number of Counsel Heard:
 
1.       Not more than two counsels on each side shall be heard on any question or on the trial, except in important cases on special leave of the court.