Welcome to Tip of the Week! Judicial officers will offer a tip each week for members of the Family Law Section. Feel free to send suggestions to Mag. Kim Mattingly at email@example.com.
By Mag. Kimberly Dean Mattingly, Marion Superior Court
Quotes from responses to discovery that I had to read and rule on recently are below (my thoughts are in parentheses):
INTERROGATORY NO. 5: Except for those items disclosed in your answer to interrogatory Number 5, above, as to each item of personal property (i.e., household furnishings, yard equipment, etc.) owned by you or your wife as of July 3, 2017, provide a description of such item; the fair market value of such item as of July 3, 2017; the amount owed, if any, on such item as of July 3, 2017; whether you or your wife should receive ownership of such item; and, how such item was acquired if acquired by means other than the joint efforts of you and your wife.
Objection. Not relevant. Not designed to lead to discoverable evidence. (Really? Personal property owned date of filing is not relevant? And, what exactly is discoverable evidence? I assume the lawyer meant admissible evidence - don’t be sloppy.)
Answer: My wife and I have not lived together in many years. Neither of us has anything of the others at this time. (All property is marital property, pal.)
REQUEST FOR PRODUCTION l4. A complete Marion County Financial Declaration.
RESPONSE: A Financial Declaration was not attached; however, Petitioner will file a Financial Declaration with the trial court as required by local trial rules. (Do you really have to provide each other with fin dec forms before you will direct your client to complete one? And Local Rules require that the Petitioner file one within 30 days of filing of the Petition and that the Respondent file one within 30 days of being served, so you are already tardy. While we are talking about things that never happen, when was the last time anyone other than Rick Mann actually filed the supporting documents such as paystubs, tax returns, etc.? Always review fin decs carefully before they are exchanged or filed. Finally, note that the Local Rule says they are ADMISSIBLE upon filing, not ADMITTED.)
One of the above disputes was between very well-thought-of lawyers, at hourly rates that signal they should not be billing clients to argue about technicalities or other discovery minutia. General rules to live by:
- Provide MORE than what was requested.
- If you think it was already provided, shut up and provide it again. (Do you want to be right, or do you want to have a reputation as a lawyer who is easy to work with and gets things done?)
- Speaking of your reputation, you can object to interrogatories that exceed the local minimum, but should you? If you do, your client might have to be deposed – will that help or hurt your client’s case?
- Edit your clients’ responses judiciously and do not allow snarky responses to leave your office. Ever.
- If you are going to lay a discovery dispute at the court’s feet, be sure you have documented everything thoroughly, and be prepared for the counter-motion to compel to be filed against your client if you do not have clean hands.
- Before you file, pick up the phone. Yes, you need to document via email or a paper trail, but it never hurts to just talk to the other side. By the same token, return your colleagues’ phone calls. There are at least two lawyers who are well known for never returning phone calls; one of them never returned a call to me. You can see that I have not forgotten…
Bonus tip: Etiquette
Did you know that it is improper to pass the salt without the pepper? Similarly it is improper to file a support worksheet without a financial declaration. Don’t give us that line “oh, nothing has changed on the fin dec.” Have your client do an updated one; you’d be surprised what might have changed, and you won’t be stuck with old numbers. A fistful of paystubs are not an acceptable substitute for a fin dec. Every hearing that involves financial issues must have these filed 7 days in advance. Spare us the whining, “but I never know which Judge wants what…” Maybe they are not followed or enforced equally in all courts, but you will never, ever go wrong by following the Local Rules. Smart lawyers have a file for every judicial officer where they record their experience, pet peeves, expectations, etc.; have you started yours?
Stay tuned for a new tip next week!
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