Court of Common Pleas
Honorable Robert O. Baldi
Court of Common Pleas
Standard Operating Procedures
Courtroom Procedures Generally
- Follow the local court rules.
- There should be a heightened sense of civility in a courtroom at all times. Judge Baldi expects all attorneys to be civil to each other and to all parties and witnesses. When in Court attorneys and parties should refer to each other, Court personnel and/or anyone else in the Courtroom, by their last name or title only (Mr. Jones, Ms. Smith, defense counsel, etc.).
- The Court welcomes submission of legal authority, either by memo or by copies of relevant cases, statutes, etc. Bring an extra copy for Judge Baldi and his law clerk, and provide an extra copy of any such submissions to opposing counsel and/or parties that are unrepresented.
- The Court prefers the parties to exchange and pre-mark exhibits before a trial begins. Therefore, if they have not already done so the parties should arrive in Court early and confer with one another regarding the exhibits. It is the duty and responsibility of the litigants to bring sufficient copies of all exhibits to provide a copy to all the parties, any witness who needs to refer to same during the presentation of the case, and a copy for the Court.
- The Court believes that the parties should be able to stipulate to many facts and therefore, at the beginning of the case or controversy, the parties should precisely set forth, to the Court, the following:
- Subject matter and nature of the dispute;
- Stipulations of fact which are necessary to develop a record, but which are not contested;
- A precise statement as to what is being contested and each party’s position regarding each matter contested.
- Objections should be stated formally and responded to formally. Objections should not be used as an opportunity to bicker or to make extraneous statements not specifically related to the objection
- Prior to selection of the jury, the attorneys must meet, review and exchange, and pre-mark all exhibits either side intends to use or reserves the right to use during the jury trial. This does not include an exhibit which would be used for impeachment only. Courtroom procedure #4 is mandatory for all jury trials.
- Any document, exhibit, photo, etc., that counsel wishes to publish to the jury, must be shown to opposing counsel before it is published and the item must have an exhibit number. If counsel intends to use a poster board exhibit, counsel must supply the Court with a smaller version to be kept with the record as the exhibit. Nothing should be projected on a screen, visible to the jury, prior to opposing counsel reviewing same.
- Points for Charge should be submitted no later than the first day of trial, at the beginning of the case, with the understanding that something might occur during the course of the Trial which would warrant a supplemental Point for Charge. The Court welcomes the electronic submissions of Points for Charge. Litigating counsel should communicate directly with the Judge’s Law Clerk regarding the method of submitting Points for Charge electronically.
- The parties must speak with each other and make a good faith effort to agree on a final set of instructions, and where there is no agreement the parties should be able to articulate, very specifically, objections and counter-proposals.
- The Court generally uses Pennsylvania Suggested Standard Civil Jury Instructions. If a party wishes to submit a jury instruction which is not part of the standard civil jury instructions, the submission should be accompanied with legal authority and an explanation of why the specific request is not adequately covered within the standard instructions. The parties should note that the Court tries to incorporate a cohesive final instruction and therefore each separate instruction needs to be located within an appropriate place in the overall charge to the jury. The Court will look to the parties for guidance with respect to same.
- Objections should be made formally and counsel must be careful to not make any statements during an objection which could alert a witness to change their testimony or improperly influence the jury. The objections are directed to the Court and, where necessary and appropriate, counsel should promptly request a side bar.
- Objections made during a videotaped deposition, which cannot be resolved by the parties, and which require the Court’s ruling, must be brought to the Court’s attention whenever possible, as a pre-trial Motion before the trial begins, but certainly no later than 4 hours prior to the intended use of the videotape deposition to allow the Court time to review same. Prior to submitting an objection to the Court, the parties must confer with one another with respect to each objection and make a good faith effort to resolve the objections on their own before presenting the objections to the Court. Objections which a party wishes to preserve and which require a Court ruling should be identified in a written Motion which contains the basis of the objection, legal authority for same, and the suggested remedy (i.e.: delete lines 6 through 18 on page 4 of the transcript). The party opposing the objection should provide the Court with a written response, legal authority and, where appropriate, a suggested remedy (i.e.: delete lines 6 through 8 but leave lines 9 through 15 with a specific instruction to the jury explaining why the subject matter has limited relevance).
- Lawyers should remain civil, one to the other, throughout the proceeding and work in a cooperative fashion with the Court to avoid error.
De Novo Equitable Distribution Trials
The parties should follow the general Courtroom Procedures, referred to above, and prior to presenting evidence at a De Novo Equitable Distribution Trial, counsel and/or the parties (where parties are unrepresented) must confer with one another to make a good faith effort to limit the scope of the trial, by entering into a written stipulation of facts identifying all relevant facts which are agreed upon and identifying with specificity those issues of fact which have not been agreed upon. Presumably the parties have already appeared before a Master, and a Master’s report has been issued which has identified most, if not all, of the assets, as well as various facts relevant to the Court’s final determination (i.e.: length of marriage, marital health of the parties, tax consequences, etc.) Counsel and the parties may wish to use that report to help them focus on the stipulation that they will jointly present to the Court. If at the beginning of the trial it appears that a good faith effort to complete the written stipulations has not been made, counsel and/or the parties will be sent to another room, on the day of the hearing, to begin working on the project, until the project is completed.
All documents, either party intends to offer into evidence, in their case in chief, must be identified and shown to the other party at the time of the pre-trial conference. The parties shall exchange and pre-mark each exhibit, and provide the Court, at the beginning of the trial, a list of all exhibits which have already been exchanged, together with a copy of all of those exhibits. In addition, thereto, the parties will provide the Court with a written list of assets with identifying information concerning each asset in a format similar to the format used by the Master in the Master’s Report. In addition to those two documents, the parties will provide the Court with a written Stipulation of Facts.
Judge Baldi expects the following procedures to be followed by the parties and counsel in all Dependency Court matters.
- Parties and counsel should arrive prior to the call of the list, and speak with one another, so that during the calling of the list the parties will be able to offer an estimate as to how long their matter will take.
- After the calling of the list, while waiting for their case to be called, all attorneys, case workers and clients should remain in the immediate waiting area near the sign in desk, so that they will be available when their case is called.
- Cases will be called, generally, in an order of priority which takes into consideration whether or not children will be present, people being detained in a holding cell, people’s availability to testify by phone, etc. Generally, shorter matters (agreements) will be taken before longer matters. Cases will be listed on a board in the waiting area in the order in which they will be called.
- If you are one of the top three cases listed you must remain available to come into the Courtroom immediately when called.
- When you enter the Courtroom, make sure all persons involved with your presentation enter with you, and are available in Court, so that the matter can proceed promptly.
- When your case is concluded you should exit promptly after the hearing.
- Agreements and non-disputed matters will generally be given priority and heard before contested matters. Therefore, if a case is placed on the list as an agreement or a non-disputed matter, but during the presentation of the case disputes arise in the Courtroom, the proceeding will be adjourned to allow other agreements or non-disputed matters to be completed. Under those circumstances, the parties will be excused while other matters proceed forward, and they will be called back later on in the day.
- When the Court schedules a recess or a lunch break, all parties should return to the waiting area, in time to be available when Court reconvenes at the appointed time.
Requests for Continuances
All requests for continuances shall be in writing by fax or email. The request must include such information as the purpose for the continuance, the positions of all other parties and what date the parties have agreed to continue it to. A proposed Order should be included with the letter, with the appropriate caption and docket number, and the new requested hearing date.
Request for Add-Ons
Requests for add-ons must be in writing (emails are preferable), with copies to all counsel of record. For purposes of this requirement, the GAL’s office shall always be contacted, because all cases involve children. The requests for add-ons must be submitted no later than the Thursday preceding the C&Y week.
Judge’s Chambers will provide a copy of the “add-on” list, which will show the cases that were added to any given day. If a case is not listed on the “add-on” list, then it will not be heard on that day. The purpose of this procedure is to avoid discussions in Court about whether or not someone knew that a case was specifically listed.
It is the responsibility of the Solicitor for Children & Youth and the GAL to review the lists as it exists the week before the C&Y week to be sure that the list is accurate and up to date.
Attendance at Hearings
All parents are expected to attend hearings involving their children. Attendance allows the Court to have eye to eye contact and communication with the parties. This is a very important component of the process. Nonetheless, if a parent cannot attend a hearing, for reasons beyond their control, the parent must notify his/her attorney at least one (1) week prior to the hearing, to allow the attorney time to make arrangements for testimony by phone. The attorney shall contact all other attorneys and request their agreement. After communicating with all other attorneys, the attorney should send an email to Judge’s Chambers, explaining the reason the parent wishes to appear by telephone (ie: missing work and missing income), along with all other counsel’s position regarding that request. The Court will then advise counsel whether or not the request has been granted.
Special requests need not be made for parents or witnesses incarcerated or in residential treatment programs. Counsel and parents may assume that telephone communication will be acceptable for people incarcerated or in residential treatment programs; however, there is a shared responsibility between the parents, the case works, and the parents’ attorneys, to make whatever arrangements are necessary with the institution to facilitate the parent’s availability for phone communication.
All children age five (5) and older need to appear for their hearing, except for an IPR or any other hearing where a request to waive the child’s presence has been made by the GAL’s office and granted by the Judge. All requests should be in writing (emails are preferable) and must be made the Wednesday before the scheduled court term unless there are exigent circumstances.
Witness/Party Availability By Phone
Advanced Communication Technology (ACT) may be utilized for the convenience of witnesses, or parties. Most Courtrooms have the availability to provide telephone testimony through the Court’s sound system. Parties wishing to utilize that service must provide advanced notice to other parties, and to the Court.
Requests by Bucks County C&Y for Emergency Ex Parte Orders
Whenever the agency feels compelled to obtain an ex parte emergency Order from the Court, the agency shall, before contacting Judge Baldi on an ex parte basis, contact the GAL assigned to the case or the GAL’s office to make all best efforts to have a GAL on the phone, or present when the request for an ex parte Order is made. The GAL’s office and the agency may create their own specific procedures as far as when and how they each contact one another on a day to day basis, in order to comply with the intent of this Standard Operating Procedure.
Whenever an ex parte Order is issued, the party requesting the Order shall forward, by email, to Judge Baldi’s Judicial Administrative Assistant, a brief statement as to the nature of the request, and the Order issued including any specifics with respect to the scheduling of a hearing, pursuant to the request for an emergency Order. This email shall be sent within one hour of the issuance of the Order.