In a recent case scheduled for a compensation hearing, the judge noticed a few days prior that counsel filed nothing since the last court appearance. Staff contacted the lawyers, who indicated they were negotiating a settlement, needed a continuance and that they would file a motion.
On the day of the hearing, no one appeared at the 9:00 a.m. start time, and a motion to continue wasn’t filed until around noon. In the interim, there were no communications regarding why the courtroom was empty except for the judge — who, incidentally, spent many hours preparing for hearing.
We know you are busy. We know you’re juggling many cases. And don’t get us wrong; we wholly approve of parties determining their own outcomes rather than requesting that we decide it for them. But as a matter of common courtesy and respect for the tribunal, these types of situations should be handled much differently. Below are a few tips:
Don’t ignore scheduling orders. Tennessee Code Annotated section 50-6-118(1)(a)(9) (2016) authorizes the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation to collect penalties for failure of parties to comply with court orders. In this case, the judge took a deep breath and declined to make a referral to the Penalty Unit, but instead opted to send an email reminding about the possibility for such a referral and giving them a one-time pass.
Tell us when a settlement is a possibility, even when it’s remote. Contact the court clerk, staff attorney or legal assistant, preferably no fewer than 48 hours in advance of the hearing. It simply shows respect for everyone’s time.
File the motion for continuance BEFORE the scheduled hearing. The Bureau’s rules, Tennessee Compilation Rules and Regulations 0800-02-21.18(1) (2016), provide that, “Absent extraordinary circumstances, no motion for a continuance shall be considered at the compensation hearing. If the parties reach a settlement of all issues prior to a scheduled compensation hearing, the parties shall immediately give written notice to the court and contact the clerk to schedule a settlement approval hearing.”
Thank you in advance for keeping us in the loop.