Preparing for Scheduling Hearings

By Judge Lisa A. Lowe, Knoxville

Practicing law is a bit like juggling bowling pins. It takes a lot of finesse and concentration to do it well. Then, throw into the mix the demands of (and joys!) of family and once in a great while making a little time for your own well-being … well, it’s a daunting proposition. And yet, it’s one most of us willingly and implicitly took on when we applied to law school.

Practitioners, we’ve been in your shoes. At a minimum, the Workers’ Compensation Law requires judges to have at least five years of practice experience. Each and every one of my colleagues on the Court of Workers’ Compensation Claims had at least double that minimum experience when we accepted our appointments. So we’ve been juggling for years and still face many demands on our time, too. We get it.

If you practice before us, you likely know that a major impetus for reform in 2012 was to minimize delay in cases. Our Court’s mission statement is to provide a “fair, efficient, and professional system,” and “efficiency” is one of our core values. Moreover, the rate at which we administer justice is measured and reported to lawmakers in the Bureau’s annual report. We don’t push cases through solely for the sake of speed, but we also don’t allow cases to linger on our dockets.

So, we respectfully ask that you keep this in mind when preparing for a scheduling conference. Take a look at the scheduling hearing order template on the Court’s website so you’ll have an idea what we will address. Please be prepared to outline the discovery you’ll need along with a reasonable proposal with regard to how long it will take. When the other side it represented by counsel, joint proposals, submitted before the conference, are strongly encouraged. This is the time where we will likely be happy to accommodate your schedules with regard to other case commitments, end-of-year CLE, holidays, family vacations, etc. We will set orders that keep cases moving expeditiously and which comport with everyone’s schedules.

After that point, we expect you to keep your word and comply with Court scheduling orders. Of course we will grant extensions for emergencies/circumstances beyond your control. If you find that you are unable to meet a Scheduling Order deadline, the appropriate action is to file a motion for extension – sooner rather than later. But, where there’s really no good reason for an extension, we’ll be less inclined to grant it, because we typically have already extended deference to the parties with regard to discovery deadlines contained in Scheduling Orders.

Across our Court, lately we’ve seen an increase in motions filed because a party failed to adhere to Scheduling Order deadlines. I recently had one such motion before me where a party responded to discovery thirty days past the deadline without filing a Motion for Extension. It might seem harsh, but I referred the matter to the Bureau’s Penalty Program for consideration of a penalty. The Penalty Program investigated the matter and assessed a penalty against the attorney.

You don’t want to be in that position. Bottom line:  Think carefully and realistically about your responses in a Scheduling Hearing about when you can complete discovery. Additionally, once the Scheduling Order is issued, make sure you comply with it.

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