You Can’t Camp Out in a Trial Courtroom

Michele Trausch 
Michele Trausch
May 25, 2014

“How long do you estimate this trial will last, Counsel?”

The plaintiff in California Crane School v. National Commission for Certification of Crane Operators responded:” 4-6 weeks.” The Court granted in limine motions, reducing plaintiff’s case and told the parties they had 12 days to present their case and have the jury deliberate and come to a verdict.

Plaintiff spent the first 3 days on a single adverse witness. The Court admonished counsel for taking too long and reminded them of the deadline for concluding. Up against the deadline, plaintiff claimed to have at least 7 additional witnesses it was unable to call. Closing arguments were limited to one hour each. The jury found for the defendant.

On appeal, plaintiff argued that the court abused its discretion in refusing to give it sufficient time to put on its case. The appellate court noted that a trial judge’s responsibilities include caring for the jury and making sure that cases assigned are fairly and efficiently heard and decided. The court noted that “some litigants are of the mistaken opinion that when they are assigned to a court for trial they have “camping rights.” It is not the court’s obligation to concede to the lawyers’ time estimates for the conduct of the trial. Here, the court’s inherent authority and responsibility to fairly and efficiently administer the judicial proceedings before it justified the trial court’s imposition of time restrictions. The appellate court found no miscarriage of justice and further found that giving plaintiff even more time would not have changed the outcome.

Lesson to be learned: Be realistic in your estimates for trial. If the court imposes unreasonable time limits, make your record; these limitations are discretionary and if you have sufficient reason to need more time and make an effective argument, more time should be granted. Otherwise, if time limits are imposed, stick to them!