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Local Rules and Discovery Limits

The Local Rules are rules enacted by the specific court your case is in, and they often control the timing and form and number limits of discovery as well as containing extremely important information about how a trial will proceed and what you have to do to place evidence in front of the court. In other words, finding the local rules is absolutely crucial to defending yourself.

Rules of Civil Procedure

Let’s start with rules that every legal jurisdiction has: Rules of Civil Procedure. You can easily find these by Googling the name of your state and the phrase “rules of civil procedure.” Or you can go to Rules of Civil Procedure and find your jurisdiction.

Organization of Rules of Civil Procedure

In most jurisdictions, the rules of civil procedure are part of a larger body of court rules enacted by the legislature (in the states) or the Supreme Court (in the case of the federal rules). These are the rules that control every aspect of the legal process, from the qualifications and ethical rules of lawyers and judges, through the appeals and other “collateral” challenges. They cover everything, and they are, as much as possible, in an order related to how they would come up in an ordinary case. That means that for the most part, the rules controlling the beginning of a case – filing it and getting it served – are at the beginning of the rules, and stuff that comes later, like discovery, comes a few rules later. That will help you figure out where things are.

Federal Rules

In the federal jurisdictions, courts are governed by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Most of the jurisdictions also have what are actually called “local rules.” These rules are, in many courts, numbered exactly like the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Which is to say that the Local Rules controlling discovery have the same number as the Rules of Civil Procedure that they are modifying. An example might make it easier to understand.

Federal Rule 26 is the general rule that controls discovery in federal cases – there are several other rules that apply to specific parts of the discovery process. Rule 26 provides a general framework for the discovery process, but it does not limit how many questions you are allowed to ask in interrogatories or what the form of those questions must be. That’s what the Local Rules do, fill out the general rules and apply various limits that will apply within certain “local” jurisdictions, so there is a “Local Rule 26.” The local rules might provide, for example, that a party can only ask 25 or 50 interrogatories, or that those interrogatories must take a certain form.

Other Jurisdictions

Other jurisdictions do NOT follow the federal rules. They have their OWN rules, starting, of course, with the state rules of civil procedure. They may have local rules that would govern your specific court or type of court, including, most likely, the discovery process. And some jurisdictions have “approved” interrogatories or requests for production. These are in a form that the courts have specifically ruled is acceptable, although that wouldn’t stop you from objecting on other grounds (e.g., that they are not relevant to your case).

It is beyond the scope of this article, or my materials generally, to provide the location of every jurisdiction’s rules. They all have different ones, if they have them at all (and not all courts do). Nevertheless, knowing those rules for your jurisdiction is crucial. You must find the rules that control the game you are playing.

Finding the Local Rules

In the federal courts – which will only apply where you have brought a claim under a federal consumer protection law – finding the local rules is simple. You can either look it up in the federal website for your jurisdiction under “local rules” or ask a court clerk to point you in the right direction.

It’s tougher in the state courts. In the state courts, you start with finding the correct rules of civil procedure. As I have often pointed out, debt cases are often brought in courts of lower jurisdiction – called “Associate Circuit Courts” in Missouri, for example. These courts often operate on slightly different rules than the Circuit Courts which must follow the state rules of civil procedure. Sometimes the rules for your court will be embodied in a special rule within the rules of civil procedure, and sometimes the rules will occupy their own area of the rules of civil procedure.

First, figure out what jurisdiction you are actually in. Is it the courts of general jurisdiction? Or is it some sort of more limited court? At the top of the petition will be a header that looks like this:

In the Associate Circuit Court
          of St. Louis County
            State of Missouri

That tells you what your jurisdiction is. Google that court. So in this case, Google “Associate Circuit Court,” “St. Louis County,” and “Rules of Civil Procedure.” This will bring up references to the specific rules that control your jurisdiction. Or go to your court’s website and look up “Rules of Civil Procedure” or “rules of court” or “local rules” or something like that and see if you can find the rules that will control your case.

Entry of Appearance and Other Red Tape

The way you let the court and other side know, formally, that you are going to defend yourself, is by filing an “Entry of Appearance.” This video discusses this requirement and some other “red tape” like how days are counted.

 

 

The Rules – Your Anchor to Justice – Learn and Follow Them

Find the rules that will apply to your case, learn them, and follow them even if you have good reason to think you could get away without doing that. That’s because it’s the debt collectors who need the court to “relax” (ignore) certain rules, and there’s a risk that a court that gives you a break on some procedure ALSO gives the debt collector a break on the rules of evidence.

That’s what you don’t want.

Tip 2 Uncommon Common Sense

Tip 2: Always know the rules of the game you’re playing.

Every game has rules, and if you want to win, you need to know the rules of the game you’re playing. It is obvious, but when your head is spinning and you feel threatened – maybe nothing is all that obvious.

The legal game has rules too. In fact, the legal game may have more rules than any other game, and these rules definitely matter at every stage of the game. You have to know them – or know how to find them when you need them.

Rules of Civil Procedure

The overall, “starting” rules of the “civil litigation” game (which is what debt litigation is) are the Rules of Civil Procedure. Every jurisdiction (court) has them, and the rules in state courts, which is where you will be if you are being sued, can be different from state to state. If you are in federal court, it will always be the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. You can google “federal rules of civil procedure” for the federal rules, or “your state” plus “rules of civil procedure” to get the rules of your state.

If you are involved in the litigation process, you must have these rules. They tell you what can be done, and when it must be done. If the other side files a motion, the rules tell you how much time you have to respond, and if you file a motion it tells you what happens next as well as what belongs in the motion.

Local Rules

Many state courts, and all federal courts as far as I know, have “Local Rules” in addition to the Rules of Civil Procedure. These basically amount to an interpretation of the rules or set the standards for your particular court. A common one, for example, says that documents are “produced” when they are actually delivered to the other side (not just “made available.” You must know whether these rules exist for your court, and if so, what they are. Most courts have a physical copy of them available in the clerk’s office where you file things, and if they have a website, they should be online.

Rules of Evidence

The Rules of Evidence ane the other “most important rules.” These rules tell you what “counts” in court. They are obviously important for trial, but they also will determine what can be used in motions as well. They will be critical to your case. In addition, knowing these rules helps you evaluate your case and the other side’s case. Therefore, it is important to find and get them (you can google them as you would the rules of civil procedure, only using “rules of evidence” as your search term). In the very early stage of the case, however, you won’t need to spend a lot of time on them. Just have them ready. Our materials will tell you which of the dozens of rules of evidence will be most important to your case.

Other Rules

We’ve discussed the formal rules that control the case, and if you can establish what you want clearly enough within these rules, you will be okay. But there are other “rules” as well. There are rules of “custom” or “habit,” and there are social rules. A rule of custom or habit might be the way a specific court proceeds – for example, it is customary for a party bringing a motion to speak first to the court. The best way to observe these rules is, simply, observation. Not knowing them will not usually hurt you too much, except for the “social rules,” as I will discuss below.

Social Rules

Social rules are not really rules of court at all and do not play a formal part in your case at all. But they certainly exist. And here we are talking about the “rule” that says people with money or experience are given more respect and authority. This rule says that you should dress fairly well – but not so well that you look like someone “trying” to make an impression. And this rule says that lawyers, unfortunately, will carry more “believability” into court than you will. It is a good idea to observe your court before you must be in it, so you can get a sense of the way these rules work, because they do matter.

Regarding the “rule” that lawyers get more respect, the only thing you can do is prepare hard for everything that is going to happen and then stay as “cool” as possible when things are happening. Remember that, no matter what else happens, by being there and forcing the other side to be there, you are winning a battle even if the court rules against you.

If you do that, and if you know pretty well what you’re supposed to be doing at every step of the way, you can swing that respect factor in your direction. The fact is, if you read the materials from my site, and particularly the Debt Defense Manual, you will know more than most lawyers do about the debt law. Being able to use it may be a different story, but you will at least know more than almost everybody else the debt collector has ever dealt with – including opposing lawyers. That’s an advantage, and you can use it if you take care of the other parts of the process. The teleconferences will give you a HUGE advantage if you take advantage of them.

Conclusion

Every game is played by rules, both obvious rules and rules that are not so obvious. Knowing the rules in any given situation will give you a much better chance to win. You can get and know them, and you should.

Beware this Rule of Evidence – You Could Lose Your Right to Object

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