Travis County is a great venue for practicing law, particularly for young attorneys, anxious to get in the courtroom. Travis County has a central docket system, and an uncontested docket every week day, aside from holidays. That means it is (1) generally easy to obtain a hearing on a contested matter in fairly short order; and (2) if you have uncontested orders, agreed upon by the parties to the litigation, you can get before a judge for a signature at the uncontested docket any day that works for you.
To have an uncontested order signed, all you have to do is to discern who the duty judge is for the week, which can be located here. Then, you can show up at either 8:30 am or 1:30 p.m. on the day you select to have your order signed. Just make sure all parties have signed the agreed order you take before the court. Once your order is signed, court staff will email you a copy of the signed order within one business day of its entry.
Securing a hearing date for a contested matter, however, is a bit more difficult, and the local rules may create a trap for the unwary. There are two parts to obtain a hearing on a contested matter, setting the hearing and announcing for the hearing.
Before we talk about obtaining the hearing date, it is important first to understand the “central docket” of Travis County. Travis County operates on a central docket system. That is, unless your case is assigned to a particular judge, it will be on the “central docket.” That means that any of the Travis County district judges may hear any particular matter in your case. For example, if you have a discovery dispute, it may be heard by one judge. A few months later when you have a summary judgment hearing, a different judge will likely hear that matter. Unlike practicing in Harris or Dallas counties, you should not expect to appear before the same judge throughout the entirety of your case (or the judge who presides over the District Court your case was “assigned” to when originally filed). Moreover, when you have a contested hearing in Travis County on the central docket, you will not know the judge presiding over your hearing until you obtain your assignment 5-10 minutes before the hearing, when the assignments are displayed on a television in the courthouse. In Texas, only Travis and Bexar counties share this central docket system. It is a unique, quirky system, but provides great access to the courts.
Setting a Hearing: The Travis County local rules require that “[a] party must not request a setting until the party has filed the motion to be heard or is prepared to file it immediately after obtaining the setting.” L.R. 2.2. Then, “[t]he motion must include a certification that the movant has made a reasonable effort to confer with the opposing litigant about the date and time of the setting before obtaining it.” L.R. 2.2.
As a result, if you are seeking to obtain a hearing on a motion, you should be prepared to file the motion prior to or immediately after obtaining the setting. Moreover, you should confer with opposing counsel on the time and date of any proposed hearing. And once you have obtained a hearing date and time, send notice of the hearing to all counsel the same day. Specifically, the local rules state that failure to provide notice on the same day may be grounds for a continuance of the hearing: “Notice should be sent the same day the party obtains the setting, and any delay in sending notice may be argued by opposing counsel as a basis for continuance.” L.R. 2.9.
In scheduling a hearing date on a matter, it is imperative to consult the court’s docket schedules, which can be obtained here. That is, prior to scheduling a hearing, counsel will need to determine first whether the hearing or trial setting requires a jury or non-jury, and schedule a hearing date in a jury or non-jury week, as may be appropriate for the particular case. Jury settings will be set for 9:00 am on the Monday of a jury week and “will be subject to begin trial during that week only.” L.R. 2.3. For non-jury settings, it is important to discern how long the hearing will take. For hearings that are expected to last three hours or less, those can be set on the “non-jury short docket.” L.R. 2.4. That is, non-jury hearings expected to last three hours or less may be set at either 9:00 a.m. or 2:00 p.m. on any of Monday through Thursday during a non-jury week. Non-jury hearings lasting only fifteen minutes may be set on Fridays at 9:00 a.m. during a non-jury or jury week. L.R. 2.5. Non-jury hearings lasting over three hours may be set on the “non-jury long docket,” meaning that they will be set for 9:00 a.m. on the Monday of a non-jury week “and will be subject to trial or hearing at any time before noon on Thursday of the following week, but not thereafter.” L.R. 2.4.
Finally, as a practical matter, any hearing setting should be at least ten to fourteen days out from the day it is obtained (unless a longer time is required under the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure), due to the announcement period, explained below.
Announcing a Hearing: In Travis County, as a general rule, parties must announce for a hearing—confirming the hearing is necessary and providing an update on the estimated length of the hearing—the week prior to the hearing. Consequently, a hearing should be obtained prior to the announcement period running for that particular hearing date. L.R. 2.2 (“No setting will be accepted after the Friday preceding the announcement period.”). Pursuant to the local rules, hearings held on Monday through Thursday must be announced the week prior to the hearing; hearings on Friday must be announced the week of the hearing. L.R. 3.2. Parties may announce for their hearing beginning on Mondays at 8:00 am through Wednesdays at 5:00 p.m. L.R. 3.2.
Practically, if you want a hearing on a Tuesday, you would want to notice the hearing prior to the announcement period running, and then announce for the hearing during the week prior to the hearing, between Monday and Wednesday. Note that failure to properly announce may result in the hearing not proceeding as planned: “A violation of these announcement rules may result in the case being moved to the bottom of the docket or reset to another docket. Unannounced cases will be heard only at the discretion of the court.” L.R. 3.7.
While these rules may seem to be confusing, they certainly provide for the smooth operation of the central docket system. Although this post serves as a good overview of the hearing process in Travis County, there are many more details we could get into on this process. Nevertheless, if you have a matter in Travis County and would like assistance, we would always be happy to serve as local counsel to help you navigate these rules.