Travis County is a great venue for practicing law, particularly for young attorneys that are anxious to get courtroom experience. Travis County has an uncontested docket, submission procedures for civil and family cases, and a central docket system. That means (1) 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 of the week, and (2) it is generally easy to obtain a hearing on a contested matter in fairly short order.
Uncontested Docket. On Monday through Friday of each week (except government holidays), from 8:30-9:20 am and again from 1:30-2:20 pm, the duty judge is available to sign agreed orders. 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 pm on the weekday you select to have your order signed. Try to arrive early, as the duty judge will handle matters on a first-come, first-serve basis. 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.
Submission Procedures in Civil and Family Cases. If a civil or family matter does not require a hearing, and the parties have agreed on an order, the order can be forwarded for approval by submission. A motion must be filed with the district clerk before a proposed order granting the motion may be considered. The proposed order need not be filed. After the motion is filed, a file-stamped copy of the motion and the proposed order should then be submitted by email to the court in which the case is filed (i.e. the court shown in the style of the case), unless the case is assigned to a specific judge. The submitted order will then be approved, rejected, or denied at the court’s discretion, and counsel and pro se parties will be notified. More details on Travis County’s submission procedures is available here.
Setting a Hearing on a Contested Matter. There are two parts to obtain a hearing on a contested matter: (1) setting and noticing the hearing and (2) the week before the hearing, announcing ready for the hearing.
Before we talk about obtaining the hearing date, it is important to understand Travis County’s central docket system. All civil cases (other than those on specialized dockets) and all jury trials are set on the “central docket.” That means 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 County and Bexar County have a central docket system. It is a unique, quirky system but provides great access to the courts.
If you are seeking a hearing on a motion, be prepared to file the motion prior to or immediately after obtaining the setting. L.R. 2.2. Moreover, you should confer with opposing counsel on the time and date of any proposed hearing and, in the motion, include a certification that you have made a reasonable effort to confer. L.R. 2.2. And once you have obtained a hearing date and time, give notice of the hearing to opposing counsel the same day. The Court Administrator does not send notices. L.R. 2.9. Failure to provide notice on the same day may be grounds for a continuance of the hearing. L.R. 2.9.
When scheduling a hearing date, it is imperative to consult the docket settings, which can be obtained here. That is, prior to scheduling a hearing, counsel should (1) determine whether the hearing or trial setting requires a jury or non-jury, and (2) identify a potential hearing date or dates in a jury or non-jury week, as may be appropriate. 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.
Jury settings. 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.
Non-jury short docket. 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” and set at either 9:00 a.m. or 2:00 p.m. on any of Monday-Friday during a non-jury week. Non-jury settings can be set on Thursday or Friday of a jury week under certain circumstances. The following non-jury matters may be set on Thursdays of jury weeks: (i) any matter that is require by law to be determined within a fixed time period and will require one day or less; and (ii) any matter requiring 30 minutes or less. Non-jury hearings lasting only fifteen minutes may be set on Fridays at 9:00 a.m. during a jury (or non-jury) week. L.R. 2.5.
Non-jury long docket. 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.
Announcing Ready. In Travis County, parties must announce for a hearing—confirming the hearing is still necessary and providing an update on the estimated length of the hearing—the week prior to the hearing. L.R. 3.2. Consequently, a hearing should be obtained prior to the announcement period running for that particular hearing date, unless the parties have reached agreement on the date. L.R. 2.2. 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. Announcements will be accepted beginning on Mondays at 8:00 am through Wednesdays at 5:00 pm. L.R. 3.2. For example, if you have obtained a setting for a hearing on Tuesday, you must announce for the hearing during the week prior, between Monday and Wednesday. It is critical to 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. In most cases, you will lose your setting by failing to announce. There are two easy ways to announce ready: (1) use the Civil Calendaring Online system; or (2) complete and submit the Civil District Court Announcement Form. You can no longer announce ready by calling the Travis County court administrator.
While these procedures may seem to be confusing, they certainly provide for the smooth operation of the central docket system. If you have a matter in Travis County and would like assistance, contact local counsel to help you navigate Travis County’s local rules.