Family law motion hearings are very stressful and emotional for the parties involved. Often the motion hearing is the first time either party has ever been inside the courtroom as a litigant. Also, it is quite common for these hearings to occur within the first 14-21 days of the case being started.
In Spokane the Court Commissioners preside over the temporary orders motion hearing. All of the parties who have a case set for hearing on that particular day report to the Court at 8:30 a.m. at docket call. I usually do not require my clients to accompany me to docket call, however, this is a personal preference that varies by attorney. Parties who are not represented by attorneys are required to show up at docket call.
At docket all, a Court Commissioner calls each case and the parties report as to whether or not the case is ready for hearing that day. Once the Commissioner has gone through the docket, the Court goes into recess. Typically docket call takes about 15 minutes.
During the recess, the Commissioners meet with court staff to quickly go through the court files for the cases called ready that day. There are usually two Commissioners assigned to hear the motions. There are two time slots for hearings – 10:00 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Each Commissioner will set four hearings per time slot. Once the order of the cases are decided by the Commissioners and staff, a list is posted on the outside of the Courtroom with the assigned hearings and times. On a light docket day, the list is usually up no later than 9:15 a.m. On a heavy docket day, the list may not be posted until about 9:30 a.m.
During the actual hearing each party (through their attorney if they have one) is allotted ten (10) minutes to argue for or against the motion. Normally, there is no “live” testimony. The testimony of each party and their witnesses is submitted in advance in a written declaration. By the time of the hearing, the Commissioner will have read the declarations and financial statements. After hearing the arguments of both parties, the Commissioner will make a ruling. After the ruling, the parties are expected to go out to the hallway and convert the Commissioner’s ruling into a written order.
Of course, there are some rare exceptions to the above process. If a party is not represented by an attorney, the Court may choose to swear that party in and ask questions of that party. Occasionally, a request is made in advance for live testimony which the Court may or may not allow. (Such a request is rare.) Also, the Commissioner can always forego making an immediate ruling if the Court needs additional information.
The Spokane County Superior Court website posted procedural guidelines pertaining to docket call which are available here.
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