New Call System for Family Law Cases Starts July 6th

June 2009
By Judge Maureen McKnight, Multnomah County Circuit Court.

The Daily Call system for family law cases is changing. Effective Monday, July 6, phone-in procedures are being replaced with an in-person system.

Family law trials and hearings will be on a Call docket the business day before the trial or hearing. Starting in July, Call (also known as Trial Assignment) will start at 9 a.m., not 8:30. Parties will be required to appear in person for Call to report their readiness and the estimated time needed. Judicial assignments will be made during that appearance. Only when a party reports that she or he is reporting with the agreement of both sides will the opposing side's presence be excused. In this situation, it will be the responsibility of the reporting party to inform the other side of the judge, courtroom, and time assigned. Telephone calls from court staff after call to inform parties of case assignments will be discontinued. Computer-generated trial notices are being revised to include notice that the failure to appear for Trial Assignment could cost a party the opportunity to participate in the hearing.

Chief Family Law Judge Nan Waller will handle Call when she is available. The courtroom for Call will be posted daily on the bulletin board in Room 211. Lawyers and litigants should check there to confirm the location of Call/Trial Assignment.

Two reasons underlie the reason for the change. The first is the significant time court staff spends receiving readiness reports by phone and making assignment calls to parties the next day. With the severe budget shortage facing the courts, a more efficient method of handling this docketing process is necessary. The second reason is the continuing problem of parties not phoning in the day before Call. Many 15-minute matters then placed on judges' dockets turn out to be still-contested matters that have to be re-set on the day of hearing because the trial judge does not have more than the 15 minutes scheduled available. The phone-in system has been complicated for some self-represented litigants to understand and some attorneys and parties have abused the system to obtain set-overs on the day of trial that otherwise were not available.

Retained Cases

Cases already retained by an individual judge are not on the Call docket. Lawyers and litigants should know, however, that many family court judges follow similar procedures in their own departments, and expect to hear from parties at least by two business day before the trial/hearing date regarding readiness and expected time needs. This courtesy call is the only way that individual judges know their schedules have opened u, with time they can offer to the Call process the next day. Similarly, when reporting settlements, attorneys will want to make sure they have checked with the judge's staff to confirm whether an appearance is still necessary. Many family law judges require either a signed settlement judgment/order or an appearance to put the settlement on the record when a settlement is reported on a retained case.