The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals declined today to grant a motion to overrule U.S. District Judge Arthur J. Schwab's decision to set time limits on a civil trial -- but stopped well short of endorsing the proposed trial clock.
The decision came in a case in which a committee of creditors is suing 16 former officers and directors of the bankrupt Lemington Home for the Aged.
Judge Schwab ruled the committee would have 30 minutes to make an opening statement, seven and a half hours to present testimony, and 30 minutes to close.
The entire group of defendants would have the same amount of time, or perhaps 10 additional minutes to open and close.
Judge Schwab, like some other federal judges, closely tracks and enforces each side's use of time at civil trials in order to spare juries from exceedingly long presentations.
The defendants asked the 3rd Circuit to nix or alter the time clock, arguing, as the appeals judges summarized, that "the time-limit order violates their right to a fair trial before a jury."
The appeals judges wrote in their precedential order that there "is simply no basis for us to conclude that the time-limit order has the effect of depriving the parties of a jury trial."
Appeals courts have ruled that judges can put parties on the clock at trial. And if they altered this decision on time limits, that would invite every litigant to petition them, they wrote.
"Because 7.5 hours may ultimately be too little time for the Lemington Defendants to adequately present their case, we do not
conclude that the time-limit order is permissible or valid," the appeals judges continued. "It is difficult to conceive how either side in this complex case could possibly present the necessary evidence to a jury in 7.5 hours of trial time."
If the defendants find that the time cap keeps them from adequately presenting evidence, they can appeal post-trial, the appeals judges indicated.
Rich Lord: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1542 and on Twitter: @richelord.