A lot of our clients have questions about what occurs at the first court setting. I am writing this article to try to provide an inform those who may be nervous or scared as their first day in court approaches, as I believe many attorneys get immune to how routine the process is because we do it on a daily basis. I hope this will allay any fear anyone reading this may have if experiencing in anticipation.
So what does happen at the first court setting? The answer? Not a whole lot. Usually, the client will have to nothing other than check in with the bailiff, the clerk, or in some counties be present when the Judge or Court Coordinator does docket call for who is set for an appearance that day.
The first setting is very routine. The first court appearance is part of what could be considered "the information processing period" (basically gaining whatever discovery the state has in their possession). It is simply the first opportunity for us to begin gathering the evidence that may be introduced later at trial in the case. This would include possibly obtaining police reports, videos, any photographs the State may have, or anything else relevant to the charged offense It is also our first opportunity to talk to the assigned ADA about the nature of the case, and to hopefully get a feel on what their views are for the particular offense, given the facts of the case, possible prior criminal records, if there are complaining witnesses that need to be communicated with, etc.
At this point, we almost always have already entered officially our name as attorney of record on the case by filing with the Clerk's Office a Letter of Representation, and also it is usually our protocol to have already filed a “Michael Morton” Discovery Request as well. This is done because it is a direct request to order the District Attorney's Office, pursuant to Article 39.14 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, to fully divulge all relevant details of the case with us, whether they happen to be good for them or bad.
Most likely, often even before the first court appearance, our office will receive any discovery the District Attorney assigned to your case may have in their case file (and whatever else that may be available and relevant to the case) because we try to make this request as early as practicable. This generally includes the police report from the arresting police agency that investigated the incident and/or who made the decision to arrest, etc.
Filing a Letter of Representation also serves the purpose, and again our office like to do this when first hired, or as soon as practicable for our first opportunity to do so) in that it informs the court and the State that, under no circumstances, that you have legal counsel, which prevents anyone else from discussing anything with our client without us being present as an advocate on their behalf.
In most cases for first appearances, an individual will simply check in with the bailiff, who will usually highlight the name on the docket sheet for that day, which effectively proves you haven’t fled the country, and plan to make every effort to attend all required court settings in the future. We have most of our clients in and out of the courthouse very quickly if we possibly can.
The case will then be usually reset for about a month. That’s it! You are not pleading guilty or not guilty. There is no trial on the first court appearance in front of the Judge or a Jury. There nothing to dread, nothing to fear.
I usually try, or someone from our office, will attempt to let our clients know what time to be there to avoid and/or minimize any possible waiting periods, because I fully realize your time is valuable. Sometimes, however, I have multiple court settings that I have to attend on any given morning, depending on the docket for that particular day, and it's always hard to estimate how much time I will have to devote to any given situation in any specific court on any given day. The reality is I am not the Judge, the court coordinator, the bailiff, an employee of the District Attorney's Office – and usually these are the entities that can slow the process down, often to a pace slower than most people would prefer. If I had my druthers, I would not even require our clients to attend court –because usually our office is very diligent about keeping up with those we represent and keeping them informed about the status of their case.
Again, I always try to estimate prior to the court setting when an individual should arrive, approximately, to hopefully minimize any wait time you may experience. You can always text me at 214.702.CARL(2275), which is the main office line — but I will also receive any texts sent to my cell phone and my iPad. If you utilize this number, it is best to text or e-mail me, because I am usually in court conducting my docket for the day and all electronic devices are therefore placed on silent.
You can also try calling Sandy, our firm’s paralegal, at the office at 469.340.0106, and/or on the main line of 214.702.CARL(2275). She likely will know where I am, the approximate time I will be available to handle your case, talk to the District Attorney assigned to the matter, or anyone else who may need information on the case (court clerk, court coordinator, bailiff), etc.
I cannot stress enough that the first setting is nothing to be afraid of. Simply put, it is an easy process and I will most likely handle everything for you, barring something very unusual. Again, just to reiterate, there is absolutely nothing to be afraid of. Just follow the directions and information stated above, and everything should run smoothly.
I will let you know what to do, where to go, when you will need to be back to the courthouse at a future date, and anything else necessary and/or pertinent that will help complete the overall process with the least burden to your life.
Unless I am in trial in another courtroom, or in another county elsewhere, but in all likelihood I will be the one that will be present with you. Even in the event this occurs, which is rare, I will direct one of my very competent, and professional associate attorneys to handle the matter in my stead. If this happens, it is almost always because it is a very routine and perfunctory setting that will happen very quickly, and usually this appearance is just to collect the discovery related to the case, or to have routine discussions with the DA about the case.
If an associate attorney of mine happens to be the one handling the matter on that particular day, they will always be apprised of anything that will need to be completed or furnished, and will usually be in direct contact and communication with me in case of an unforeseen emergency. If I'm not actually present that day, which again is rare, I can assure you that the process will be very easy, and I can assure you I would never let just any attorney associate with my firm unless I had complete and total confidence that they will handle any matter with the umtmost diligence and care.
Again, usually this only occurs in the event where the only thing needed to be done is to simply obtain the relevant discovery associated with the case, and then they will always deliver it to me in a timely fashion so we can review it later. I usually either scan and/or e-mail any paper discovery so you can review it at your convenience.
It is very likely that when I'm in court on any given day to conduct my docket, I likely will have more than one setting to handle, and at times this may have to occur in multiple courtrooms, often sometimes in different courthouses, etc. As much as I wish I had more control over when things occur and are heard, the timing the court handles matters is entirely within their own discretion, and is not something that I can dictate on my own.
Regardless, you can always contact me view text/e-mail to notify me of your location, and/or you can also contact Sandy by calling her at the office, or also via either text/e-mail. She will likely let you know my location and can help guide you if you are ever confused on where you need to go, or where you need to be. She usually will know where I am, and approximately when I will be able to handle any particular matter, and in approximately when I will be able to focus my attention to it.
It is s always my #1 goal to be able to get you in and out of court as quickly as possible, especially with settings that are not contested (which usually means a judge or jury trial, some form of a hearing, or perhaps some other type of setting where there is something in contention). In most courts, on the first setting, you will likely just simply sign the clerk's case file that indicates your presence that day, which basically is the way the court can monitor that all individuals with cases assigned to that particular day were present, and therefore is a strong indicator the individuals on the list fully plan to handle their specific legal matter until the case is ultimately disposed. Most of the time you can simply wait in the hallway somewhere close to your assigned courtroom, and when we meet, I will instruct you then on what you need to do, and when you will be able to be free to leave.
The point of me communicating all of the information above is to try to explain the process to help you understand what occurs, and to politely request that you remain patient, and do not let fear dictate your emotions. There is nothing that will occur on the first setting that should lead you to be afraid or scared of (generally speaking) — so again, just please be patient if you think it is taking longer than usual. Please rest assured I will make sure all matters are handled that need to be taken care of that day for your case.
I always strive to do my job with diligence, professionalism, and care. However, it is hard for me to estimate the given length of time any given setting will take. I will always do my best to try and achieve the best outcome with your case, which usually includes at the very least talking to, and negotiating with, the assigned Assistant District Attorney to your case. If needed, I will also communicate on your behalf you any necessary information to and from the Judge, the court coordinator, the clerk of the court, and/or the bailiff if they happen to need anything from either of us, for any particular reason. In all likelihood, however, you will not be required to do anything like going in front of the judge to enter a "plea" (or anything else similar to this) — unless it is a very unique, and incredibly rare circumstance.
This information is meant for you to hopefully read and help you understand the overall process because many individuals do often experience a great amount of anxiety as the first day in court approaches. To gain a better understanding, please also review the pages on my website specifically written about first settings, the criminal case process, and what to expect going forward.
Court Setting Information
The following links contain information regarding the overall criminal case process in Texas, especially and including, what generally occurs during the first appearance at court: