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PA Bulletin, Doc. No. 12-1295


Title 255—LOCAL


Local Rules of Court; MsD No. 12-40160

[42 Pa.B. 4457]
[Saturday, July 14, 2012]

Administrative Order of Court

And Now, this 25th day June 2012, it is hereby ordered and directed that Local Rules L1920.33(b) and L1920.51(a) adopted by Administrative Order of Court on February 1, 2007 are herewith amended. New Local Rules L1920.33(b) and L1920.51(a) are adopted and are effective thirty days after publication in the Pennsylvania Bulletin.

 The Court directs the Court Administrator to:

 1. File one (1) certified copy of this Administrative Order and the within Local Rule of Civil Procedure with the Administrative Office of the Pennsylvania Courts.

 2. File two (2) certified copies of this Administrative Order and the within Local Rule of Civil Procedure and one (1) diskette with the Legislative Reference Bureau for publication in the Pennsylvania Bulletin

 3. File one (1) certified copy of this Administrative Order and the within Local Rules of Civil Procedure with the Domestic Relations Procedural Rule Committee.

 4. Forward one (1) copy of this Administrative Order and the within Local Rule of Civil Procedure to the administrative office of the Butler County Legal Journal for publication.

 5. Forward one (1) copy of this Administrative Order and the within Local Rule of Civil Procedure to the Butler County Law Library.

 6. Keep continuously available for public inspection copies of this Administrative Order of Court and the within Local Rule of Court in the Office of the Butler County Prothonotary, the Butler County Domestic Relations Section and the Office of the Court Administrator.

By the Court

President Judge

L1920.33(b). Pre-trial Procedures.

 (1) Either party may file an affidavit with the court alleging that the parties have lived separate and apart within the meaning of the Domestic Relations Code for a continuous period of 18 months prior to the filing of the affidavit. Upon either the filing of said affidavit, or the expiration of 18 months since the filing of a divorce complaint being acted upon in this County, or upon the filing by both parties of affidavits conceding that the marriage is irretrievably broken, either party may a present a motion to establish a deadline for the initiation and/or completion of pre-trial discovery. Upon consideration of the motion, and the arguments of counsel, the court shall establish a pre-trial discovery order, with appropriate deadlines.*

 (2) After discovery is closed, the court shall conduct a pre-trial conciliation conference, which may be scheduled as part of the discovery order described in subparagraph (a). Ten (10) business days before the pre-trial conference, each party shall file with the Prothonotary, and serve upon opposing counsel, a pre-trial statement which complies in all material respects with the requirements of Pa.R.C.P. No. 1920.33(b).** At the pre-trial conference, each party shall notify the other party and the court of any exhibits attached to the opposing parties pre-trial statement to which there is an objection as to admissibility. The court may rule on the objections presented, or may allow the issue to be addressed by the master. The court shall enter an order following the pre-trial conference setting forth any rulings by the court, stipulations or agreements of the parties, or other directions or information which will be helpful to the master, if the case is not settled.

 (3) If a party fails to comply with any requirement of this rule, the court, upon motion of a party or on its own motion, may make an appropriate order under any available rule or statute governing sanctions.

 (4) If a party fails to literally comply with Pa.R.C.P. 1920.33(b)(4) by failing to attach to his Pretrial Statement filed with the Prothonotary*** or adequately describe therein exhibits to be offered at trial, he shall be subject to sanctions unless:

 (i) he has provided a complete copy of all the exhibits identified in his Pretrial Statement with the copy of the Pretrial Statement served on opposing counsel; and

 (ii) he has provided a complete copy of all of the exhibits identified in his Pretrial Statement to the Special Master, if any, within 10 days after docketing of the Order appointing the Special Master; and

 (iii) the original omission of the Exhibits is excusable in the opinion of the court.

*Comment: In general, the court's objective in setting the discovery schedule will be to have the case ready for trial (including the completion of the pre-trial conference) at the end of a two-year separation.

**Comment: Practitioners must read the Introductory Comment, above, for the court's views on the purpose and acceptable content of pre-trial statements.

***Comment: The Rule recognizes the vital importance early access to a complete copy of the Pretrial Statement exhibits by trial counsel and the Master, both for settlement analysis and trial. The rule also attempts to discourage the filing of lengthy exhibits with the Prothonotary whose physical storage space is limited, and because of the increased likelihood that personal information such as account numbers or social security numbers may be inadvertently disclosed into the public domain.

L1920.51(a). Masters Proceedings.

 (1) The court may appoint a master to receive evidence, make findings of fact, and recommend to the court a disposition of all issues referred to the master. Masters may be appointed, in the court's discretion, in cases of divorce, equitable distribution, alimony, claims for counsel fees, expert fees, other litigation expenses, special relief for exclusive possession, and in any other type of matter authorized by law or rule of court. The issues to be determined by the master will be framed by the court's pre-trial order; accordingly, except with leave of court, there will not be a pre-trial conference before the master.

 (2) The court may appoint as a master any attorney licensed to practice law in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, having 10 years experience as a lawyer, including significant trial experience, or who has 10 years combined experience as a lawyer with trial experience and as a judge, district justice, master or as a comparable judicial officer, and who possesses, in the court's opinion, appropriate knowledge of the legal subjects at issue, and an appropriate judicial temperament. A master appointed by the Court pursuant to this rule is not precluded from practicing family law in Butler County.

 (3) Masters shall be compensated by the parties to the litigation based on a fee schedule published by the court from time to time by general administrative order. If, pursuant to Pa.R.C.P. No. 1920.51(a) (3), a party moves for appointment of a master, the moving party shall deposit a sum with the prothonotary to cover the master's initial fee. The amount of deposit shall be set from time to time by general administrative order. Pursuant to Pa.R.C.P. No. 1920.51(a)(2)(I), the master may direct the parties to deposit further amounts with the Prothonotary. A Special Divorce Master appointed by the Court shall receive a minimum fee of $600, unless all matters referred to the Master are settled by written agreement of the parties filed within 10 days of the date the Order appointing the Master is docketed.

 (4) A party filing a motion to compel discovery, a motion for sanctions, a motion to limit discovery or for a protective order, a motion in limine, or a motion to stay the master's hearing must address such application to the court. Other applications, by mutual consent, may be presented to the master; however, absent mutual consent all other applications shall be presented to the court.

 (5) Once a master is appointed, any document subsequently filed with the court shall be served upon the master by the filing party. In addition, the prothonotary shall serve the master with copies of any orders issued.1

Comment: Cases are referred to the Master because it is assumed they will not settle, and because the Court deems them ready for trial. Masters promptly review the file, schedule hearings, note concerns with the adequacy of the pretrial statements, discuss stipulations and deal with other issues. Cases often settle after these preliminary steps are taken. The rule recognizes the value of such contributions to the process of resolving cases, even if the parties do not. Masters should wait 10 days after appointment to expend significant time on the file, to allow for a quick settlement, for less than the ''minimum'' fee.

[Pa.B. Doc. No. 12-1295. Filed for public inspection July 13, 2012, 9:00 a.m.]


1  ''Any document'' is an all-inclusive term.

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