As litigators know, the vast majority of cases do not make it to trial. The parties either reach a settlement, or the Court disposes of the case on a motion to dismiss or at summary judgment. Parker v. ABC Debt Relief, however, was tried in September before Judge Solis and, on September 11, 2013, the jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiffs (see verdict form here). For more information about the Parker case, see the plaintiffs’ amended complaint (available here) and Judge Solis’ Opinion denying defendants’ motion for summary judgment and granting plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment in part (available here).
CCRG: Tell us about the Parker case.
Branham: Our clients were former employees of two debt settlement companies. These companies are hired by people who find themselves in significant consumer debt and want to take advantage of the companies’ services to lower the amount of debt they are in. Our clients were the sales and service people for the companies. They worked substantial hours over 40 in every week during which they were employed and were never paid overtime. Judge Solis granted summary judgment in favor of the plaintiffs on essentially everything but damages and the actual amount of hours worked. Judge Solis found as a matter of law that all of the Defendants were joint employers and that no exemption from overtime applied to any of the employees.
CCRG: How long did the trial last?
Branham: 3 days.
CCRG: How did Judge Solis determine how long to give the parties for trial?
Branham: He did not impose a specific number of trial days. He asked the Plaintiffs how long we needed and we estimated a little more than 2 days of evidence. Given that we had to call 17 witnesses, the judge thought that was a fair estimate and gave us what we asked for. I think the bottom line with Judge Solis is to know what you really need as opposed to what you would wish for and be able to explain why you need the time you need if asked. We moved fast with no big wind ups and I think the Court appreciated that.
CCRG: Did Judge Solis impose any time limitations on evidence, opening statements, etc.?
Branham: Judge Solis limited opening statements to 30 minutes per side and closing statements were limited to 45 minutes. There were no per se limitations on evidence imposed, but we moved very quickly as the only real fact issue was whether or not our clients worked overtime and, if so, how much. Had we been required to prove liability and employer issues, we would have needed at least a couple of additional days.
CCRG: Were you allowed to conduct voir dire?
Branham: Judge Solis conducted most of the voir dire, but permitted the parties to each do an additional 15 minutes of follow up.
CCRG: How did Judge Solis handle exhibits (e.g., were they pre-admitted or did you have to prove up each exhibit with your witnesses)?
Branham: Exhibits were handled on an as offered basis. Judge Solis made quick and decisive rulings in admitting or excluding evidence.
CCRG: What, if any, use did the parties make of the courtroom technology available in Judge Solis’ courtroom?
Branham: Plaintiffs took full advantage of the Court’s technology. I like to mix up the way evidence is presented. I think part of a jury trial is keeping the jury engaged. So we used hard documents with the elmo, digital documents through the Court’s computer monitor systems and powerpoints. I also highly recommend the TrialPad app for those who are looking to bring more digital document manipulation to their trials. I do not think there is a better presentation tool available to the litigator right now.
CCRG: Any practical advice for those trying a case in Judge Solis’ courtroom?
Branham: Judge Solis is a trial lawyer’s judge. He lets the parties try their cases and only interjects when objections are made. Move your case quickly, don’t have lapses in evidence, and be prepared. He is more than willing to let the parties make their argument and record, listens to the arguments of counsel and then makes rulings as required. It was a pleasure to work in his courtroom. His staff are also top notch. If you are trying a case in his courtroom, take advantage of the opportunity to meet his staff who will show you how the courtroom works before trial. Just call chambers and make an appointment.
CCRG: What are the next steps for the case?
Branham: We are currently awaiting the entry of judgment and a ruling on our attorneys’ fees application. The Defendants have informed us that they intend to appeal.
CCRG thanks Trey for his time in talking with us and wishes him success in this and his future cases.