“I don’t know whether it’s fair or not, but I do know that at the end of the day it will be over.” So said the late Judge Dickinson R. Debevoise of the District of New Jersey in convening my first timed trial back in 1984. Judge Debevoise was a meticulously fair jurist, and his comment was, as was his nature, self-deprecating. In reality, the hearing was both fair and efficient, and it began what has been, for me, a career-long preference for timed trials.
The 1984 case was a preliminary injunction hearing in which Judge Debevoise gave each side three hours to present its case, including argument and direct and cross of witnesses. The hearing started at 9:00 am and, low and behold, when we got to 5:00 pm, after morning and afternoon breaks and an hour for lunch, the hearing was, indeed, over. Judge Debevoise issued an injunction shortly thereafter, and the case moved forward expeditiously.
Since that time, I’ve had more than 20 timed trials and all of them have worked well, satisfying both the ends of justice and the legitimate needs of clients.
I’ve never really understood the reasons against timed trials other than the dislike that many lawyers have of being limited in the presentation of their cases or, occasionally, the reluctance of the judge to control the proceedings in his or her courtroom. But timed proceedings are a fixture of our judicial system. Certainly, no one would tell the Supreme Court that the red light on the podium means nothing. Timed trials have even more advantages than timed oral arguments. Here they are: