My lawyer confirmed that our lawsuit was filed last month. This will be a civil case. How long should I expect to wait for the judge to set a court date?
First: You should ask your own lawyer this question. Unless you have reason to seek a second opinion, you shout put your questions about your case to him or her. This particular question is harmless, but it's not at all inconceivable that what you think is an innocuous, anonymous question you asked on the internet might come back to bite you in the courtroom; respect the powers of Google! Nothing you write here on this public website, or that any lawyer writes back to you here, will qualify for attorney-client privilege. You have an attorney; your communications with him/her are privileged. I'm confident your attorney would tell you to quit asking questions on the internet and ask him/her instead -- any competent attorney would tell you that!
Second: As your lawyer will tell you, there are several different court systems in Houston and Harris County that all handle civil claims. For example, there are the small claims or justice courts, presided over by Justices of the Peace, mostly for smaller cases. There are the Harris County Civil Courts-at-Law, which have jurisdiction up to $100,000. And then there are the Harris County Civil District Courts, which have general and unlimited jurisdiction.
Each of these three sets of courts operates in the same geographic territory, but they each have their own internal procedures on things like scheduling. And each judge on each of those courts may set up his own docketing procedures -- although most civil district court judges tend to follow the same system, and most count civil court-at-law judges tend to follow another (but different) system.
So again, to find out for the specific court and court system you're in: ASK YOUR LAWYER.
The dynamics which are at work in deciding what case comes next to trial can be very complicated. Each system is different, and each involves an intentional degree of uncertainty as to how "real" a trial setting is. It's intentionally uncertain precisely because fear of being caught unprepared can influence many cases toward settlement, and the system is designed to encourage cases to settle (and most do).
Thus, for instance, if I've just filed a case in county civil court-at-law, I might be able to ask for a trial date within a few weeks after filing; the clerk might assign me a trial date that's six months away; but that first setting may be essentially meaningless because (a) many of those judges give one "automatic" first continuance if either side asks for one, for any reason and even without a good reason, and (b) even if there's no continuance, such a new case is not going to be "reached" because there are so many other cases ahead of it on the docket.
This is part of how your lawyer earns his or her fee. He or she should either know the answers to these questions for the specific court system you're already in, and for the specific judge you're already before, off the top of his/her head, or else he/she should be able to find the answer with one phone call.
The setting of trial is subject to the court's discretion and some courts will send a scheduling order shortly after the defendant has filed an answer, others may wait several months. In some instances, you can request the court to set the case for trial earlier by calling the court coordinator. However, the first trial setting is seldom the one you actually go to trial on in large counties such as Harris County due to the large number of cases filed in each court.
Note: This response is: a) limited in scope to questions involving Texas law for a Texas resident; b) is intended only as a general information discussion of an issue raised in the question presented; c) does not constitute legal advice as all relevant facts are not known nor analyzed; and d) does not create an attorney-client relationship
A lot depends on the particular judge. You can call the court administrator and get a general reference -- make sure that you have the case name and cause number. You can get information (telephone number, etc.) about the particular court to which your case is assigned by reviewing the court system's web site. The clerk can also tell you how the judge generally operates in setting trial dates. In other words, does the judge simply set a date, or does the judge wait for the parties to request one or to respond to a pre-trial scheduling deadline form.
This all assumes that the defendant(s) have filed an answer or otherwise appeared. If no one appears for the defendants, the court may dismiss the case (after notice that it intends to do so) for want of prosecution.
Unfortunately, courts are assigned so many cases, that even if yours is set for trial, it is likely that it will go to trial the first time (although there are exceptions). It is also likely that the judge will order that the case be mediated before a trained mediator. Most cases that are mediated settle at or shortly after the mediation, and never go to trial.
But, as one Supreme Court Justice has said, "lawyers don't settle cases, trial dates do." So, getting a trial date is important.
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Last point, implicit in my earlier answer: The answer to your question might not be a single date. It might be a prediction that involves RANGES of dates. And even then, it's going to involve guesswork as to how the litigation will develop. Every case is unique.
Most plaintiffs wish they could get to trial more quickly. Civil court dockets in Houston aren't as crowded as they were 20 years ago, but it still takes, on average 2-3 for most cases to go from filing to jury trial in the civil district courts, where most of the big-time action is. That's often one reason why lawyers choose to file smaller cases in either JP or county civil court-at-law -- in hopes of getting a quicker trial. Your lawyer has almost certainly already thought of this, but may not have explained it to you. So ASK.
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