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Chamberlain Hrdlicka's Appellate Blog covers a cross-section of issues of interest to businesses and individuals involved in litigation, trial and appellate lawyers, as well as judges.

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The Jury Charge Conference – Part I: It’s Tectonic

I recently consulted Merriam-Webster for synonyms of the word “important.” The results included words such as “tectonic,” “consequential,” “earth-shattering,” “momentous,” and “significant.” All of these words accurately describe the jury charge conference portion of the trial because it is, indeed, the most important part of the trial.

And word choice matters. Every word in the definitions, instructions and questions can influence how the jury responds and must be given extremely careful deliberation. Equally important is navigating the complex process for making tenders and objections to assure error preservation. This blog will outline six recommendations for avoiding the most common mistakes on jury charges.

First, prioritize and prepare early. As trial approaches, trial attorneys are sometimes overwhelmed with getting the case ready. Preparing a comprehensive and well-reasoned jury charge is often put behind other pressing priorities, such as assuring all witnesses and exhibits are fully prepared. The better practice is to have a draft of the jury charge prepared early in the case. This will help identify critical elements of the claim or defense, which not only enables targeted discovery but also streamlines the process of preparing the final jury charge in time for the charge conference. Any while it is helpful to have the jury charge prepared early, it must always be understood that the document can and should be changed as events unfold during the trial.

Second, lodge objectives in a timely manner. Objections to the jury charge must be timely or they are waived. The trial court is required to allow the parties a reasonable amount of time to inspect the charge and make objection. See Tex. R. Civ. P. 272. Thereafter, “objections shall in every instance be presented to the court . . .  before the charge is read to the jury.” Id. Objections lodged after the charge is read to the jury are too late. Additionally, objections lodged after the formal charge conference but before the charge is read to the jury may also be too late. See King Fisher Marine Services, L.P v. Tamez, 443 S.W.3d 838 (Tex. 2014). Therefore, being fully prepared to make all necessary objections and tenders at the formal charge conference is critical.

Third, consider outsourcing. Preparing a masterful jury charge that uses language that assures maximum opportunity for the jury to answer in favorable madder and handling the charge conference to assure all errors are preserved takes a considerable amount of time and attention. Often, trial lawyers simply do not have time given the demands of trial. Consider outsourcing to an experienced appellate attorney. This enables trial lawyers to focus their time on trial strategy, knowing that any jury charge error will be preserved for appeal.

Check out our upcoming blog for the remaining recommendations. Have questions about navigating an appeals process, give us a call.

  • Steven J. Knight

    Steve Knight is a Shareholder in the Houston Litigation group and is Co-Chair of the Appellate Law section.

    Throughout his career, Mr. Knight has successfully represented clients at every phase of the appellate process, from ...