N.J. Rule Changes Could End Lawyers’ Arguments

December 7, 2004

Lawyers and federal judges in New Jersey are preparing to argue over new rules that would largely outlaw … arguing.

The rules would apply to civil cases, where some judges of the U.S. District Court of New Jersey think the verbal exchanges are a waste of time.

If the changes are adopted, judges would not schedule argument days to debate motions, and the word “argument” could even be deleted from the rules. Instead, lawyers would be required to have a hearing request accepted by a judge.

Lawyers say eliminating oral advocacy sets a perilous precedent.

“The more complicated the matter, the more oral argument is needed,” said Joseph Hayden, an officer of the Association of the Federal Bar of the State of New Jersey. “As you prepare for argument, you find nuances in the case … You need a dialogue on it. It is very hard to just understand the issues from written papers.”

Hayden’s group approved a resolution last week urging judges to regularly schedule oral arguments on serious or complex motions.

Some judges say the rule changes would formalize what is already standard courthouse practice. Many don’t grant oral arguments unless there is a question left unanswered in legal filings.

All district judges will vote on the rules changes, with a majority needed for ratification. A vote has not yet been scheduled.

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