By John DiMotto
The tool used most often by lawyers to control the flow of evidence in a trial is the motion in limine. It ordinarily seeks to limit what can be introduced although it is sometimes brought to specifically get the court's imprimatur on the admissibility of evidence.
In every civil case, the court puts in place a scheduling order. It guides the progress of the case by setting various deadlines that must be met before a trial date will be given out. Those deadlines include the last date when: new parties can be added to the lawsuit, the pleadings may be amended, witnesses must be named, dispositive motions must be filed, discovery must be completed, mediation or ADR must be completed, the final pretrial will be held and, from my perspective, one of the most important deadlines - the date by which motions in limine must be filed. I usually set this deadline 45 - 60 days in advance of the trial and schedule a hearing on the motions on a date prior to the beginning of the trial. I do not believe that it is fair to make the lawyers wait until they are in the middle of a trial to give them a ruling on motions in limine because the ruling can totally change how they approach the case. Furthermore, the reason that I allow the motions in limine to be filed after the pretrial is because it is not until the very final trial preparation that trial strategy "comes together" and the lawyers know what evidence they want in and what evidence they want to keep out.
I also require that the motions in limine be briefed so I can fully understand their respective positions before the hearing and can question them at length regarding their positions during the hearing.
Resolution of motions in limine prior to trial gives the trial judge the ability to maintain control over the case and manage its presentation for the jury.