Cecilia Maria Altonaga
The following information was provided in response to a survey prepared by the Federal Court Practice Committee of The Florida Bar. This information is not binding on any judge or court official and may not be relied upon for precedential purposes. Further information may be found in the attachments (sample orders, etc.) referenced at the end of this Guide entry or on the court's website noted below.
Name of Court:
Southern District of Florida
Location of Chambers:
Wilkie D. Ferguson, Jr. United States Courthouse
Email address (only for proposed orders or jury instructions):
Law Clerk phone number(s), only if you permit law clerk(s) to receive calls:
Communication with Chambers
Do you permit contact with chambers regarding questions of procedure?
Do you permit contact with chambers regarding the status of pending matters?
May counsel contact chambers to speak with your law clerks(s) on procedural matters?
May counsel contact chambers to speak with your law clerks(s) on the status of pending matters?
Law clerks are permitted to speak to counsel so long as all attorneys are on the call.
Use of Cell Phones, Laptops, and Other Electronics in Court
Other than procedures adopted by the U.S. Marshal's Service relating to access to a federal courthouse, do you have any additional procedures to be followed for the use of cell phones, laptops, or other electronics?
Is there a designated court staff person to contact relating to the use of electronic media or other audiovisual needs?
Always verify with the Clerk of Court or the U.S. Marshal's Service as to any procedures relating to the use of cell phones or other electronic devices at the courthouse.
In addition to Local Rules or CM/ECF procedures applicable in the District:
Do you have a preferred method for counsel to correct an electronically filed document that inadvertently contains personal information (as prohibited by Fed.R.Civ.P. 5.2)?
Counsel should call the CM/ECF help desk at 305-523-5266.
Do you have a preferred method governing the filing of sealed documents?
Parties must obtain judicial approval before filing any documents under seal.
Do you prefer that (non-trial) exhibits be filed as separate docket entries (instead of filing them as attachments to the document they support)?
When filing documents with multiple attachments, do you prefer that the document be filed such that it is displayed with bookmarks within the PDF image?
Do you prefer that (non-trial) exhibits and depositions be filed conventionally as well as on CM/ECF?
Do you prefer to have proposed orders (other than those required to be filed in the case) submitted as an attachment to documents filed in CM/ECF, or do you prefer to receive them by email or another method?
Proposed orders must be attached to documents filed in the CM/ECF AND submitted by email in Word version.
Should proposed orders be submitted in a format which can be edited, or is a PDF version acceptable?
A PDF version is not acceptable; proposed orders should be submitted in Word format.
Pretrial Procedure (Criminal)
Do you conduct preliminary pretrial conferences in criminal cases?
If YES, what matters do you typically discuss during a preliminary pretrial conference?
A pretrial conference is conducted if requested by the parties, all pending motions, scheduling, status of discovery, anticipated dates for trial.
Do you require the defendant to be present at status conferences?
Do you conduct suppression hearings or do you refer them to a Magistrate Judge?
The judge conducts suppression hearings.
Do you conduct hearings on pretrial motions to dismiss or to sever?
Do you take the plea or do you regularly refer plea hearings to a Magistrate Judge?
The judge takes the plea directly.
Do you have a regular plea deadline?
If YES, when is that deadline?
The deadline is contained in the order setting the case for trial, generally the week before the calendar call.
What is your policy concerning nolo contendere or Alford pleas?
The judge does not accept them.
Do you have any special procedures regarding plea agreements for individuals who are cooperating with the government, e.g., sealed plea agreements, etc.?
What is your policy as to plea agreements that involve sentencing recommendations?
The judge accepts these and conducts a colloquy with the defendant, including going over all provisions of the written plea agreement.
Pretrial Procedure (Civil)
Do you issue a standard pretrial order?
Do you conduct preliminary pretrial hearings, e.g., pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 16?
If YES, what matters do you typically discuss during preliminary pretrial hearings?
The judge conducts preliminary pretrial hearings regarding scheduling matters where parties are unable to reach agreement or the case involves multiple parties and claims. The judge also schedules hearings on all manner of pretrial motions, including status conferences by telephone.
Other than as required by Local Rules, do you prefer that the moving parties submit proposed orders along with non-dispositive motions?
Do you have any requirements, beyond those found in the Federal Rules and the Local Rules, as to ex parte temporary restraining orders?
Do you hear preliminary injunction motions?
If YES, do you permit evidence to be introduced?
Should copies of published cases cited in motions and memoranda be forwarded to chambers?
Should copies of unpublished cases cited in motions and memoranda be forwarded to chambers?
If copies of cases are submitted, do you accept copies that have portions highlighted by counsel?
Do you regularly set aside time during a given week/month for hearings on motions?
If YES, when is your normal hearing date/time?
Generally hearings are scheduled early in the mornings, before trial, or during lunch recesses if the court is in trial.
Under what circumstances do you allow telephonic hearings?
Telephonic hearings are permitted where out-of-county counsel are involved or the matter is anticipated to be of short duration. Telephonic hearings are not permtted where testimony will be taken, unless the attorney appearing by phone agrees to only have local counsel, present in the courtroom, address the Court orally.
What is your practice concerning oral arguments on referred dispositive motions?
The judge will schedule them if the parties so request, or if the Court thinks oral argument would be helpful.
Will you entertain motions in limine prior to trial?
If YES, how far in advance should they be filed?
The deadline is included in the Court's Scheduling Order.
Other than those discovery schedules contained in Local Rules, do you have special discovery deadlines or procedures for certain types of cases (ERISA, FLSA, etc.)?
If YES, what types of cases and what are the deadlines or procedures?
Discovery motions are not permitted; rather, the parties are instructed in the Court's scheduling order to contact the assigned magistrate judge to schedule a discovery hearing.
Do you routinely refer discovery matters to a Magistrate Judge?
When a dispute arises during a deposition, is it appropriate to call your chambers (if the case has been referred for discovery) to seek an immediate ruling?
What is your preference regarding the use of alternative dispute resolution methods such as arbitration or mediation?
The scheduling order requires the parties to submit a proposed order scheduling mediation and provides a deadline by which to mediate and advise the court of the results.
Do you require counsel to submit a proposed order referring the case to mediation?
Do you have a procedure for counsel to request referral to a Magistrate Judge for settlement conferences?
No, the parties may simply make the request.
Do you have any special procedures for the settlement of FLSA cases?
The magistrate judge holds an early settlement conference in FLSA cases.
Do you automatically set civil cases for trial or do you wait for counsel to propose a time period in which a case should be scheduled for trial?
Do you grant specially set trial dates (dates certain)?
If YES, under what circumstances will you grant trial dates certain?
In exceptional circumstances.
If NO, what is your policy regarding notice for trial during a trial docket (e.g., will you give at least 48 hours' notice)?
The court generally provides 24 hours' notice, and the attorneys are allowed to call the Courtroom Deputy to inquire.
What is your practice or procedure regarding rescheduling trials that are not reached on a trial docket, e.g., will the trial date be automatically rescheduled on your next trial docket?
Generally, the trial is rescheduled on the next trial docket.
Do you conduct pretrial conferences?
Do you conduct Daubert hearings prior to trial?
What, if any, procedural requirements do you have regarding the use of videotapes, trial graphics, depositions, and demonstrations?
Do you require trial briefs in jury trials?
Do you require trial briefs in bench trials?
Do you permit counsel to perform voir dire?
If YES, what guidelines or restrictions must counsel follow when conducting voir dire?
They are limited generally to 15 minutes and are not to be repetitive of matters already addressed.
If YES, when should such questions be submitted?
At calendar call or the date contained in a trial order issued approximately one month before the trial.
What are your peremptory challenge procedures?
Each side alternates utilizing its peremptories, until all are exhausted or not utilized.
In multiple party cases, do you grant each party three peremptory challenges?
If NO, do you limit each side (i.e., plaintiff/defense) to a total of three peremptory challenges to be shared?
It will depend on the case.
Do you allow back striking during jury selection?
Do you impose any standard time limits on counsel's opening statements?
If YES, what are the time limits?
Generally as suggested by the attorneys.
Can exhibits be used in opening statements?
Do you allow plaintiffs to make a rebuttal during opening statements?
Do you permit jurors to take notes?
Do you permit jurors to ask questions?
What, if any, procedures do you have concerning objections at trial?
No speaking objections. These must be handled either at side-bar or before or after trial, when the jury is not present.
When do you require counsel to file proposed jury instructions?
Yes. The deadline is contained in the scheduling order.
Should jury instructions also be submitted to chambers electronically?
When standard jury instructions are available, do you prefer that attorneys submit condensed versions of the standard instructions?
Do you require proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law to be filed in bench trials?
If YES, when do you require the proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law to be filed?
The deadline is contained in the scheduling order.
Should the proposed findings and conclusions also be submitted to chambers electronically?
Do you require sentencing memos from the parties?
If NO, may parties file a sentencing memo?
If counsel anticipates a contested or extensive sentencing hearing, should counsel notify the court?
Counsel should notify the Courtroom Deputy if sentencing is anticipated to exceed 30 minutes.
If you are considering an upward departure under the United States Sentencing Guidelines, do you provide notice orally or in writing?
In a proceeding for a violation of supervised release conditions, do you personally conduct the admissions/findings of fact hearing or do you refer this to a Magistrate Judge?
The judge personally conducts the hearing.
What should lawyers avoid at all costs when appearing before you (other than the obvious: don't be late, do be courteous, etc.), i.e., do you have any "pet peeves"?
At trial, minimize instances where the jury is kept waiting; if any evidentiary issues are anticipated, let the court know in advance. Be sure you have complied with the Local Rules, especially the rule requiring conferral with opposing counsel.
Do you have any other practice pointers, advice, observations, or suggestions for members of the Bar appearing before you?
It is helpful to first contact the court reporter and share with her any information concerning the anticipated vocabulary, witnesses' names, and case names where counsel anticipate using them in a hearing.