Objecting To The Court Commissioner’s Ruling And The Role Of The Court Commissioner

The role of a court commissioner in a family law case is mainly to hear family law issues on a temporary basis before they get to the judge for permanent resolution. It also serves as the screening or gatekeeping mechanism to prevent the judges from being overwhelmed by numerous family law issues that can be competently heard by someone else. The court commissioners are given many of the same powers as judges but generally cannot make final rulings. In essence, the main job of a court commissioner is to handle temporary issues and get cases ready for trial. The court commissioner can also handle enforcement issues where a final decree has already been entered and a party is attempting to enforce that court order against someone who is failing to comply with it. Court commissioners in the Third Judicial District, which includes Salt Lake County, tend to have different styles than the court commissioners in other judicial districts.

What Can I Do If The Court Commissioner Makes A Bad Ruling? Can I Object?

If a court commissioner makes a bad ruling, a party can object. Utah Rule of Civil Procedure 108 specifically states that a party has the right to object to whatever the court commissioner has done.

What Steps Should I Take To Object To The Court Commissioner?

Once the court commissioner has made a written or verbal ruling, a party can decide to file a written objection to the court commissioner’s ruling. The objection must identify succinctly and in detail the particular parts of the commissioner’s ruling which are objectionable. In addition, a supporting memorandum must accompany the objection that states concisely but with detail why the findings, conclusions, recommendations or rulings of the commissioner are wrong. That written objection is generally no longer than 15 pages.

Once the objection has been filed with the court, the other side will have 14 days to file a response, which is also limited to 15 pages. Within seven days of that response being filed, a memorandum of 10 pages or less may be filed in reply. Sometimes attachments are allowed to be filed with these documents.

Once everyone has had an opportunity to submit their memoranda to the court, the objecting party will file a “notice to submit for decision,” which will bring all of the pleadings to the judge’s attention. At that point, the party requesting or making the objection can call the court clerk and ask for a hearing to be scheduled or may simply ask that the judge rule on the documents without a hearing.

What Time Limit Do I Have To File An Objection?

Utah Rule of Civil Procedure 108 gives the objecting party 14 days after the judge’s ruling to file an objection. It is important to note that if the commissioner makes a verbal ruling on the bench at the hearing, then that 14-day window will begin to run at that point. However, if the commissioner chooses to think about the issue and send out a written ruling at a later time, then the 14-day time limit will not begin to run until the commissioner issues that written ruling.

What Specific Requirements Must The Objection Meet?

The objection must state succinctly and with particularity why the commissioner was wrong. For example, if the court commissioner misconstrued the law or failed to consider an important statute or rule, then the objection must cite that rule and explain how the commissioner misinterpreted the law. If the commissioner got it wrong on the facts, then a detailed explanation for how the commissioner’s factual analysis was wrong is needed.

Although a judge may make exceptions, most of the time they won’t consider any evidence, exhibits or testimony that has not already been presented to the commissioner. It is important to present the best case before the commissioner. If a party does a poor job presenting all of the facts before the commissioner, then they’re usually (but not always) going to be limited to those facts in their objection to the judge.

Will There Be A Hearing? If So, What Will Happen At The Hearing?

There will usually be a hearing, but not always. At the hearing, the judge has significant discretion to have witnesses put on the stand or to simply hear the matter by “proffer”, meaning that the attorneys simply represent what the witnesses would say. The judge may choose to hear part of or all of the objection. The judge also has discretion to hear new evidence not presented to the commissioner, especially if circumstances have changed since the commissioner’s ruling.

If the commissioner’s ruling involves a material fact relevant to custody, then either party has the right to request an evidentiary hearing where witnesses will be examined and cross-examined. If evidence is taken with witnesses put on the stand, the length of the hearing will be substantially increased. Generally, the judge will not “take evidence” (e.g., put witnesses on the stand) if the objection is based on the claim that the commissioner was wrong in terms of the law, as opposed to wrong in terms of the facts of the case.

What Factors Does The Judge Consider In Determining Whether Or Not To Overrule The Commissioner’s Ruling?

The judge may consider all of the factors considered by the commissioner at the original hearing. Those factors will vary depending on the issues, facts and the applicable law. The judge is not bound by the commissioner’s ruling and does not have to give any deference to the court commissioner. The judge can hear the matter de novo (fresh) without giving any preference to the commissioner’s opinion. The Law Office of Kelly Peterson has significant experience both objecting to commissioners’ rulings and defending against such objections. If this is a step you’re considering, please, contact the Law Office of Kelly Peterson.

For more information on Objecting To Court Commissioner’s Ruling, an initial consultation is your next best step. Get the information and legal answers you are seeking by calling (801) 616-3301 today.

Get Help Now

*Child Welfare Law Specialist Nat’l Assoc. of Counsel for Children