This is part one of a three-part series about courtroom procedure and etiquette.

For many, the idea of “going to court” can be intimidating and nerve wracking. An appearance in court often involves difficult and important life circumstances. As lawyers, we often take for granted how infrequently most people appear in court since it is something many of us do on a regular basis.

Whether you are in court due to a custody or divorce matter affecting your family, a civil matter affecting your business or financial well-being, or a criminal matter affecting your personal liberties or rights as a victim, knowing what to expect and how to present yourself can reduce some of the stress and allow you to focus on presenting the best case.

To help reduce some of the stress associated with appearing in court, I have put together a three part series walking you through the process from before you arrive in the courthouse to when you walk out at the end of your hearing.

In this first part of the series, I will discuss the process from entering the courthouse to arriving at and entering the designated courtroom. Future posts will include information on who you can expect to be present in the courtroom and how to present yourself in appearance and speech.
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Every year, the stroke of midnight on December 31 brings with it a host of resolutions and the promise of changes for the new year.  In light of this, NBC News ended 2018 with an article highlighting some interesting new laws taking effect across the country in 2019.  One city will see a change in what to expect from take-out orders, and one state will have a much more difficult choice of what beer to buy in grocery and convenience stores.  Sorry, the last one is not Pennsylvania!

One state is even taking an interesting approach in trying to increase its dwindling population.  Vermont is offering $10,000 to those employed by out of state employers who are willing to make the move.  If Ben and Jerry’s and maple syrup are your thing, and your job allows you the opportunity to work remotely, then pack your bags!
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Back in July, Matt Landis updated us on several of the stories confirming Lancaster’s technology sector continued to thrive in 2018. As we close out the year, let’s look at a few more that made the news in our area during the second half of the year!

  • Think self-driving cars are still an early-stage

Soon community associations will have to deal with snow and ice, and the problems that come with it. In this article I want to discuss salt and other deicers.  Many unit owners are certain that one type of salt will ruin their sidewalks.  Other units owners believe that any kind of ice melt will harm concrete.  Associations get complaints about ice in the winter, and then about spalling sidewalks in the spring.  Which deicers are best, and which are asking for problems?  Although most of my posts contain mostly legal advice, for this article I got to use my background as a chemical engineer too.

There are four main kinds of ice melt that are used.  They are sodium chloride (rock salt), calcium chloride, magnesium chloride and calcium magnesium acetate (CMA). The truth is that all ice melt works in basically the same way. Magnesium chloride, calcium chloride and CMA all absorb water.  In doing so, they produce a chemical reaction with the water that produces heat.  The heat produced melts the ice.  The melting ice dissolves the deicer, and then carries it onto the rest of the surface. Sodium chloride is a little different in that it actually lowers the temperature in which water freezes. So instead of freezing at 32 degrees, water with salt dissolved in it doesn’t freeze until it is 25 degrees.  Try it at home – science is fun!
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Where I am from, fireworks are an important part of nearly every type of celebration. Fourth of July? Light up some firecrackers. New Year’s Eve? Shoot off some bottle rockets. Random Tuesday? Torch a Roman candle. Like many of my former neighbors in Northeastern Pennsylvania, pyro-technicians throughout the Commonwealth were thrilled last year when the Pennsylvania state legislature passed Act 43, which repealed the former Fireworks Law and expanded permissible fireworks sales, even though it also called for the imposition of a 12% tax on such fireworks. Under Act 43, consumers are able to purchase “consumer-grade” fireworks including firecrackers, Roman candles, bottle rockets and similar fireworks, many of which were previously only available to out-of-state residents. Act 43 also allowed fireworks to be purchased at licensed facilities including temporary structures, which were permitted to sell fireworks around the 4th of July and New Year’s Eve holidays. 
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It’s December, which means the holiday season is officially in high gear and that it’s now socially appropriate to listen to holiday music. If your calendar is anything like mine, you may have a few holiday parties coming up – you may even be hosting such a party.

If so, what are some of the legal risks associated with hosting a party?
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This post is part of our ongoing series translating the lawyer-gibberish of Pennsylvania lawsuits into something understandable. For the definitions of the terms in bold check out the post that launched this series. A list of the all of the posts in the series is at the tail end of this article.

So it’s time to go to the Court of Common Pleas. Whether you tried other steps first or elected to start here, today we walk through how the parties to a lawsuit lay the groundwork for their claims and defenses.

Complaint, Answer, and Reply

Both the Plaintiff and the Defendant in a lawsuit describe their claims and defenses, respectively, in documents called “pleadings.” This is just legalese for a type of court filing that describes in broad strokes what the parties’ positions will be. If all goes smoothly, you can expect this process:

  1. Filing the Complaint – The Plaintiff starts by filing a Complaint. The Complaint needs to outline the basic facts of the dispute and what the Plaintiff wants to get.
  2. Serving the Complaint -The Plaintiff serves the Complaint on the Defendant. In general, this must be done by having someone from the Sheriff’s Office hand deliver a copy of the Complaint.
  3. Checking for a Default – The Defendant must respond to the Complaint within 20 days of having a copy delivered to him or her. If he or she does not, the Plaintiff can send a warning called a “Notice of Default.” If the Defendant still does not respond, 10 days after sending the Notice of Default the Plaintiff can request a Default Judgment.
  4. Answering the Complaint – The Defendant responds to each of the numbered paragraphs in the Complaint in a document called an Answer. So paragraph 1 of the Answer responds to paragraph 1 of the Complaint, and so on.
  5. Raising New Issues – The Answer may also contain two types of statements beyond the responses to the Complaint. The first is called “New Matter,” which are new facts the Defendant thinks are important but that the Plaintiff left out. New Matter can also contain certain types of legal defenses. The second type is “Counterclaims,” which are legal claims back against the Plaintiff. Counterclaims are claims that could have been raised by the Defendant in a Complaint. But instead of having two lawsuits going at the same time, both sides’ claims are handled at once.
  6. Responding to the New Issues – If the Defendant’s Answer has New Matter or Counterclaims, the Plaintiff files his or her own response to those new statements. This responsive document is called a Reply to differentiate it from the Defendant’s


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This post is part of our ongoing series translating the lawyer-gibberish of Pennsylvania lawsuits into something understandable. For the definitions of the terms in bold check out the post that launched this series. A list of all the posts in the series is at the tail end of this article.

The litigation process often begins before actual litigation.

Wait, what?

I mean that disputes often involve exchanges before we get in front of the court system you see on TV, i.e. the Court of Common Pleas here in Pennsylvania. Today let’s look at the common things that can happen before we get to the courthouse.

The Demand Letter – Kicking it Off

Many lawsuits start with a lawyer demanding action in a letter. Commonly known as a demand letter, this document is often a final effort by a Plaintiff to resolve a dispute out of court. While this letter doesn’t start a court case, it may indicate that the Plaintiff is serious and is ready to sue. Or maybe the Plaintiff is only willing to pay for a letter, not to actually take you to court.

How can you tell? Unfortunately, there is no one-size fits all answer to this question. It depends on what’s at stake, how strong the legal claims are, and the personality of those involved. Sometimes a dispute can be settled at this stage if both parties want to avoid taking the matter before a court, or it may be necessary to proceed to the next step of litigation.  So when you receive a demand letter, it may be time to talk with your own lawyer to plan a strategy (even if that strategy is to wait and see what happens).
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As a lawyer, I have a love/hate relationship with television shows and movies that portray the legal profession. On one hand, I enjoy watching a romanticized and dramatized version of the practice of law. If I’m being honest, I thought that’s what being a lawyer would be like before I went to law school. On the other hand, I am often frustrated by the unrealistic portrayals of the legal process and the expectations that creates for clients. Although TV shows like Law and Order make it seem like you can commit a crime, go to trial, and be acquitted in spectacular fashion in less than 10 days, in real life, it takes a whole lot longer and is usually much less dramatic.

So when the Lancaster Bar Association advertised a continuing education class called “Ethics, Trial Practice, Two Yoots and One Cousin Vinny,” I was cautiously intrigued. My husband, also a lawyer (yes, our dinner table conversations are as contentious as you are imagining), and I, along with about 50 other attorneys, including RKG’s own all-star litigator Brandon Harter, showed up one evening last week to the sold out event at the Bar Association to see what it was all about.
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Last week, I had the honor and privilege of being admitted to practice before the Supreme Court of the United States. The trip is organized on an annual basis by the Lancaster Bar Association. Since we were allowed one guest, I invited my mom to attend with me.

The admission ceremony occurred prior to two oral arguments before Court. After going through security to enter the building and spending some time in a conference room waiting for the next step, we were ushered into the Courtroom. My first reaction was surprise at how small the Courtroom actually is. This was immediately followed by nervousness – I was sitting about 15 feet from the bench where the nine justices of the Supreme Court would soon be seated.
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