Sonya Cohn(813) 301-6151
Lydia Atkinson(813) 301-6152
Amanda Laber(813) 301-6153
Zachary Needell(813) 301-6152
Federal Judicial ServiceDistrict Judge, United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida
Nominated by Donald Trump on May 7, 2018, to a seat vacated by Judge James D. Whittemore. Confirmed by the Senate on June 12, 2019, and received commission on July 11, 2019.
University of Pennsylvania, J.D., 1992
University of Florida, B.A., 1989 (Phi Beta Kappa)
Adjunct Professor, Stetson College of Law, 2004 – present
Judge, Circuit Court of Florida, Thirteenth Judicial Circuit, 2008 – 2019
Judge, Hillsborough County Court, Florida, 2004 – 2008
Private Practice, Tampa, Florida, 2000 – 2004
Assistant Statewide Prosecutor, 1999 – 2000
Assistant State Attorney, Thirteenth Judicial Circuit, 1997 – 1999
Private Practice, Tampa, Florida, 1992 – 1997
Does the court accept nolo contendere or Alford pleas?
Does the court conduct status conferences in criminal cases?
Yes. (See the Status Conference section under the Criminal section of the Preferences tab.)
What is the court's policy on plea arrangements that involve sentencing recommendations?
Although the court will consider a sentencing recommendation proposed by any party, the recommendation is not binding on the court.
What matters are discussed at a status conference?
Scheduling issues, Speedy Trial Act issues, the possibility of a plea, length of trial, number of witnesses, and whether the case is ready for trial.
What pretrial criminal proceedings are referred to the assigned magistrate judge?
Arraignments change of pleas, bail proceedings, and detention hearings. Motions to suppress may also be referred to the assigned magistrate for a report and recommendation, but this is not common.
Does the court accept proposed orders?
No, unless requested by the court. In those cases in which the court requests a proposed order, it should be emailed to the chambers inbox in Microsoft Word (.doc or .docx) format.
Does the court conduct Daubert hearings before trial?
Yes, if necessary.
Does the court entertain motions in limine?
Yes, but pretrial hearings on such motions are determined on a case-by-case basis. The court believes they are over-utilized.
Does the court refer discovery matters to the assigned magistrate judge?
Does the court require a statement of material facts in support of a motion for summary judgment?
Yes. (See the Motions for Summary Judgment section under the Civil Motions section of the Preferences tab.)
Does the court set aside time in a given week or month to hear oral arguments on pending motions?
The court will schedule oral arguments on selected pending motions as its trial calendar permits.
How should counsel or a pro se litigant call attention to a pending motion of particular importance to expedite ruling?
If the motion is a true emergency, it should be styled as such. Parties are encouraged to phone (813) 301-6151 to notify the court of a true emergency.
Should copies of cases cited in motions and memoranda of law be forwarded to chambers?
No. However, the court encourages counsel to consider inserting hyperlinks to cited legal authority located on recognized electronic research services like Westlaw, LexisNexis, FindLaw, and official government websites in documents filed electronically.
Should courtesy copies of pleadings and motions be forwarded to chambers?
No, unless a pleading or motion exceeds 100 pages, including exhibits and attachments. A courtesy copy should be mailed or delivered to chambers as soon as practicable after filing.
Does the court conduct the Rule 16 preliminary pretrial conference?
May counsel appear by telephone at the preliminary pretrial conference?
Generally, no, but telephone appearances may be permitted upon a showing of need. A written motion requesting telephone appearance should be filed.
What matters are discussed at a preliminary pretrial conference?
The alleged facts of the case, unique issues anticipated by counsel, the court's case management practices and procedures, pretrial deadlines to govern the case, prospects of settlement, pending motions, scope of discovery, need for expert witnesses, length of trial, calendar conflicts, scheduling of mediation and selection of mediator, and whether the parties consent to the jurisdiction of the assigned magistrate judge.
Does the court conduct settlement conferences?
What is the court's policy on alternative dispute resolution such as court-annexed, nonbinding arbitration and mediation?
Mediation is required in almost all civil cases.
Does the court send a trial calendar?
Yes. A trial calendar will be distributed for the upcoming trial term about one to two weeks before the beginning of the term. Cases are listed in the rough order in which they will be tried, although experience indicates that cases might be called out of order to maximize trial time.
Does the court require trial briefs?
They are not mandatory.
How are civil and criminal cases set for trial?
All cases are scheduled for a monthly trial term. Throughout the assigned trial term, counsel and their witnesses must be available upon short notice. Cases not reached during the trial term will be placed at the beginning of the following month's trial term.
Absent exceptional circumstances, the court does not usually provide a date certain for trials.
Are jurors permitted to ask questions of a witness?
Yes. In civil cases the Eleventh Circuit permits juror questions. The court requires that the jurors submit all questions in writing. The court will go over the questions with counsel and will allow only appropriate questions to be asked after consideration from both sides.
Are jurors permitted to take notes?
Can parties submit proposed voir dire questions to the court?
Yes, but counsel will be permitted voir dire.
Does the court conduct voir dire?
Yes, the court conducts a limited initial voir dire examination. Counsel will have an opportunity to conduct follow-up.
Does the court have any procedures on peremptory challenges?
Back-striking is permitted.
Does the court impose any time limits for opening statements?
Not usually, but this depends upon the case. The best lawyers are concise. The court will impose reasonable time limits, when necessary, to ensure the case is submitted to the jury in a timely manner.
In multiple-party cases, does the court grant each party three preemptory challenges?
Does the court have any procedures regarding objections at trial?
Yes. When objecting, counsel should stand and only state the objection and legal ground for the objection without argument: "Objection. Hearsay," or "Objection. Leading." Speaking objections are prohibited unless the court requests further information from counsel. When a party has more than one lawyer, only one lawyer may conduct the examination of a given witness, and that lawyer alone may make objections concerning that witness.
Can counsel use exhibits during opening statements?
This should be addressed prior to opening with the court.
Does the court allow the plaintiff or government to make a rebuttal during opening statements?
Does the court impose any time limits for opening statements?
Not usually, but this depends upon the case. The best lawyers are concise.
Does the court allow sentencing memoranda to be submitted?
Yes. When a party believes a sentencing memorandum will benefit the court, counsel must file it at least three days before the sentencing date.
Does the court disclose the probation officer's final sentencing recommendation?
Is there a deadline for filing motions to continue sentencing?
Yes. Absent an emergency, all motions to continue sentencing must be filed at least 10 days before the scheduled sentencing date.
Case Management and Scheduling Order
The court will enter a case management and scheduling order. It may be modified only for good cause and with the court’s consent.
Case Management Report
As soon as practicable after the filing of a civil case, the clerk will designate the case on one of three tracks for future management purposes. For most Track Two cases, which are the majority of civil cases, parties must file the standard case management report in accordance with Local Rule 3.05. Because of the unique needs presented by patent infringement cases, the court directs counsel to file a special case management report for such cases.
For statistical purposes, the court will close civil cases after the entry of final judgment following a jury verdict, court decision, the parties' stipulation, or settlement. This will not affect the disposition of post-trial motions or the assessment of fees and costs as appropriate.
Final Pretrial Conference
The court conducts a final pretrial conference in each civil case. At least one lawyer who will conduct the trial for each party and any unrepresented party must attend the conference in person.
A final pretrial conference is initially scheduled about three weeks before the first day of the trial term.
Matters discussed at the final pretrial conference usually include:
Mediation is required in almost all civil cases.
If the parties need to reschedule the mediation for a date within the court's mediation deadline, they should file a notice setting forth the new mediation date. However, if the parties seek to reset the mediation for a date outside the deadline, they must file a motion setting forth good cause.
Service of the Complaint The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure allow 90 days to effect service of process. However, the court encourages counsel for the plaintiff to effect service upon all defendants as expeditiously as possible.
Form of Motions
All motions and cross-motions must include a concise statement of the precise relief requested, a statement of the basis for the request, and a memorandum of legal authority in support of the request. See Local Rule 3.01. All motions and responses must be typewritten, double-spaced, and at least 12-point font. See Local Rule 1.05.
Hearings on Motions
The court often provides for oral argument on motions. The court will also consider a request by either party for oral argument. The parties should note that the court is continuously reviewing the record and (once response times have expired) the court may rule at any time on a pending motion – even if it is set for a hearing date.
Motions for Summary Judgment
The statement of undisputed material facts must list each material fact alleged not to be disputed in separate, numbered paragraphs. Each fact must be supported by a pinpoint citation to the specific part of the record relied upon to support that fact. For example, a reference to "Deposition of Jones" is insufficient; the page and line number of the deposition transcript must be included. The record includes depositions, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations, admissions, and interrogatory answers. It does not include lawyers’ affidavits. When preparing the statement of undisputed material facts, the moving party must reference only the material facts necessary for the court to determine the issues presented in the motion for summary judgment. Legal argument should not be included in the statement of undisputed material facts. Failure to submit a statement of undisputed material facts constitutes grounds for denial of the motion.
Any party opposing a motion for summary judgment must file a separate "Statement of Disputed Facts" (not exceeding 20 pages in length), with citations to the record. The opposing party's statement must mirror the statement of undisputed material facts by admitting and/or denying each of the moving party's assertions in matching number paragraphs. Each denial must set forth a pinpoint citation to the record where the fact is disputed. Although the opposing party's statement must correspond with the paragraph scheme used in the statement of undisputed material facts, the statement need not repeat the text of the moving party's paragraphs. In deciding a motion for summary judgment, the court will deem admitted any fact in the statement of undisputed material facts that the opposing party does not specifically controvert, provided record evidence supports the moving party’s statement. Additional facts the party opposing summary judgment contends are material shall be numbered and placed at the end of the opposing party's statement and include a pinpoint citation to the record where the fact is established.
When resolving a motion for summary judgment, the court has no independent duty to search and consider any part of the record not otherwise referenced and pinpoint cited in the statement of undisputed material facts or the statement of disputed facts. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(3) ("The court need consider only the cited materials, but it may consider other materials in the record.").
Counsel may contact the courtroom deputy to test or be trained on the equipment in advance of a hearing or trial.
Evidence Presentation System
The courtroom is equipped with an evidence presentation system. This system allows counsel with their laptop computer, iPad, or tablet to present evidence simultaneously in the courtroom through a system on interconnected video liquid crystal displays (LCD). To use the evidence presentation systems, counsel must bring necessary connection adapters.
The court does not provide any equipment to present scanned documents, animations, graphics, or audio and video files from VHS, CD, DVD, Blu-Ray, or external drives like a USB thumb drive. All files must be presented from counsel’s laptop computer. Counsel is responsible for operating the evidence presentation system and court employees are not authorized to operate counsel’s laptop computer.
Personal Electronic Devices
Parties must review the Middle District of Florida's policy on possessing and using personal electronic devices (e.g., cellular phones, laptop computers, iPads, and tablets) in the courthouse. Under this policy, lawyers permitted to practice in the Middle District of Florida may bring personal electronic devices beyond the courthouse's security checkpoint by presenting a valid Florida Bar identification card or pro hac vice order.
The courtroom has wireless internet access, provided and paid for by the Bench Bar Fund. The courtroom deputy has the username and password.
Change of Plea
A change of plea is often referred to the assigned magistrate judge. A change of plea must be entered with the assigned magistrate judge by the established plea deadline unless otherwise permitted by the court.
Discovery issues are often referred to the assigned magistrate judge.
Counsel must promptly notify the court if a sentencing hearing is expected to last longer than 30 minutes, so appropriate arrangements can be made. Sentencing memoranda should be filed at least three business days before the sentencing date to give the court a sufficient opportunity to review the material.
Absent extraordinary circumstances, the court will not consider motions to continue that are not filed at least 10 days before the sentencing hearing.
The court conducts monthly status conferences in all pending criminal cases. The court will discuss scheduling issues, possibility of a plea, length of trial, and whether the case is ready for trial.
The parties are not excused from the status conference unless the plea agreement has been executed, the change-of-plea hearing has been scheduled, and a notice of cancellation of the status conference has been docketed before the status conference date. If a plea is not accepted for whatever reason after the status conference, counsel must be prepared to go to trial and should not expect the failure of the plea to be grounds for a continuance.
The court allows lead counsel to send another attorney to the status conference to stand in for them when lead counsel is unavailable. However, stand-in counsel must have the authority to waive a speedy trial and request a continuance. If lead counsel is unavailable to appear in person, the court also permits appearance by telephone. Counsel may make the appropriate arrangements by contacting the courtroom deputy at least three days before the scheduled conference.
Administrative Procedures for Electronic Filing
The Middle District of Florida mandates electronic filing through the Case Management/Electronic Case Files (CM/ECF) system in most circumstances.
Counsel may call chambers with procedural questions and for other assistance. However, the law clerks will not give legal advice, interpret the rules, provide time estimates for the court's written rulings, or discuss the merits of a case.
When filing motions electronically, it is not necessary to submit a courtesy copy to chambers unless the motion exceeds 100 pages in length, including exhibits and attachments. A courtesy copy should be mailed or delivered to chambers as soon as practicable after electronic filing.
Local and Federal Rules
Many answers to frequently asked questions are found in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the Local Rules for the Middle District of Florida, and the Middle District of Florida's CM/ECF Administrative Procedures for Electronic Filing. The court expects counsel and pro se litigants to know and follow these rules.
Notice of Unavailability of Counsel
A Notice of Unavailability of Counsel has no force or effect in this court. Counsel should not rely on filing a notice of unavailability to excuse his or her failure to appear before the court or to comply with deadlines or other procedural rules.
If counsel needs to extend a deadline or reschedule a proceeding, counsel must first confer with opposing counsel and then file a motion for an extension of time or continuance with the court.
Optical Character Recognition (OCR)
When possible, counsel who files a document on Case Management/Electronic Case Files (CM/ECF) should scan the document with optical character recognition (OCR). OCR converts scanned images into text and provides the ability to search text and copy and paste in a document. OCR is available in most scanning and portable document format (.pdf) creation software packages. OCR is most effective on primarily text-based documents and is generally not beneficial for maps, photographs, charts, graphs, financial statements, and other non-text documents. Counsel using OCR are responsible for verifying reasonable accuracy and readability of the document.
A proposed order is not necessary unless the court specifically requests one or the Local Rules require one. When submitting a proposed order, counsel must email it to the chambers inbox in Microsoft Word (.doc or .docx) format. Counsel must include the csase name and number in the subject line.
Requests for Extensions of Time
Because the Middle District of Florida is one of the busiest trial courts in the country, extensions of court-imposed dates and deadlines will be granted only for compelling reasons. The court’s permission is required to extend court-imposed dates and deadlines
After the conclusion of the bench trial, the court will direct counsel for each party to file proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law (usually 30 days after the trial). The proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law must be emailed to the chambers inbox in Microsoft Word (.doc or .docx) format.
Parties must file with the court color-coded copies of deposition transcripts (preferably mini-script versions) reflecting, in different highlighted colors, the deposition excerpts each party has designated to be read at trial, with objections noted in the margin, five days before the beginning of the trial term. Parties should submit unresolved objections to video-recorded depositions to the court 10 days before the trial term.
In accordance with the applicable case management and scheduling order, counsel for each party must file and exchange a list of exhibits that might be introduced at trial. Counsel must use the exhibit list form found on this website. In completing the form, counsel must provide a descriptive notation sufficient to identify each exhibit.
In addition, on the morning of trial, before jury selection, counsel must provide the courtroom deputy with three copies of their respective exhibit lists and email the lists in Microsoft Word (.doc or .docx) format to the chambers inbox. Include the case number and case name in the subject line.
Please avoid inserting duplicate exhibits into the record. Joint exhibits should be on a joint list. For example, if photographs or medical records are being stipulated jointly into evidence, they should be marked as a joint exhibit and not listed separately by both (all) parties' witness lists.
The court typically conducts trial from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM with two 15-minute breaks and a lunch recess. This schedule may change as circumstances dictate.
Jury Instructions and Verdict Forms
In accordance with the applicable case management and scheduling order, counsel must file and serve proposed jury instructions and verdict forms based on the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit Pattern Jury Instructions. If a pattern instruction is not available for a certain type of instruction, counsel must submit a proposed instruction, citing authority that supports the requested non-pattern instruction. In addition, counsel must email proposed jury instructions and verdict forms in Microsoft Word (.doc or .docx) format to the chambers inbox. Include the case number and case name in the subject line. The parties should use the Eleventh Circuit's jury instruction builder.
Jury Selection and Voir Dire
Jury selection is typically set for the Monday morning of the week a trial is set to begin.
Before trial, counsel for each party must mark exhibits using the exhibit tags found on this website. Counsel must staple the appropriate party-specific exhibit tag to the upper-right corner of the first page.
In completing the exhibit tags, the parties must use consecutive numbers to mark exhibits. For example:
Also, identify each exhibit in the composite on a separate line in the exhibit list.
Paper Exhibit Binder
On or before the morning of trial, before jury selection, counsel for each party must provide the court with a paper exhibit binder that contains all individual exhibits and joint exhibits each party intends to introduce at trial. The exhibits should be labeled.
If an exhibit is physical evidence (e.g., drugs, ammunition, firearm), counsel should insert a placeholder exhibit that states, "Exhibit [Number] is [description of exhibit]." If an exhibit contains child pornographic images, counsel should either (a) provide a redacted version of the exhibit, or (b) insert a placeholder exhibit that states, "Exhibit [Number] contains child pornographic images."
In accordance with the applicable case management and scheduling order, counsel for each party must file and exchange a list of all witnesses who might be called at trial. In addition, on the morning of the first day of trial, counsel for each party must provide three copies of the final witness list to the courtroom deputy.
Absent good cause, the court will not permit the testimony of unlisted witnesses at trial over objection. This restriction does not apply to true rebuttal witnesses (i.e., witnesses whose testimony could not have been reasonably foreseen as necessary).