Common Pleas Court Judge Jennifer L. Branch

Jennifer L. Branch

Hamilton County Courthouse
1000 Main Street
Room 320
Cincinnati, Ohio 45202

Sydney Greathouse, Bailiff
SGreathouse@cms.hamilton-co.org
Phone Number: 513-946-5117

Allison Day, Law Clerk
branchlawclerk@cms.hamilton-co.org 
Phone Number: 513-946-5118
Fax Number: 513-946-5119

Plea Forms

Guilty Plea Form

Guilty Plea (Agreed Sentence) Form

Entry on Waiver of Trial by Jury Form

Judge Jennifer L. Branch Rules of Court

These rules will be updated periodically. The Court welcomes your suggestions. You may contact the Court regarding criminal cases by emailing the Bailiff at sgreathouse@cms.hamilton-co.org.  Emails regarding civil cases and non-case related issues can be sent to the Law Clerk at  branchlawclerk@cms.hamilton-co.org.

All Cases – Civil and Criminal.

Communication with Court Staff.  Ex parte communications are prohibited unless all parties consent.  Emails to court staff is the preferred method of communication.  Emails must include all attorneys and unrepresented parties.  Ex parte communications with staff related to being late to court or videoconferencing technical assistance are permitted. Social media communications are not permitted with court staff.

Pending motions and decisions. The Court endeavors to issue rulings promptly. Once a motion has been ripe for more than 60 days, please email the Law Clerk that a motion remains pending and copy all parties.

Unopposed motions. Local Rule 14(B) allows the court to grant an unopposed motion.  The Court considers any motion that is not opposed within the applicable time limits, to be unopposed.  The moving party is permitted to email the Law Clerk when an unopposed motion is ripe for decision.

Trial Briefs.  For cases being tried to the bench, each party is required to file a Trial Brief one week before trial. In a bench trial, the Trial Brief is filed in lieu of jury instructions.  Include in the brief:  a statement of the facts or proposed findings of fact; a discussion of controlling law or proposed conclusions of law; stipulations; and briefing on legal issues related to claims, defenses and remedies. Please use your best judgment to decide what issues to brief for the Court.  Since Trial Briefs shall be submitted simultaneously, parties should anticipate the opposing party’s legal issues.

Civil Docket

Video conferencing. All civil appearances will be held by video conferencing unless the parties prefer to appear in person.  To change an appearance from video conferencing to in-person, please email the Law Clerk.  Parties will be provided video conferencing sign-in information for the first court appearance.  Be sure to retain the sign-in instructions and use them for all future video conferencing.

Initial Case Order.  The Court files an Initial Case Order (Sample: Initial Case Order) in all filed after September 1, 2021. All counsel who make an appearance in the case are expected to read the Initial Case Order.

Service.  The Assignment Commissioner automatically sets the date Case Management Conference (“CMC”) approximately 90 days after the Complaint is filed.  If service has not been accomplished 45 days prior to the CMC, Plaintiff is required to file a motion to extend the CMC to a date after which service is expected to be accomplished and explain what Plaintiff plans to do to obtain service.  The Court will not conduct a CMC without at least one defendant having been served prior to the CMC.  If service is not perfected on at least one defendant within 6 months of filing the complaint, the Plaintiff must show good cause why the case should not be dismissed for lack of prosecution.

Plaintiffs are encouraged to use the waiver of service procedures in Ohio R. Civ. Proc. 4(D) and 4.7.  An individual, corporation, partnership, or association that is subject to service under Civ.R. 4 has a duty to avoid unnecessary expenses of serving the summons.  If the defendant does not waive service, Plaintiff may perfect service through other methods and the Court may impose on the defendant the expenses later incurred in making service and the reasonable expenses, including attorney’s fees, of any motion required to collect those service expenses.

Case schedule.  No later than 5 business days before the initial CMC, the parties are to file a case plan pursuant to the Ohio R. Civ. Proc. 26(f).  A Rule 26(f) plan template in Word or in a fillable PDF are available on the Court’s website.  A courtesy copy of the report shall be emailed to the Court’s Law Clerk.  If the attorneys cannot agree to the case plan, the Court will consider the parties’ positions and impose a schedule sua sponte.  The Court expects all non-complex civil cases to be ready to be tried within 20 months of filing.  The Court expects attorneys to file their Rule 26(f) reports on time without the Court having to order parties to do so or having to reschedule the CMC because the Rule 26(f) report was not filed on time.

No delay in scheduling the CMC should delay the start of discovery.  The parties are expected to exchange initial disclosures prior to the CMC when possible.

Extension of the Case Management Schedule. Once set, the dispositive motion briefing dates, pretrial conference, and trial dates will MAY NOT BE EXTENDED absent a showing of diligent efforts to prepare the case, the occurrence of unexpected and unavoidable circumstances requiring the change, and proof of the moving party’s consent.

Unopposed motions for extensions of time seeking an extension that will not impact the motion deadlines, pretrial conference, or the trial date will routinely be granted. A motion for a routine extension shall state in the caption that the motion is unopposed.  If the motion is opposed, state in the body of the motion which party opposes the motion.

Counsel may email the Law Clerk (and copy all counsel) to schedule a conference with the Court regarding a motion for extension of time, to inquire on the status of granting such a motion, or to alert the Court the motion is pending and needs a prompt ruling.

Final Pretrial Conference.  The final pretrial conference is typically set two weeks before trial in standard cases and four weeks before trial in complex cases.  The Court’s Case Scheduling Order explains the deadlines for pretrial submissions.  Unless otherwise ordered, Case Scheduling Order states the following:

Counsel and all parties must be present at the pretrial conference.  Counsel shall be prepared to discuss proposed jury instructions, stipulations, motions in limine, deposition testimony, expert witnesses, exhibits, logistics, and settlement prospects.  Failure to comply with pretrial requirements may result in sanctions, dismissal of action, or default judgment.

Two weeks prior to Pretrial:   

  • Motions in limine shall be filed and emailed to the Court’s Law Clerk two weeks prior to the pretrial conference.  Responses to motions in limine are due seven (7) days later.
  • Jointly proposed Jury Instructions, or trial briefs for bench trials, shall be emailed to the Court’s Law Clerk in Word format two weeks prior to the pretrial conference.  Jury Instructions shall include verdict forms and any requested interrogatories.
  • Trial exhibits lists shall have been exchanged among the parties two weeks prior to the pretrial conference, and those lists shall be included in the pretrial statement. Any exhibits that are agreed to be joint exhibits shall be identified as such in the pretrial statement.

One week prior to Pretrial: 

  • Each party must file their Pretrial Statements and stipulations one week prior to the pretrial conference.  See Local Rule 15(B)(2) for a list of the required contents of the pretrial statement.

Three days prior to Trial:    

  • Three business days prior to the trial, each party shall provide the court with 3 copies of its exhibits (in binders, pre-marked, each exhibit individually paginated, and tabbed). Plaintiff is responsible for providing the court with 3 copies of the joint exhibits. If the trial is virtual, also email the Court’s Law Clerk an electronic version of the exhibits that are OCR’d and easily identified in separate files or if in one file, by bookmarks.

Jury Trials. Due to the over 600 cases the Court started its term with, the Court sets multiple jury trials for the same day.  Most criminal jury trials will take precedence over civil jury trials.  Please email the Court’s Law Clerk (and copy all counsel) one week prior to the jury trial date to determine the status of your case taking priority over other cases scheduled for the same date.

Criminal Docket

Case Schedule.  Disposition Scheduling Conferences (DSC) will be held on Fridays in most cases.  The parties are encouraged to set the first Plea or Trial Setting (PTS) after the exchange of discovery is completed, but no later than 60 days after the DSC.  When practical, within 120 days of the DSC, the parties should select a future trial date.  The Court’s calendar is crowded, so the earlier the parties select the trial date, the sooner the case will be tried.

Bond.  Motions to reduce bond shall be in writing and filed and served on the State far enough in advance of the next scheduled court date for the victim(s), if any, to be notified of the motion.  When bond modifications are opposed, the State is encouraged to file a responsive memorandum at least three business days before the hearing.  All factors addressing the change of bond shall be explained in the motion and the response.

Sentencing.  Special Felony, Felony 1, and Felony 2 cases where the parties do not recommend an agreed sentence, counsel for the State and the Defendant must file sentencing a memoranda five business days before sentencing. The memorandum should explain all relevant factors the Court should consider when sentencing the Defendant.  Sentencing memorandums are appreciated in all other cases.

Final Pretrial Conference.  Final pretrial conferences are held in all cases at least two weeks before the trial date.  Pretrial statements are encouraged to help the Court plan for the trial and to minimize the need for a continuance, due to unforeseen issues.  The purpose of the final pretrial conference is to ensure the parties are ready for trial, resolve any pretrial issues, set a hearing on pretrial motions, identify any significant legal issues, and determine if the case can be resolved before trial.  Defendants are required to attend the final pretrial conference.  Motions in limine are required to be filed two weeks before trial, and memorandum in opposition are due one week before trial, unless otherwise ordered by the Court.

Jury Instructions.  Proposed Jury Instructions are due one week before trial unless otherwise ordered by the Court. Parties are to work together to submit joint jury instructions when possible. Proposed instructions may take the form of a Word document, a list of citations to Ohio Jury Instructions (“OJI”), a copy of instructions used in another case, or citations to case law.

Jury Trials.  Due to the backlog of cases, the Court sets multiple jury trials for the same day.  Most criminal jury trials will take precedence over civil jury trials.  Defendants who are not detained before trial will take priority over defendants who are not detained before trial.  Please email the Court’s Bailiff (and copy all counsel) one week prior to the jury trial date to determine the status of your case taking priority over other cases scheduled for the same date.

Miscellaneous Issues

COVID-19.  Masks are required inside Courtroom 320 unless otherwise posted. Witness may remove their masks when testifying.  Please ask your clients, family, and witnesses to wait in the hallway until the case is called.  The number of people in the courtroom at one time is kept to a minimum.  These rules are for your protection and the protection of others.  The Court prefers to conduct civil matters via video-conferencing.  The Court will conduct criminal matters via video-conferencing when required by quarantine or increased risk of exposure.

Civility.  Please remain civil and professional at all times.  The Court expects all litigants and participants to respect courtroom staff, all counsel, and all participants at all times.  The Court notices that counsel who are prepared, professional, and ethical make the best advocates.

About Judge Jennifer L. Branch

Judge Branch graduated from New York University with honors in 1984 and from Case Western Reserve University School of Law cum laude in 1987.  She began her legal career at the Legal Aid Society of Cincinnati.  In 1997, she became an associate in a civil rights litigation practice with Al Gerhardstein and Bob Laufman, and later became a partner at Gerhardstein & Branch in 2005.  Judge Branch’s civil rights practice included representing plaintiffs in discrimination cases, police misconduct cases, and LGBT issues.  She represented the plaintiffs in Ohio’s marriage equality cases, including Obergefell v. Hodges.  Judge Branch was elected to the Court in November 2020 and began her six-year term on February 9, 2021.