Appellate Advocacy Blog

Editor: David R. Cleveland
Valparaiso University Law School

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Advice on Writing Briefs from Judges Kozinski and Kopf


In a recent episode of the Legal Talk Network podcast Lawyer 2 Lawyer, hosts J. Craig Williams and Bob Ambrogi interviewed Judge Alex Kozinski from the United States Court of Appeals for The Ninth Circuit and Judge Richard Kopf from the U.S. District Court, District of Nebraska, to get the judges’ thoughts on the essential elements that go into persuasive legal writing.


If you have about half an hour, you should listen to the whole interview, available HERE via Soundcloud.  If you don’t have time to listen to the whole interview, or in the meantime, here are a few of the highlights:


One interesting perspective about the quality of brief-writing that the court comes from Judge Kozinski’s recognition at roughly the 6:30 mark of the interview, where he noted that the court realizes that lawyers are busy. Judge Kozinski noted that the court recognizes that staffing and economic factors certainly play a role in the quality of the briefs submitted by attorneys, and that quality is not solely a function of the lawyers’ abilities. He noted, for example, that staffing plays a role; larger firms with larger clients with larger budgets can devote more resources, including reviewers and editors, to fine tuning and polishing briefs than a solo practitioner representing an individual without deep pockets. He noted that sometimes the quality of briefs submitted to the court are not necessarily representative of failings of the individual lawyers, but are a matter of economic feasibility. Courts recognize that, and courts have their own staff to work on the case and provide additional assistance to the court in reaching the correct result.


At roughly 5:30 into the interview, Judge Kopf advises that attorneys writing briefs try to emulate what one might read in a “really well-written newspaper.” He identifies the three key attributes of effective brief-writing as that it be simple, precise, and readable.   


Simplicity is really important to Judge Kopf and, in my experience, most judges.  They are busy and are always trying to focus in on the essential aspects of the case to reach a timely and accurate resolution, usually in the most direct way possible. Judge Kopf explains starting at roughly the 11:00 mark of the interview that a litigant who spends a little time narrowing in and simplifying the issue right at the outset of a brief does the court a significant favor. He compares an example wherein a litigant starts a brief by noting that it is in support of “a motion for summary judgment” with one noting that it is in support of “a motion for summary judgment, limited to the issue of qualified immunity.” Simplifying and narrowing the focus at the outset helps the court to understand immediately where the rest of the discussion is going to go.


In cases involving complex technical issues or areas of the law, simplicity obviously becomes all the more important.  In class, I always stress to my students the importance of explaining the issues, the law, and the facts in the simplest and most straightforward way possible. I always tell my students that there is little risk of offending any judge by making something seem “too simple,” but there is great risk of a judge not fully understanding technical issues that are not simplified and explained. Judge Kopf echoes this thought at roughly the 30:15 mark of the interview by noting that a litigant writing a brief should “not assume [the judge is] smart.” Judge Kopf advises at roughly the 29:25 mark of the interview that a litigant writing a brief addressing a technical issue have “a real human being” read the brief before it is submitted – someone with no background in that technical area. If that person cannot understand it, the writer needs to reevaluate. 


The advice of seeking review by a reader who is not technically trained in the particular subject matter of the brief was also echoed by Judge Kozinski in his final thoughts, at roughly the 31:20 mark of the interview.  Judge Kozinski urged writers to ask themselves if they could explain the arguments presented in their briefs to an educated, smart person who is not an expert, in plain language. If not, the writer needs to go back and rethink the argument and rethink how to present it. As Judge Kozinski put it, “writing is thinking.”



November 10, 2015 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Legal Profession, Legal Writing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, October 31, 2015

The Importance of Following the Rules

I am constantly stressing to my appellate advocacy students the importance of not just excellent substance in their briefs, but also the importance of complying with the court’s technical rules.  There is nothing more frustrating as a legal writing professor than reading a brief that makes great legal arguments, but is so poorly formatted that the substance is lost in the technical errors. 

A few days ago one of my students sent me a post by Casey C. Sullivan on FindLaw’s Strategist Blog about an attorney in Indiana who requested permission to file a corrected Table of Contents and Table of Authorities in a case before the Court of Appeals of Indiana.  The court granted the request, but directed that “[n]o substantive changes . . . be made to the Amended Appellant’s Brief.”

According to the court’s opinion the new Table of Contents represented “at best, an abject failure to understand the most basic requirements of appellate briefing.”  The attorney expanded the one-page Table of Contents in her first brief to a whopping thirty-seven pages in the amended brief.  The Table of Authorities was expanded from four to eleven pages.  The court’s opinion contains a few snippets from both tables including this gem from the Table of Authorities:

Hirsch v. Merchants Nat’l Bank & Trust Co. of Indiana, 336 N.E.2d 833 (Ind. Ct. App. 1975) (providing eight percent interest in action for breach of lease).  When the parties’ contract does not provide an interest rate; therefore, the statutory interest rate of eight percent is applicable.  (cited in App. 75-76) [appearing on page] 12

Unfortunately for the attorney, not even the page number in this entry was correct, as page 12 of the brief contained no case citations at all and was actually part of the Statement of Facts.  According to the court, “the Table of Authorities fail[ed] at its basic and only purpose of informing us of the cases cited in the brief and directing us to where in the brief a particular case is discussed.”

The attorney’s failure to follow the rules came at a steep price—the court disregarded the entirety of both Tables—proving once again that formatting matters!


October 31, 2015 in Appellate Advocacy, Legal Writing, State Appeals Courts | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, October 15, 2015

A Handful of Links to Tips and Thoughts on Appellate Brief Writing

With the Supreme Court’s new term now underway, there is likely to soon be much to discuss in the world of appellate advocacy and developments from cases heard by the Court.  In the interim, I thought I’d share a handful of links for those who are in practice or in law school settings, working on drafting an appellate brief, and looking for some little tidbits concerning ways to maximize effectiveness.  The following links cover a wide range of brief-writing topics and perusing them might offer some new thoughts or perspectives to increase your overall impact.

 Overview of Each Section:

The Duke Law School has a helpful guide to appellate advocacy on its website that includes a table of contents and then individual sections addressing various parts of an appellate brief, including the Question Presented, the Tables, the Statement of the Case, the Argument, and the Conclusion: 

Duke Law School Guide

 Finding Your Appellate Voice:

Noted appellate advocacy blogger Howard Bashman of How Appealing presented “Finding the Appellate Style and Voice That Works Best for You” back in September at The Legal Intelligencer: 

Bashman on Style and Voice

 Some Tips Regarding Your Statement of the Case / Fact Section:

Stephen V. Armstrong (Director of career Development at Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering, an international firm based in Washington, D.C. and former Director of Professional Development and Training at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, a law firm based in New York City)  and Timothy P. Terrell (Professor of Law at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, and former Director of Professional Development a the law firm of King & Spaulding in Atlanta) present tips on “Organizing Facts to Tell Stories” in the  Winter 2001 edition of Perspectives

Armstrong & Terrell on Organizing Facts

Palmer Gene Vance II and Madonna E. Schueler (both of the firm of Stoll Keenon Ogden PLLC in Lexington, Kentucky) present “Ten Tips for Developing Your Case Theme” in the September/October edition of GPSolo, a publication of the American Bar Association: 

Vance II and Schueler on Case Theme

 Standard of Review:

Mike Skotnicki, an appellate attorney in Alabama, presented “The Standard of Review is the Lens Through Which You View Your Facts and Issues” on his appellate practice blog, Briefly Writing, back in January 2012: 

Briefly Writing: Standard of Review

 Point Headings:

Bryan Garner discussed the value of effective point headings in the September edition of Bryan Garner on Words at the ABA Journal: 

Garner on Point Headings

 Paragraph and Sentence Structure:

Mike Skotnicki presented “Borrowing a Fiction Writing Technique: Using Pacing by Paragraph and Sentence Length to Build to a Conclusion” on his appellate practice blog, Briefly Writing, back in March 2012: 

Briefly Writing: Pacing by Paragraph and Sentence

 Raymond Ward, an appellate lawyer in New Orleans,  linked to articles by Stephen V. Armstrong and Timothy P. Terrell from recent issues of Perspectives, concerning “Lessons in Paragraph Building” on his blog, the (new) legal writer

Ward: Armstrong and Terrell on Paragraph Building

 Editing to Meet Page Limits:

Lady (Legal) Writer presented a blog entry in September about “Editing to Meet Page Limits”: 

Lady (Legal) Writer on Editing to Meet Page Limits


If you have links to articles, blog posts, or other resources that you’ve found to be useful with tips and thoughts on ways to improve appellate brief writing, share them in the comments!

October 15, 2015 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Legal Writing | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Fifth Circuit Appellate Advocacy Seminar

Readers may find this of interest:

On October 5 and 6, 2015, the Bar Association of the Fifth Federal Circuit will host our Annual Appellate Advocacy Seminar in New Orleans. The cost is $100 for 9.75 hours of Continuing Legal Education, including both an hour of Professionalism and an hour of Ethics. Attend a two-hour writing workshop to hone your brief-writing skills, observe oral arguments and get practice tips from seasoned attorneys and sitting judges. This seminar is an ideal introduction to federal appellate practice, with specifics about Fifth Circuit procedures.

September 15, 2015 in Appellate Advocacy, Federal Appeals Courts, Legal Ethics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 22, 2015

Speaking With Some Authority

A reader kindly passed along this interesting link: The Art of Appellate Advocacy: A Conversation With the Supreme Court of Virginia.

The two-hour video, organized by Jeffrey A. Breit, adjunct professor at William & Mary Law School, offers members of the Virginia Supreme Court discussing brief writing, oral advocacy, structuring arguments, and the role of appellate courts. Inspired by the Bryan Garner series, interviewing U.S. Supreme Court Justices, this video may be similarly useful in legal writing and appellate advocacy classrooms. The video can be viewed in its entirety or in shorter, topic-specific segments.


June 22, 2015 in Appellate Advocacy, State Appeals Courts | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Bits and Pieces on Writing

Of interest on the topic of writing...

First, Bryan Garner has a column on the ABA Online, "First impressions endure, even in brief writing." In it, Garner makes use of social science research and the work of Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman to support three basic principles regarding good (legal) writing: "(1) little errors in a brief betoken bigger mistakes, (2) less is more, and (3) good briefs demand little physical or mental effort from the reader." While the advice isn't novel, the use of psychology and economic principles to support these ideas may be compelling to some readers.

Second, in a similar vein, "10 top writing tips and the psychology behind them," offers ten discrete pieces of writing advice and discusses why it matters, why we often fail to heed the advice, and how to fix our processes to follow that advice more consistency. The advice is mostly applicable to legal writing and the format, which tries to pull back the curtain on why we make the errors we do, is especially helpful.

Third, some amazing filings: dismissal of a complaint filed in D. Nebraska against "Homosexuals" and a filed in N.D. Georgia, a "Notice to F*ck this Court and Everything It Stands For."


May 7, 2015 in Appellate Advocacy, Legal Writing, Moot Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, March 20, 2015

Savannah Law School Professor Cited by SCOTUS

Congratulations to Savannah Law School Professor Caprice Roberts who was recently cited by Justice Thomas in his dissent in Kansas v. Nebraska, 135 S. Ct. 1042 (2015).  The case involved a dispute between the states of Nebraska and Kansas over the apportionment of river water.  In his dissent, Justice Thomas disagrees with the majority’s reliance on Restatement (Third) of Restitution §39 (2010).  This section “proposes awarding disgorgement when a party’s profits from its breach are greater than the loss to the other party.”  Kansas, 135 S. Ct. at 1068 (J. Thomas, dissenting).  Thomas asserts that the Court has never relied on Section 39 because the theory of disgorgement is not supported in law. His analysis relies on Professor Roberts’s description of Section 39 as a “’novel extension’ of restitution principles that ‘will alter the doctrinal landscape of contract law.’”  Id. at 1068-69(quoting Roberts, Restitutionary Disgorgement for Opportunistic Breach of Contract and Mitigation of Damages, 42 Loyola (LA) L. Rev. 131, 134 (2008)).  According to Justice Thomas, the majority’s decision has in fact altered the doctrinal landscape of contract law.

March 20, 2015 in Appellate Advocacy, Legal Profession, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

NY Times on Unpublished Federal Court Decisions

Just a real quick tip that in yesterday's NY Times online, Adam Liptak penned a piece about the practice of the federal courts issuing unpublished decisions and what their effect is. In the piece, Liptak quotes the Appellate Advocacy Blog's own David Cleveland on the subject, a subject David has written extensively about. The piece touches on the recent Supreme Court opinion that David wrote about last week.

The link for Liptak's article:

February 3, 2015 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Court Reform, Appellate Practice, Appellate Procedure, Current Affairs, Federal Appeals Courts | Permalink | Comments (0)

Nebraska Supreme Court Procedural Ruling on Pipeline Case

    The Nebraska Supreme Court recently issued an opinion concerning the Keystone XL oil pipeline proposed in 2008 by TransCanada Keystone Pipeline, L.P., to carry crude oil products from Canada to the Texas coastline. The opinion is not interesting because of any actual resolution of the highly charged political questions surrounding the pipeline. Rather, the opinion, found at, is interesting because of the highly unusual interplay between jurisdictional standing requirements and constitutional limitations on the authority of the Court to declare legislative action unconstitutional.

 Background of the Lawsuit:

    TransCanada's original proposal called for the pipeline to pass through Nebraska's Sandhills, which raised concerns about potential environmental damage.  At least partly in response to those concerns, Nebraska's Governor in 2011 called a special session of the Nebraska Legislature to discuss enacting siting legislation to specify standards to govern eminent domain power for oil pipelines. The Nebraska Legislature responded in the special session by enacting legislative bills that amended existing Nebraska law regarding approval of proposed pipeline routes crossing Nebraska.

    Without detailing all of the legislative procedural history, it suffices to note that the Nebraska Legislature eventually passed a legislative bill that allowed a pipeline carrier to seek approval of a proposed pipeline route from the Governor or to comply with other legislative provisions requiring approval through the Nebraska Public Service Commission.  The legislation also included provisions appropriating funds from the state's general fund to the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality to carry out various duties related to the approval process.

    TransCanada eventually submitted for approval a proposed route for the pipeline that would have avoided the Nebraska Sandhills. TransCanada submitted its request through the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality and sought approval from the Nebraska Governor, rather than through the Nebraska Public Service Commission. In January 2013, the Nebraska Governor approved the proposed route.

    In March 2013, a group of Nebraska landowners filed an operative complaint seeking a declaratory judgment that the legislative bill allowing the Governor, rather than the Nebraska Public Service Commission, to approve a proposed pipeline route  was unconstitutional. The taxpayers alleged that the bill violated equal protection, due process, and separation of powers provisions of the Nebraska Constitution; unlawfully delegated to the Nebraska Governor powers exclusively belonging to the Nebraska Public Service Commission and/or to the Nebraska Legislature; and unlawfully allocated taxpayer money to implement unconstitutional laws.  In response, the State alleged in part that the taxpayers lacked standing to bring the action.

    The trial court concluded that the taxpayers bringing the action had failed to demonstrate that their property was located in the path of the proposed pipeline and that, accordingly, they had failed to establish traditional standing to bring the lawsuit. The court concluded, however, that they had established taxpayer standing  and that the challenged legislation was unconstitutional. The State appealed the ruling to the Nebraska Supreme Court.

Nebraska Supreme Court's Decision:

            The Nebraska Supreme Court's decision in this case did not ultimately resolve the question of whether the underlying legislative bill was constitutional. Rather, the Supreme Court's decision ended up turning on the result of an unusual interplay between state law requirements concerning the Supreme Court's ability to rule legislative action unconstitutional and determinations of standing. In essence, the Court was split on the matter of whether the taxpayers had standing to challenge the legislative bill's constitutionality and, although a majority of the court ruled that there was standing, the majority was not sufficient in number to rule on the constitutionality of the legislation. As a result, because a minority of the Court concluded that there was a lack of standing and refused to consider the constitutionality of the legislation, the Court was unable to issue a ruling one way or the other on the matter.

            The first issue that the Nebraska Supreme Court had to resolve was the specific challenge to the taxpayers' standing to bring the suit in the first place. On that issue, a majority of the court concluded that the taxpayers had standing; a minority of three justices disagreed.

            The second issue, then, to be addressed was the challenge to the constitutionality of the legislation. It is at that point that the Nebraska Supreme Court's opinion takes some unusual and interesting twists and turns.

            Nebraska Constitution article V, section 2, provides in relevant part that "[a] majority of the members [of the Nebraska Supreme Court] sitting shall have authority to pronounce a decision except in cases involving the constitutionality of an act of the Legislature" and that "[n]o legislative act shall be held unconstitutional except by the concurrence of five judges."

            The three justices who concluded that the taxpayers lacked standing concluded that their decision with respect to the standing issue prevented them from expressing an opinion, one way or the other, on the constitutionality claim.  Their reading of the Nebraska Constitutional provision noted above was that it required at least five members of the Court to (1) conclude that the Court had jurisdiction to hear the case (including that the parties had standing to bring the case) and (2) determine on the merits that the legislative action is unconstitutional.

            The four judges and justices who concluded that the taxpayers had standing concluded that the justices who disagreed were "out-voted" on the jurisdictional question of standing and could, as a result, express an opinion on the underlying substantive issue of the constitutionality of the legislation. The majority's reading of the Nebraska Constitutional provision noted above was that it required a supermajority only on the actual issue of constitutionality, not on the preceding issue of jurisdiction.


            The unusual result is that, in this case, four members of the Court believed that the Court had jurisdiction to act and expressed an opinion that the underlying legislation was unconstitutional. The remaining three members did not suggest that the legislation was constitutional, but, rather, refused to express an opinion at all, believing that a supermajority was required to even have jurisdiction to consider the merits of the constitutional challenge. So, at the end of the day, three members of the Court concluding that there was a want of jurisdiction were able to preclude any substantive ruling on the merits of the action.



February 3, 2015 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Current Affairs, State Appeals Courts | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, November 24, 2014

A Strategy to Withholding Dissent?

Check out this post on Strategically Withholding Dissent which examines Justice Sotomayor’s decision to forcefully dissent in Fisher v. Texas. Some say timing is everything, and in the law that statement is more often true than not. Historically, we can see how attorneys have strategically filed appeals throughout history, particularly in the context of the civil rights movement. Consider, for example, Plessy v. Ferguson, Brown v. Board, Gideon v. Wainwright, and Loving v. Virginia, to name just a few. We can also see how the justices use the dissent and concurring opinions strategically to advance certain agendas, sway votes, or undermine the legal arguments of the majority. But the notion of strategically withholding dissent entirely is a curious one that requires analysis of the real impact of a dissent. In this blog post, the author concludes that Sotomayor’s dissent influenced the Court in such a way that it necessarily avoided ruling on the merits of Fisher back in 2013. The question now becomes what difference, if any, does a couple of years make? Maybe the Court will rule in exactly the same way it would have back in 2013 had it not been for Sotomayor’s dissent. Perhaps Sotomayor just bought some time since, without her dissent, the Court would likely have rendered a merits decision back in 2013. In which case, it may be that Justice Sotomayor accomplished the very purpose intended, and the only purpose that could have been—to delay an inevitable merits decision in Fisher. I guess only time will tell…

November 24, 2014 in Appellate Advocacy, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, November 6, 2014

The Sixth Circuit Throws a Split on Same-Sex Marriage

Today the Sixth Circuit issued its decision in DeBoer v. Snyder and created the circuit split that the Supreme Court has presumably been waiting for.  In a carefully reasoned opinion, the Sixth Circuit narrowly interpreted precedent and the most recent line of Supreme Court decisions on marriage and sexual relations.  Early in its opinion the Court stated, “What we have authority to decide . . . is a legal question: Does the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibit a State from defining marriage as a relationship between one man and one woman?”  On this question, the Court ruled in favor of the State.

In the opinion, the Sixth Circuit walks through the role of the intermediate appellate courts and the requirement to defer to U.S. Supreme Court precedent.  Looking to Baker v. Nelson, 409 U.S. 810 (1972), the court reasoned that it had not been overruled either explicitly or implicitly by United States v. Windsor, 133 S. Ct. 2675 (2013).  In fact, it determined that Windsor was not a case about the right to marry, but rather a case about the right to enjoy a privilege granted by a state.  The court went as far as to reconcile the two cases stating that “Windsor invalidated a federal law that refused to respect state laws permitting gay marriage, while Baker upheld the right of the people of a State to define marriage as they see it.”  In support of its decision, the Court also relied on originalism and rational basis review. 

Boiled down, the Sixth Circuit basically views the question as one that ought to be decided through the state democratic processes rather than through the courts.  These three lines sum it up best: “History is replete with examples of love, sex, and marriage tainted by hypocrisy. Without it, half of the world’s literature, and three-quarters of its woe, would disappear. Throughout, we have never leveraged these inconsistencies about deeply personal, sometimes existential, views of marriage into a ground for constitutionalizing the field. Instead, we have allowed state democratic forces to fix the problems as they emerge and as evolving community mores show they should be fixed.”

November 6, 2014 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Justice, Current Affairs, Federal Appeals Courts | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, October 20, 2014

Inspiration for Creating an Appellate Brief Problem

For those of you working on developing an appellate brief problem for this academic year, take a look at City of Los Angeles v. Patel.  The U.S. Supreme Court just granted the petition for writ of certiorari today, and it has the trappings of a good problem for two reasons.  First, the two issues, one jurisdictional and the other substantive, are well-separated.  Second, it involves an intriguing question about Fourth Amendment protection of hotel guest registries.  I could see a fun and interesting pop-culture problem developing out of these issues.  

When creating good appellate brief problems, it can sometimes be difficult to manage the ripeness factor.  You want to choose a current issue, but not one that will necessarily be resolved before your students complete the assignment.  You also want to be careful about creating a problem where your students will have easy access to professionally-written briefs. These potential pitfalls can easily be avoided, though, by creative fact development.

When creating a problem from a recent cert. grant, the first step is to outline the issue(s) you want to use.  Next, you should identify how the split(s) have come down.  Once you have broken apart the pending case, you have a good framework for rebuilding a problem that has sufficient legal similarities without too much factual similarity.  The students can then find many relevant legal sources for solving the problem, but they won't be able to just pull legal arguments out of professionally-written briefs because the facts will be too nuanced for the legal analysis to hold up verbatim in the simulated setting.  Additionally, when the facts are sufficiently distinct from the original problem, the issue you have created may still be ripe or resolvable even if the Supreme Court rules on the actual case before the end of the semester.  

Though problem-creation can seem like an intimidating challenge, it is a highly rewarding aspect of our work as law professors.  Have fun as you create a packet that will be enjoyable and interesting for both you and the students.  Be inspired.

October 20, 2014 in Appellate Advocacy, Law School, Legal Writing, Moot Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

U.S. Supreme Court Grants Stay on Early Voting Issue in Ohio

The Washington Post has reported that yesterday five of the U.S. Supreme Court Justices agreed to enter an Order granting the State of Ohio’s Application for Stay and Request for Preliminary Injunction to stop enforcement of a court order preventing implementation of Ohio’s plan to reduce early voting.  Earlier this year, the State of Ohio’s legislature enacted a plan to reduce the number of early voting days from 35 to 28.  Opponents of the law argue that the reduced number of early voting days will discourage voter turn-out.  This matter came before U.S. District Court Judge Peter C. Economous earlier this month.  He ruled against the State reasoning that the poor and persons of color are disproportionately negatively impacted by the reduction in early voting days because these populations tend to vote early and in-person more often than white voters.  Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan would have denied the application for stay.  

September 30, 2014 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Justice, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Brown Bettman on Ohio v. Quarterman on Failure to Preserve Constitutional Issues for Appellate Review

The Ohio Supreme Court issued an opinion last week in State v. Quarterman regarding the failure to preserve constitutional issued for appellate review. Marianna Brown Bettman (University of Cinncinnati) has this post detailing the decision on Legally Speaking Ohio. She does an excellent explication of the case: describing the details of the case, the arguments at both levels of appellate review, and the Ohio Supreme Court's decision.

The case involved serious issues regarding Ohio's mandatory bind-over statutes for juveniles - statutes that allegedly conflict with growing state and U.S. practice regarding the treatment of juveniles. That the Ohio Supreme Court rejected the appeal on procedural grounds should warn trial and appellate advocates about the importance of preserving issues on appeal and raising issues (such as alleging plain error) early and clearly.

Brown Bettman's post provides a valuable and detailed discussion of the case with several useful citations and links. It's worth a read by appellate advocates.

/hat tip Professor Jeremy Telman @ Contracts Prof Blog

September 28, 2014 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Appellate Procedure, State Appeals Courts | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 19, 2014

Cool Tool for Legal Research - and it's FREE!

This week my first year students are learning the basics of legal research, and I asked our librarians to present a session on free/economical electronic legal research tools as part of the training.  I always love hearing from the librarians because they are familiar with the latest and greatest, and I always learn something new.  This year was no different, I am happy to report. The librarians introduced us to Ravel,  an online search engine that provides graphical histories of cases. 

For appellate attorneys, this resource is particularly helpful in quickly identifying the key cases related to a given legal question.  The graphical interface is much more user-friendly as compared to the linear lists provided through most other commercial database providers.  Ravel also includes at least four filters so that practitioners can sort information in a way that is most pertinent and useful to a particular project.

Here are some of the pros:

  • Demonstrates a case’s historical relevance at a glance
  • Free for all federal cases
  • User-friendly interface
  • Hyperlinks to full-text of cases
  • Places footnotes beside the relevant text for easy on-screen reference

This database is a good supplement to other research engines because it saves an attorney significant time when wading through precedent and subsequent history to find the most important cases.  There are other packages of state case materials available for a subscription fee.  As of now, Ravel does not include citators or statutory or secondary sources, so it is not currently comprehensive enough to replace other commercial databases.  They are constantly adding new materials and indexing systems, though, so it is definitely a resource to keep your eye on.

September 19, 2014 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Legal Profession, Legal Writing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

BP Counsel Fiddles With Line Spacing in Federal Filing

This is the kind of basic advocacy blunder that is hard to believe, but it's being reported that BP's counsel fiddled with the formatting to file an over-length brief without permission.While this happened in federal district court, it's a fundamental advocacy issue worth reporting here. In a filing related to the Deepwater Horizon oil rig spill in 2010, BP's counsel tried to slip one past Eastern District of Louisiana Judge Carl Barbier. He was not fooled or amused.

After noting that it had already allowed BP to file a brief ten pages longer than the usual twenty-five-page limit, the Court explained:

"BP’s counsel filed a brief that, at first blush, appeared just within the 35-page limit. A closer study reveals that BP’s counsel abused the page limit by reducing the line spacing to slightly less than double-spaced. As a result, BP exceeded the (already enlarged) page limit by roughly 6 pages. The Court should not have to waste its time policing such simple rules—particularly in a case as massive and complex as this. Counsel are expected to follow the Court’s orders both in letter and in spirit. The Court should not have to resort to imposing character limits, etc., to ensure compliance. Counsel’s tactic would not be appropriate for a college term paper. It certainly is not appropriate here. Any future briefs using similar tactics will be struck."

Judge Barbier was far more generous than I would have been. Still, even without a harsh penalty, this will make good material for my appellate advcocacy class lesson on ethos in a few weeks. For a company that wants to be viewed as one that follows the rules and cares about details, this kind of angle-shooting by its counsel seems counter-productive.

A former clerk for Judge Barbier, Alabama Law Professor Montré Carodine, reads between the lines to suggest: "The subtext seems to be Judge Barbier saying, 'Look, every time I give you an inch you take a mile, and I'm tired of it,'" (as quoted in the NPR piece on the matter). I'm not sure what evidence exists to show repeated offenses, but fiddling with the formatting after being allowed to increase your brief by 40% does seem to be the kind of presumptious greed Carodine's idiom suggests. 

I wonder how often this occurs. Does it slip past judges with any frequency? Is there any creditable explanation for changing the formating? Any one want to defend the practice?


Hat tip to reader Maryanne Heidemann

September 17, 2014 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Appellate Procedure, Federal Appeals Courts, Law School, Legal Ethics, Legal Profession, Legal Writing | Permalink | Comments (5)

Friday, September 12, 2014

Indiana Supreme Court Refuses to Allow Citation of Memorandum Decisions

Professor Joel Schumm noted on The Indiana Law Blog that the Indiana Supreme Court recently rejected a proposal to permit citation of memorandum decisions for as "persuasive precedent." The Indiana high court rejected even this compromise position without a single dissenting vote, making this the official Indiana position for the foreseeable future. 

The proposal, which had the support of three sections of the Indiana Bar, is consistent with the modern trend of allowing citations of all court opinions. For example, Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 32.1 permits citation of all opinions issued after its passage. By rejecting the proposal, the Indiana Supreme Court continues to support "a rule that defies the modern reality of 'memorandum decisions' being easily accessible." I would add that it defies the historical reality: denying precedential value to some of a court's decisions flies in the face of the common law system. It also denies the practical reality that both judges and lawyers recognize the value of all decisions and will find ways to cite them regardless of the written rules. The federal appellate system's experience with a citation bar should be Exhibit A.

Joel Schumm's blog post offers Indiana lawyers some creative ideas for how to deal with the restriction. I find all of them to be fair game, but then, I question whether any U.S. court has the authority to: 1) bar citation of its own opinions or 2) strip a decision of precedential value at the time of its issuance. Such actions seem to run afoul of various constitutional provisions and the fundamental nature of judicial power.

The late Judge Richard S. Arnold predicted that the federal rule against citation was doomed to fail. He recognized, long before others did, that judicial decisions were the very stuff of our system of justice. There is no substitute for them, and they are the kind of information that even a gag rule cannot fully suppress. He was right. In the federal system, unpublished opinions were routinely cited by both advocates and courts, and ultimately, the citation ban was abolished as untenable and undesirable.

One can hope that Indiana's Supreme Court will come to a similar conclusion the next time it confronts the issue. For now, however, Indiana appellate advocates will have to contend with Appellate Rule 65. I predict that Indiana appellate decisions marked "not for publication" will continue to be cited by advocates and judges alike, and the more that courts decide to sanction lawyers for violation of Appellate Rule 65, the louder opposition to the rule will grow.

September 12, 2014 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Court Reform, Appellate Practice, Federal Appeals Courts, State Appeals Courts | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Tenth Circuit orders exhaustion of remedies in Muskogee (Creek) Tribal Court

6274849487_d891da93b3_mAppellate practitioners know the more common exhaustion and abstention doctrines, such as exhaustion of administrative remedies. Few are aware, however, that similar concepts operate between federal and tribal courts and even between state and tribal courts, and that they can arise out of comity, court rule, or other sources, depending on the jurisdiction. Ignorance of those concepts can sometimes lead to inadvertent or even open disregard for tribal judicial systems.

Turtle talk reports this week on a current example from the Tenth Circuit, which deferred to the Muskogee Tribal Court when litigants in an election dispute tried to jump ship to federal court. See the post regarding Thlopthlocco Tribal Town v. Stidham on Turtle Talk.

Image: bradleypjohnson, cc by 2.0 license


September 6, 2014 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Justice, Appellate Practice, Appellate Procedure, Federal Appeals Courts, State Appeals Courts, Tribal Law and Appeals | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 4, 2014

The Opinion Is Out In Baskin v. Bogan

Just nine days after hearing argument, the Seventh Circuit has issued its opinion in Baskin v. Bogan.  Unsurprisingly, the court affirmed the district court judgments “invalidating and enjoining . . . prohibitions of same-sex marriage.”  In the 40-page opinion, Judge Posner took time to address the ineffectiveness of the arguments advanced by the petitioners. He wrote, “the only rationale that the states put forth with any conviction—that same-sex couples and their children don’t need marriage because same-sex couples can’t produce children, intended or unintended—is so full of holes that it cannot be taken seriously.”  (emphasis in original). Even though the states had significant legal precedent on their side, at the time of the oral arguments it did not seem like the Seventh Circuit was likely to be persuaded by any of those arguments.  This opinion is final confirmation.

The opinion is lengthy but well-written and soundly reasoned.  I’d like to highlight just a few characteristics.  First, it is an excellent example of issue-framing to achieve a desired result.  Rather than getting too bogged down in the minutiae of rational basis, Judge Posner effortlessly frames the question in such a way as to mandate a higher level of scrutiny.  Specifically, he reasons that “more than a reasonable basis is required because this is a case in which the challenged discrimination is . . . ‘along suspect lines.’”  Second, Judge Posner ably relies on scientific (non-law) data to support his conclusions.  He even relates that data, through the “kin selection hypothesis” (or “helper in the nest theory”), to evolution by arguing that “[a]lthough it seems paradoxical to suggest that homosexuality could have a genetic origin, given that homosexual sex is non-procreative, homosexuality may, like menopause, by reducing procreation by some members of society free them to provide child-caring assistance to their procreative relatives, thus increasing the survival and hence procreative prospects of these relatives.”   Finally, Judge Posner makes effective use of tabulation to smoothly advance the argument and signpost the logical connections of his reasoning.  It’s a fantastic exemplar of writing that simplifies complex legal arguments in a sophisticated and accessible way.  Definitely a fascinating and worthwhile read.

September 4, 2014 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Justice, Appellate Practice, Federal Appeals Courts, Legal Writing, Rhetoric | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Judges Reading Appellate Materials on Electronic Devices

There is an interesting post today at Legal Research & Writing Pro Blog about how judges read appellate materials in the ever-expanding age of electronic resources. As the post notes, as federal courts and an increasing number of state courts have moved to electronic filing, judges have also moved toward reading materials, including briefs, on electronic devices such as laptops and iPads.

The post notes that changes in how judges are reading briefs -- from paper to electronic -- comes with a potential for real differences in impact.  There are studies suggesting that readers tend to skim electronic materials more than they do paper materials, but also that active engagement with the electronic material can substantially improve comprehension.

As the post suggests, there are also some potential new advantages to the prevalence of electronic resources in appellate practice.  Citations can be hyperlinked to research sources so that judges can quickly and effectively jump right to the authority; similarly, annotations to the appellate record can be hyperlinked to the relevant part of the record in jurisdictions that have invested in the necessary software. An April post on Cite Blog included thoughts about those kinds of hyperlinks.

A couple of years ago I presented at a symposium at Washburn Law School where there was a presentation from an attorney who did a great deal of practice in various federal courts across the country.  He talked about embedding digital information in briefs, including hyperlinks to video excerpts from video depositions, hyperlinks to exhibits, etc., in addition to the more conventional hyperlinks that could appear to authorities.  It certainly seems that the continuing development of digital practice would point to a future with vast opportunity to connect the appellate materials in profound ways.

For some additional thoughts, see a post from back in January over at Volokh Conspiracy, with additional discussion in the comments.

Thoughts?  Is the increased use of digital resources by courts impacting the way you present arguments in your appellate briefs?  Have you seen this as a good development, or one with significant pitfalls?  And is legal education keeping up with these kinds of trends?  Share your thoughts in the comments!

September 3, 2014 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Appellate Procedure, Federal Appeals Courts, Law School, Legal Profession, Legal Writing, State Appeals Courts, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (1)