Wednesday, September 17, 2014
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
Friday, September 12, 2014
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.
Saturday, September 6, 2014
Appellate 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.
Thursday, September 4, 2014
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.
Wednesday, September 3, 2014
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)
Wednesday, August 27, 2014
Yesterday the 7th Circuit heard argument in Baskin v. Bogan, a case involving Indiana’s same-sex marriage ban. These arguments provide some noteworthy lessons in decorum. Appellant’s counsel began his argument by articulating a precise roadmap in simple, comprehensible terms. He was barely able to finish the first sentence of his first point, however, before being interrupted by one of the judges. Certainly interruptions are to be expected during oral arguments. This interruption, however, initiated a parade of horribles so grand that it left appellant looking like a monster. Throughout the argument, appellant’s counsel struggled to finish a single response before getting pounced with additional questions. When he attempted to advance his own argument in response to a question, he was immediately admonished to answer the question. At one point, another judge even explicitly said the court had no intention of allowing him to advance his own argument. Curiously, the court was not interested in the rich logos arguments appellant was attempting to advance. The judges wanted to know about the pathos arguments like the psychological impact on the children of same-sex couples and the various sociological, anthropological, and psychological literature available on the issue.
Appellant’s counsel professionally withstood the barrage of questions, although his frustration at times was evident in his voice. Toward the end of the argument, though, he became much more adamant in his disagreement with the court’s hypotheticals. His frustration showed both in his word choice and tone of voice. By comparison, both attorneys for the appellee came across much more composed. Granted, the court appeared to favor that side, so their argument was more readily received. The moral of the story is that attorneys should be prepared to frame logos arguments in pathos terms when the logical argument leads to a necessary result the court is reluctant to adopt.
Sunday, August 24, 2014
As Mauro pointed out, what makes this particular amicus brief potentially noteworthy is not any particular argument it advances on behalf of either party in the case, nor is it the underlying issues of the case itself. What makes this particular amicus brief potentially noteworthy is that it may be the first amicus brief ever submitted to the Supreme Court by a law firm on behalf of no client and in support of neither side. Instead, Goldstein authored and submitted the brief to test the waters concerning the utility of the bar providing assistance to the Court in unconventional ways, rather than simply as an advocate for a particular party or outcome in the case.
The case, M&G Polymers USA v. Tackett, involves health-care coverage for retirees and whether such coverage continues indefinitely when the underlying collective bargaining agreement governing the benefits is silent on the issue. In his amicus brief, Goldstein sought to provide the Court with data that he believed might not be presented by the parties or more traditional amici, including the results of a survey he conducted of collective bargaining agreements and different provisions reviewed by lower courts in similar cases.
Mauro quoted Goldstein as stating that "he didn't 'attempt to give the court any advice at all. It's just a bunch of data. I don't care who wins this case.'" Goldstein indicated that he felt the data he was providing might not be fully presented by the parties or more traditional amici with an interest in having the Court resolve the case one way or the other, but the data could be very useful to the Court in providing a workable rule.
Amicus Curiae is Latin for "friend of the court." The term has come to reflect briefs filed by a person or group who is not a party to the lawsuit, but has a strong interest in the resolution of the controversy presented by the case. As Goldstein noted in Mauro's article, however, sometimes amici are not truly acting as a friend of the court and, instead, "[t]hey have an ax to grind, a dog in the fight." Goldstein highlighted the uniqueness of his amicus brief in this case in the brief's opening paragraph, where he called it a "rare true 'amicus' brief" that was submitted "with no agenda or desire to direct the outcome of the case."
This caught my eye this weekend as I was preparing to teach a new batch of 2L students about appellate practice and advocacy at Creighton School of Law. In my view, to be a successful appellate advocate it is crucial to always keep in mind that your primary goal is to help the court find a way to rule in favor of your client. That overarching focus underlies the importance of thorough research, of thoughtful organization, of painstaking editing, and, really, all aspects of presenting the appellate brief and argument. If you can present the court with a well-thought "map" of exactly how the court could rule in your favor and explain its reasoning in a subsequent opinion, supported by authority and sound analysis, you are in a far better position than if you are simply urging an outcome that the court might find worthwhile but difficult or impossible to support in an opinion.
Amicus briefs can often serve those same purposes and assist the court. As Goldstein noted, however, most amicus briefs may be submitted as "friends of the court" and provide assistance, but ultimately are assisting the court to rule a particular way. What makes this brief by Goldstein unusual is that it may truly provide meaningful assistance to the Court in a broader sense and without an eye to helping either side succeed.
It will be worth watching to see how the Court treats this kind of brief and, then, watching to see whether anyone else jumps on the bandwagon to author similar briefs in the future. As Mauro's article noted, there may not be a clammoring of already busy attorneys to sit down and author briefs just to help the Court and not to further the interests of an actual client.
Goldstein's Amicus Brief in M&G Polymers USA, LLC v. Tackett. Hat Tip to Howard Bashman at How Appealing who reported the Mauro article last week. Tony Mauro's National Law Journal article, also available via Google News.
August 24, 2014 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Appellate Procedure, Current Affairs, Federal Appeals Courts, Law School, Legal Profession, Legal Writing, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)
Thursday, August 21, 2014
Howard Bashman has a new post on How Appealing examining the new proposal to reduce the word limit for principal briefs in the U.S. Courts of Appeals. The proposal is to reduce the current 14,000 word limit to 12,500. Allegedly, the current 14,000 word limit was based on a misunderstanding about how many words fit on a printed page.
Is this a beneficial reduction that will promote concision and clarity? Or another limitation on the role of advocacy before the courts of appeals?
The preliminary draft of proposed changes and call for comments is available here, and Howard invites comments, pro or con, through his site. This seems to me to be yet another procedural reform that streamlines, and arguably reduces, appellate advocacy and judicial consideration. I welcome your thoughts on the issue as I consider whether to comment.
Friday, August 15, 2014
A trio of cases were posted recently as working papers on SSRN dealing with various issues related to the operation of the U.S Court of Appeals:
The most recent is Andrew Hewitt Smith's The Effect of Ideology and Proportionality of the U.S. Courts of Appeals on the Likelihood of Supreme Court Reversal (August 3, 2014) available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2475631. Abstract:
Although much work has been done on the interaction between the United States Courts of Appeals and the United States Supreme Court, few studies have examined how the ideological compatibility of the lower court and the proportion of cases heard from a federal circuit court affects the likelihood of the Supreme Court reversing that circuit. Using data from the Roberts Court (2005-2011), I examine whether greater levels of ideological disagreement and the proportion of appeals from a circuit that are granted certiorari affect the likelihood of Supreme Court reversal. I conclude that the proportion of cases reviewed by the Court does not significantly increase the likelihood of reversal, but greater ideological distance between the lower court and the Supreme Court significantly increases the likelihood of reversal.
Smith, a PhD candidate at the University of Tennessee, tests the interesting hypothesis of whether ideological distance between the appellate judges and Supreme Court judges affects the rate of reversal. The data-driven analysis turns on existing, and controversial, measures of judicial ideology, and reveals some interesting results. Examining decisions of the Roberts Court (which has seen a shifting membership throughout its six terms) does limit the results somewhat, but the results confirm earlier analyses and suggest further analysis of other panels of the Court may prove useful.
Second, Jeremy D. Horowitz's posted an analysis based on an interesting and under-used source, dissents from denial of rehearings: Split Circuits: Analyzing Polarization on the U.S. Courts of Appeals Using Dissent from Denial of Rehearing En Banc Coalition Data (July 21, 2014) available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2469237. Abstract:
Are the federal courts of appeals polarizing along with the rest of the government and American society more generally? This paper explores that question by exploiting a novel source of data: dissents from denial of rehearing en banc (DDRs). A DDR is a published opinion, often attracting concurrences from other judges, in which a judge criticizes her court for choosing not to rehear a case -- one the initial circuit panel ostensibly decided wrongly. DDRs have no precedential effect but offer a judge the opportunity to publicize her disagreement with the court’s result. As such, they are a pure expression of judicial preference. Using an original dataset of information collected from nearly 1,300 DDRs published between 1943 and 2012, I evaluate the ideological nature of DDR usage focusing specifically on two aspects of DDRs: the colleagues a judge joins with, and the panel authors she mobilizes against. I use these measures to examine the different patterns among the circuits, among different presidential cohorts, and in different decades to show trends in circuit court polarization and to explore the connection between polarization in the judiciary and in the elected branches. The paper finds that although the circuits vary widely in the way they use DDRs, a substantial number of them do so in a polarized fashion. Evaluating judicial cohort behavior over time indicates that the nominating presidents -- more than the increasingly polarized environment in the Senate and the general public’s own tendency toward ideological division -- are the primary force driving judicial polarization.
Another graduate student working paper, this time from University of California at San Diego, the article makes a compelling case for the revelatory power of DDRs. It is limited, as all work in this area, by challenge of establishing judicial political ideology for individual judges. That said, it takes the commonly accepted judicial ideology measurement and applies it sensibly. It builds on Horowitz's earlier work, Not Taking "No" for an Answer, 102 Georgetown Law Journal 59 (2013), which also looks at the utility and meaning of DDRs.
Finally, Mark A. Lemley and Shawn P. Miller have posted If You Can't Beat 'Em, Join 'Em? How Sitting by Designation Affects Judicial Behavior (June 12, 2014) as part of the Stanford Public Law Working Paper series. It's available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2449349 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2449349 . Abstract:
Judges, lawyers, and scholars have long decried the high reversal rate district judges face in patent cases. Many have suggested greater district court specialization as a solution, and Congress in 2011 enacted legislation to promote such specialization. In this paper, we investigate the impact of a novel measure of experience – whether a district court judge has sat by designation on a Federal Circuit panel in a patent claim construction appeal – on the likelihood a district judge’s subsequent claim constructions are reversed. Before sitting by designation, judges who later do so actually have a slightly higher claim construction reversal rate than judges who never do so. After sitting by designation, the reversal rate of district court judges on subsequent claim construction appeals decreases by 50 percent. This decrease is not fully explained by other measures of experience, including the number of prior patent cases or years on the bench. Nor is it fully explained by the timing of the appeal, the particular district court judge or various other characteristics of the patents, the parties and the litigation. Our results suggest a simple way to reduce the reversal rate in patent and perhaps other sorts of cases. However, our evidence suggests this increased agreement is due to increased Federal Circuit trust in the decisions of individual judges who have sat by designation and not increased district judge understanding of claim construction.
This article makes a significant claim that the lower court judge's rate of reversal drops due to greater trust of the appellate panels rather than the lower court judge's better understanding of claim construction. Whether this greater trust is a legitimate or illegitimate reason to affirm a lower court's decision is certainly an interesting question.
Friday, August 1, 2014
Helen A. Anderson at University of Washington Law has a new article on SSRN: Frenemies of the Court: The Many Faces of Amicus Curiae. Given the rise in the number of amicus briefs, the phenomenon seems ripe for closer scrutiny. Anderson does just that by breaking up the singular concept of an amicus curiae brief into types that can be examined separately.
Amicus curiae occupy a unique place in the courts: non-parties who are nevertheless advocates, who are not bound by rules of standing and justiciability, and who can present the court with new information and arguments. Amicus participation has increased dramatically in recent years, and threatens to alter the adversarial process. Yet scholars and courts treat amicus curiae as a single category, not fully recognizing that this friendly term actually covers several very different types, ranging from court appointed advocates of a particular position, to friends of a party (sometimes paid by the party), to persons or groups who just missed qualifying as interveners.
To understand the reality of amicus practice, this article develops a taxonomy of amicus based on the relationship to the court and the parties. The article supports this taxonomy with a look at the history of amicus, and a survey of the rules and judicial attitudes in different jurisdictions. I also explore the persistence of a myth that amicus should be “disinterested,” a myth that has led to confused reasoning about the proper role of amicus.
The modern increase in friend of a party amicus has taken us far from the origins of amicus as one with special expertise or knowledge relevant to the litigation. The article concludes that the Supreme Court’s open-door amicus policy should not be mindlessly copied by our other courts. Friend of a party briefs by ambitious law reform and business advocates may exert great influence, particularly on elected courts. The growth in amicus briefs can lead to distorted views of appellate decision-making, so that a court’s work is seen more like legislation and amicus briefs more like lobbying. To preserve the usefulness of the amicus institution, courts should exercise their gatekeeping authority.
What do you think? Is the increasing amicus briefing giving appellate courts a more legislative, lobbying-susceptible character?
August 1, 2014 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Court Reform, Appellate Justice, Appellate Practice, Appellate Procedure, Federal Appeals Courts, State Appeals Courts, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)
Saturday, July 12, 2014
One of the rookie mistakes every lawyer makes at some point is confusing persuasion for argument. Merriam-Webster says that argument is “a statement or series of statements for or against something; a discussion in which people express different opinions about something; an angry disagreement.” Persuasion is defined as “the act of causing people to do or believe something; the act or activity of persuading people.” The latter implies some knowledge on the part of the persuader about what matters to or motivates the audience, whereas the former implies an aggressive imposition of ideas without regard for the audience. Here are five concrete tips for avoiding mere argument.
- LISTEN. By listening, an advocate learns what matters to its audience. Before an oral argument, the judges often have not yet made up their minds. They are primed to be persuaded, and if the advocate tunes into the questions appropriately, the advocate can learn valuable information about the judges’ concerns. Similarly, when it comes to brief writing, advocates should listen to the arguments of their opponents so that they can adequately address the competing concerns in the case and explain why one side nevertheless prevails.
- ELIMINATE EXAGGERATORS. Words like blatant, clearly, and obviously can be tempting to throw into a brief, but they offer little in the way of substance. Seriously, if a resolution were so clear, would the case have even gotten this far? Focus instead on the substance of the argument. If the issue is in fact so clear, the judges will see it on their own. It is the advocate’s job to make the issue seem clear cut, but slapping the word “clearly” on the argument is not likely to be taken at face value by a learned judge who is investing hours in the resolution of a case. There needs to be meat there to back it up.
- TAME EMOTIONS. It is hard not to get emotional about our cases. First, we get to know the ins and outs of the cases, and we often develop intense relationships with our clients. They are often in desperate situations and the lawyer might be their only hope for resolution of the conflict. Second, when we invest time in developing an argument, writing a brief, and preparing for oral argument, it can feel like wasted time when we lose. Pushing anger, disappointment, frustration, sadness, and other emotions aside can be challenging, but it is essential. An overly emotional response makes an attorney seem inappropriately biased, and the judge is less likely to trust that the attorney has considered all sides of the issues and is advancing a sound and thoroughly researched argument. On a related note, avoid overt appeals to the judges’ emotions. Judges pride themselves on making logical decisions separate from their personal emotions and feelings, so an overt appeal to the judge’s emotions can not only irritate the judge, it is likely to also insult the judge.
- AVOID AD HOMINEM ATTACKS. Incorporating a personal attack against opposing counsel is a sure-fire way to make a judge think that no sound legal theory supports your position. Let the law and facts speak for themselves by telling a compelling story about your client and showing the court how the law supports a resolution in favor of your client.
- DON’T TALK BACK. At all costs, avoid the phrase, “But your Honor!” Also think long and hard before filing a motion for rehearing or a motion for reconsideration. Unless there is a legal basis for filing such a motion (like there is precedent the court did not have before it or new facts have come to light), they are usually a waste of time. Handling these types of motions drains the court’s time and resources, and quite often these motions are unwarranted because there is no legal basis to justify the court changing its mind. There is value in respecting the finality of judgment in a court. If you disagree with the court’s ruling, appeal it to a higher court, but don’t argue about whether the decision was right by filing frivolous motions for rehearing and reconsideration.
Thursday, June 12, 2014
Following the Adam Liptak piece on Professor Richard Lazarus' new study, that I mentioned in my last post, a clever coder has developed a way to monitor, identify, and publicize any changes to U.S. Supreme Cout opinions. David Zvenyach, general counsel to the Council of the District of Columbia, has launched @SCOTUS_servo, to help identify any changes. The Twitter feed reports the result of comparison of the prior verison of court opinions to those now appearing. The code that does this, a crawler, checks every five minutes for a change and makes an automated post to the Twitter account reporting any change that has been made. Zvenyach then makes a manual tweet detailing and highlighting the actual change.
This is a useful service for forcing transparency regardless of how important any individual change might be to the followers of@SCOTUS_servo. More details available at this Gigaom post by Jeff John Roberts.
Tuesday, May 27, 2014
When I first began blogging, I focused on exploring category construction as a tool of appellate advocacy. Today, I want to talk about the second given: categories imply a world that contains them. It basically boils down to container logic—does the object fit within the parameters defining the category? If so, it belongs, and if not, it obviously does not belong.
The way a category is defined necessarily constructs the boundaries surrounding what belongs. Take for instance the category of planets. When I was growing up, I was taught we had nine planets in our solar system: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto. Those nine belonged to the “world” of planets. But in 2006, astronomers declared that Pluto is no longer a planet. This change occurred because the category of planets was redefined. Pluto belonged to the world of planets when the definition did not require a planet to dominate the neighborhood around its orbit. Once the category changed to require a planet dominate its neighborhood, Pluto, whose moon is half its size, got nudged out of this world containing planets.
In terms of appellate advocacy, this principle becomes incredibly important, especially in light of the first principle that categories are made and not found. We see attorneys constantly battling over how to define the legal world applicable to a given case, and in judicial opinions we see judges struggle to define a world clearly encompassing the resolution of the case. Take for example a recent Ninth Circuit opinion, United States v. Ezeta. There the defendant successfully moved to dismiss an indictment by claiming that the defendant did not “obtain” federal financial aid as defined by the statute. The defendant claimed that “obtain” as used in the statute meant to exercise dominion and control over the financial aid, and that since the defendant had assisted other students in completing and submitting forms, he had not exercised dominion and control over the funds in violation of the statute.
On appeal, the Ninth Circuit reasoned that the category of “obtain” as adopted by the district court defined a world that was far too narrow. In a relatively straightforward statutory analysis, the Ninth Circuit defined a world around the meaning of “obtain” to include procurement on behalf of someone else. In so doing, the Court created a world large enough to encompass the acts committed by Mr. Ezeta, and his case has now been remanded for prosecution in District Court.
As advocates, attorneys must constantly assess the boundaries of the world surrounding legal disputes. This principle that categories imply a world that contains them provides appellate attorneys the creative power to identify existing categories and imagine better ones for solving legal disputes.
Friday, May 23, 2014
Almost a month ago, Legal Ethics Forum mentioned an AP story out of Washington about The Center for Public Integrity's conflict check on the federal appellate courts. CPI examined the last three years of financial disclosure reports of federal appellate judges and the federal appellate cases before each judge. The review found twenty-six cases involving sixteen judges where the a judge had a financial interest in one of the parties or in a law firm appearing before court. Such a small number of cases in the large volume of appeals suggests a reasonably functioning screening system, but even this small number of conflicts calls into question the outcomes in those cases and threatens the public perception of the judiciary as unbiased.
CPI notes that all sixteen judges have now informed the litigants in these cases of the conflict. Litigants whose cases are still pending have some chance at relief, recusal and perhaps a substitute judge added to their panel. Litigants whose cases are closed may have a tougher time of things. Those still in the window for en banc review may seek that rare remedy and getting the Supreme Court to review the cases seems even more remote.
Relatedly, our sister blog, the Civil Procedure and Federal Courts Blog, posted yesterday that the National Law Journal has issued a Special Report on Judicial Transparency and made available in digital format the 2012 disclosure statements of 257 federal appellate judges. Having this data publicly available increases the opportunity for the kind of conflict checking done by CPI as well as allowing for a scholarly or journalistic examination of judges' extra-judicial income. Of course, it also allows for the all-too-human poking our noses into other people's business, should anyone be interested in doing that.
Monday, May 12, 2014
Last week I blogged about who should teach appellate advocacy. A commenter on the post led me to think a little more about the topic and, more specifically, how we should be teaching appellate advocacy. The commenter referenced his concern regarding new associates who have no knowledge about syllogistic (deductive) reasoning. While this is certainly, or at least should be, a staple of legal education, should we expect appellate advocacy professors to teach this or should this be left to the first year learning extrapolated from legal writing/process classes? While some modicum can certainly be taught in appellate advocacy, I believe the vast majority of teaching relative to this way of thinking and writing should be left with the legal writing curriculum and not the advanced appellate advocacy courses.
On a related note, since appellate advocacy is not a bar course and relieves the professor of the need to teach with an eye towards a future substantive examination, should appellate advocacy professors be more concerned about teaching appellate advocacy skills for law practice readiness or should the teaching be geared towards moot court readiness? Is there really a difference? I am not sure there is a major difference.
While some might posit that moot court is merely a glorified beauty pageant, students do learn valuable skills. They learn about decorum before the bench, effectively dealing with both hostile and docile judges, professionalism in dealing with opposing counsel, and most importantly they gain additional experience writing a brief and arguing on both sides of the issue - a task that prevents getting tunnel vision and keeping an eye towards seeing both the strengths and weaknesses of both sides of the issue(s). Yes it is a little odd that moot court neatly provides two issues so that two advocates can argue on each side (I have argued many appeals in the real world and I have never been exposed to a tag-team approach to oral advocacy), but beyond that it seems to me that the learning extrapolated and the similarities between moot court and real appellate advocacy outweighs the differences.
I also believe students are better served being taught from the perspective of advocacy before appellate courts rather than the Supreme Court. After all, many practitioners will eventually argue before either a state or federal appellate court, whereas very few get the glory of arguing before the highest court in their state or this country. Lastly, although it is preferable that professors err on the side of focusing their teaching on getting students prepared for the real-world practice of appellate advocacy, students taught more from a 'lets prepare to win at moot court' angle should not be severely disadvantaged.
What do you think?
In response to a commenter, I am posting a link to Judge Kozinski's article. He does not have a favorable opinion of moot court. For your viewing pleasure or horror (video production value is not one of my strengths), I am also posting a video blog (vlog) I did early last year which, in part, takes issue with Judge Kozinski's view.
Wednesday, April 30, 2014
Oral arguments in Riley v. California and United States v. Wurie have revived the discussion about the future of cellphone searches by law enforcement. Amy Howe over at SCOTUSblog has an excellent plain English summary of the arguments.
In a pair of posts last fall (here and here), I discussed examining the issue with my Advanced Appellate Advocacy class. These cases present a question of when law enforcement may search a cellphone seized at the time of arrest without seeking a warrant. I noted then that one way to conceptualize the debate is to attempt to categorize the cellphone as either an "item associated with the arrestee" (which may be freely searched) or merely an "item within the arrestee's control" (which may be searched only with some justification). The government in these cases, particularly Wurie, seemed to employ a bright-line classification argument. That is, the government proposed that a cellphone in the possession of an arrestee should be classified as an "item immediately associated with the arrestee," similar to a wallet or pager, and, therefore, subject to search without limitation. The litigation history at that time suggested the government pushed hard for this classification with very little attention devoted to a fallback or alternative argument. This was in contrast to the defense approach, again, particularaly in Wurie's appellate briefing, of providing alternative arguments for rejecting cellphone searches.
The recap at SCOTUSblog suggests that the Justices did not seem inclined to credit either party's categorical classification argument. Instead, they seemed to be searching for a logical way to draw a line between a permissible and impermissible search. As Howe explains:
Given the lack of support for either bright-line rule, it comes as no surprise that the Justices spent a good chunk of the two hours today mulling over a possible middle ground. But here too there wasn’t much in the way of consensus, as the Court struggled to find a compromise that would genuinely protect privacy.
While the pull of a strict categorical approach is strong, (it was especially strong for my students as new advocates), judges concerned with practical application and balancing the interests often seek out some middle ground. This is even more true in areas of the law concerned with balancing interests, such as the Fourth Amendment's reasonable search arena. Ultimately, the Court in Riley and Wurie will have to find that consensus position, even if it did not find it among the advocates' arguments yesterday.
Photo Credit: Adrian Clark
Tuesday, April 15, 2014
Joan Steinman, Distinguished Professor of Law at Chicago-Kent School of Law, posted a piece on SSRN: The Puzzling Appeal of Summary Judgment Denials: When are Such Denials Reviewable? Steinman is a co-author of the excellent text, Appellate Courts, Structures, Functions, Processes and Personnel (2d ed. & 2009 Supp.). In this article, she examines the fractured state of the law regarding appeals of summary judgment denials, in particular those appeals brought after a trial and final judgment. She identifies both inter-circuit and intra-circuit splits on the appealability of such denials and some confusion over which types of denials are appealable. She notes that the U.S. Supreme Court weighed in on the issue in dicta in Jordan v. Ortiz, 131 S.Ct. 884 (2011), but argues that:
the Court’s approach was off-the-cuff, its thought process superficial and in some respects flatly in error, and its dicta seriously misguided, with the result that the intermediate federal courts of appeals were left in a quandary over whether to follow the dicta. An additional layer of splits among the circuits resulted. Few legal scholars have made a foray into this morass.
Steinman wades into the morass and offers observations, criticism, and a proposed approach to summary judgment appeals. This thoughtful piece is recommended to trial and appellate advocates alike.
Sunday, April 13, 2014
As a follow-up to yesterday's post, another presenter at the Black Lung CLE was Judge William S. Colwell, a lifetime appointed federal Associate Chief Judge with the U.S. Department of Labor. Judge Colwell shared the following advice to advocates:
- Read and "follow" all court orders
- Comply with evidence deadlines and resolve issues with other party
- When submitting a large amount of records, paginate and identify the relevant portions
- Briefs should cite to specific document(s) and page(s)
- Be careful not to focus too much on the law to the detriment of specific fact analysis
- Better briefs identify critical evidence and distinguish contrary evidence
- Deal with unfavorable evidence; this is your chance to shape the case
- Use pinpoint cites
- Don't wait until the last minute to file motions or present surprise issues
- Don't present issues if you lack the evidence to support them
- If it is an elements test, have proof available for "all" elements
- Don't put cases in briefs that have been overruled
- Avoid multiple continuance requests
- Avoid requests for post-hearing submissions if possible, as it shows lack of preparation
- Don't over-paper the case
While I am sure most of you are aware of these tidbits for effective advocacy, a friendly reminder is always helpful!
Saturday, April 12, 2014
Appellate advocates, and attorneys in general, need to be mindful that while it is important to know the jargon and "shop speak" relative to your client's industry, it might not be apropos to utilize this jargon in written and oral advocacy before the court. If jargon must be used, the attorney should define key terms and generally educate the judge about them.
The 7th Circuit Court in Consolidated Coal Co. v. Director, OWCP reminded counsel of this issue in its 2013 decision when it stated "we take this opportunity to remind lawyers that federal judges are generalists who are not necessarily familiar with the industry-specific jargon that lards the briefs in this case (732 F.3d 723). The judge went on to explain that lawyers should not assume they are knowledgeable about every area of law. Using phrases like "working at the tipple", "drove a gob truck", and "on the dragline" only serve to confuse the bench and make the issue(s) convoluted.
How many of you readers know what these terms mean? Unless you work in the coal industry you probably do not. The judge doesn't work in the coal industry either. Remember that you are the expert and you are expected to know the area of law better than the judge. The best advocate is usually the one who not only knows the law and the relevant industry but is also the best at explaining it in such a way that the adjudicator (be it the judge or jury) can understand.
Hat tip to attorney and appellate advocate Ryan Gilligan for sharing this case at a Black Lung CLE presentation today.
Tuesday, April 1, 2014
Last year Roe v. Wade celebrated her 40th Birthday. However, it seems the party is far from over. The big news last year involved Texas state senator and gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis making national news during her 12 hour filibuster of HB2, a Texas law that many feared would limit access to abortions in the state. While her filibuster was ultimately unsuccessful in stopping passage of the bill, their was a brief moment of success when the district court held that parts of the bill were unconstitutional. However, on March 27, 2014, the 5th Circuit in Planned Parenthood et. al. v. Attorney General Abbott reversed and rendered judgment in favor of the State.
The debate is an interesting and important one.
One one side of the debate, the State is arguing that abortion doctors should have admitting privileges to a hospital in order to perform abortions. Their concern seems rooted in the health of the woman to ensure that she receives proper care in the instance where the procedure necessitates emergency medical attention. They argue that simply handing the patient off to the emergency room might lead to misdiagnosis, lack of knowledge on critical specifics about the patient, and the increased risk of problems surfacing.
On the other side of the debate, Planned Parenthood argues that requiring these doctors to have admitting privileges will create an undue burden on a woman's access to an abortion. This requirement essentially puts the fate of abortionists and their patients in the hands of hospitals, which will then have the power to control the industry and shrink it merely by denying admitting privileges to these abortionists. It seems that there might be some merit to the argument due to the fact that over one-third of the abortion clinics in the state have shut down since the implementation of the law.
Is this causing an undue burden?
The court saw this argument as premature, and not ripe for consideration at least until there is additional evidence that more abortionists are being denied admitting privileges, more clinics are closing doors, and as a result there is clear evidence that abortions are not easily attainable by women. Does this truly rise to the level of an unlawful undue burden? Given the split in the circuits that have looked at this issue in the last couple of years, it is likely that the case will be headed to the Supreme Court.