Appellate Advocacy Blog

Editor: Tessa L. Dysart
The University of Arizona
James E. Rogers College of Law

Monday, April 27, 2020

My Final Thoughts on Moot Court in the Age of Coronavirus

Nearly a lifetime ago (ok, it was just a month ago), I posted tips on how to conduct a virtual moot court competition. Since that post we have had some other great posts on remote oral argument and presentation, including these tips from Texas Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman. 

We held the final round of our moot court competition on April 16.  Based on that experience, and a few other things I learned along the way, I thought I would offer my final thoughts and tips on virtual moot court competitions, in case we are all doing this again in the fall.

(1) Stagger start times.  For our competition, we typically had two separate panels of three judges.  Each panel heard two arguments--one starting at 5:30 pm and one starting at 6:30 pm.  In my earlier suggestions, I recommended having separate Zoom links for each argument even if the panel was the same.  That definitely worked well.  But, if I could do it over, I would have had one panel start either 15 minutes earlier or 15 minutes later than the other panel.  Why?  Well, I "zoomed" into the first argument for each panel, just to make sure that the judges were present and that there weren't any questions.  I ended up having one Zoom open on my laptop and one open on my tablet.  This was a lot to manage, especially if there were issues that needed to be resolved.  A 15 minute staggered start time would have alleviated some of my stress.

(2) Have back-ups.  I wish that I had designated a back-up bailiff and judge for each round.  We only had one judge who wasn't able to make it, but we did have bailiff sound/video issues.  I was able to get those issues resolved with minimal delay, but having a designated back-up would have been even easier.

(3) Develop an online scoring survey. We ask our judges to fill out a fairly detailed score sheet.  I take the scores and enter them into a complicated spreadsheet that incorporates the judges' scores and the student's brief score.  When we have an in-person competition, I can look at the score sheets right away and identify anything that isn't filled out correctly.  For an online competition, I had to wait to receive the score sheets. Then, if there were any problems, I had to get in touch with the judges.  This wasn't an issue with the early rounds, but by the eliminate rounds, I needed to notify the students advancing quite promptly.  If we do this again, I will work with our IT department to develop some sort of online tool that the judges fill out instead.  This would hopefully help me get the scores sooner, and also ensure that the score sheets are completely filled out.

In addition to these general points, here are a few points from the final round:

(1) Use and circulate a background.  The version of Zoom on my home laptop allows me to use a background without a green screen.  I wish that I had circulated a background to the students and judges to use to make it a little more uniform.

(2) Figure out an online timer.  I didn't use an online timer. Rather, my plan was to hold up time cards.  I regret that choice.  The time cards didn't show up with the background, so I ended up holding up fingers instead.  I wish that I had tested the time cards to know that they wouldn't work. Then I would have definitely figured out how to put a small clock on the screen.

(3) Expect the unexpected (or be sure to lock your office door).  Our final round started at 5:30 pm on April 16. I had told my spouse in the weeks leading up to the final argument that he would be on toddler duty all night long.  I ordered dinner to be delivered, and reiterated to him right before the round began that I was unavailable. Well, as luck would have it, at about 5:50 pm my very tall, just turned 2 year old discovered how to open doors.  And, as I am sure that you have guessed, the first door that he opened was the one right into my office as the Respondent was arguing. My microphone was muted, and the background kept him mostly hidden, but he was still a bit visible (as was my husband who, with a look of horror on his face, tried to quickly remove him from the scene).  In hindsight, it was pretty humorous.  I wasn't able to keep a poker face on while it happened, which I felt bad about.  Now I know to lock my office door if I don't want to be disturbed.

April 27, 2020 in Appellate Advocacy, Law School, Moot Court, Oral Argument, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, April 26, 2020

The Twenty-First Edition of The Bluebook: Time to Discuss Using Other Citation Manuals Instead

I hope everyone is staying safe as our COVID-19 online work and classes continue.  In case you missed the (unwelcome) news with everything else happening, the publishers of The Bluebook:  A Uniform System of Citation, will release the Twenty-First Edition in May.

Like many former Law Review editors and Legal Writing teachers, I am comfortable with parts of The Bluebook.  I delight in perfect citation form when writing scholarly articles and briefs.  Good citations show credibility and help the court and other readers understand your advocacy.  But now is not the time to ask students and lawyers to buy a new citation manual, and we should take this opportunity to discuss adopting other citation manuals.

California, Florida, and some other states have their own style manuals and do not follow The Bluebook.  Additional states have their own gloss on key The Bluebook rules or allow use of other manuals.  Rule 28 of the Alabama Rules of Appellate Procedure, for example, tells counsel to use The Association of Legal Writing Directors Citation Manual: A Professional System of Citation (the ALWD Guide), The Bluebook, or otherwise follow the citation style of the Alabama Supreme Court. 

Moreover, each new edition of The Bluebook seems to increase not only the price so many first-year law students must pay, but the depth of unneeded complexity for minor details far afield of the case citations needed for effective appellate advocacy.  Retired Seventh Circuit Judge Posner criticized The Bluebook often.  In a 2011 Yale Law Journal article, he called the 511-page Nineteenth Edition “a monstrous growth, remote from the functional need for legal citation forms, that serves obscure needs of the legal culture and its student subculture.”  Richard A. Posner, The Bluebook Blues, 120 Yale L. J. 850, 851 (2011).  As Judge Posner explained, The Bluebook was only 26 pages long when it was first published in 1926, and he could not find good cause in law or economics for its huge expansion.  Id. at 851, 854, 858-60.  The Twentieth Edition is a robust 560 pages, not counting the pages printed on the inside front and back covers.  

Legal writing authority Bryan Garner agreed.  Garner noted:  “What I’ve come to realize is that when it comes to The Bluebook, small changes are made for the sake of making small changes.”  Bryan Garner, The Bluebook's 20th Edition Prompts Many Musings From Bryan Garner, ABA Journal (Aug. 1 2015).  He likened the changes to “the principle at work with smartphone chargers (your old ones won’t work on your new gear), iPod connections (ditto), lightbulbs and even coursebooks,” all to “avoid the forgone profits represented by a secondhand market.”  Id.

In 2017, appellate practitioner Wendy S. Loquasto reviewed the pros and cons of all major citation manual options.  Wendy S. Loquasto, Legal Citation:  Which Guide Should You Use and What Is the Difference?, 91 Fla. Bar J. 39, 40-42 (2017).  She concluded practitioners who are not bound by a state manual should consider the ALWD Guide and The Indigo Book, as “compatible with The Bluebook [and] easier-to-use guides.”  Id. at 42.  If you have not read the completely free The Indigo Book, I highly recommend you check out its “Open and Compatible Implementation of A Uniform System of Citation.”  https://law.resource.org/pub/us/code/blue/IndigoBook.html.

Several of my past teaching colleagues used the ALWD Guide or applicable state manuals, reasoning students were better prepared for practice with a simpler or more widely-used manual.  While I stood by The Bluebook longer than many, when the initial price for the Twentieth Edition was $100, according to our bookstore, I told my students they could use the Nineteenth Edition until the price for the Twentieth Edition lowered.  I started teaching my students about the “Yellow Book” in California, and exposing them to the ALWD Guide and The Indigo Book

Now, in the midst of COVID-19 and concerns about student and lawyer financial and emotional stress, we face the Twenty-First Edition of The Bluebook.  While The Bluebook is well-established for sure, and some jurisdictions require it, those of us with a choice should wait on adopting the new version.  The price for the new edition will only decrease over time, and as we await the return of in-person law practice and teaching, we can also think about what manual really serves our students and practices best.

I wish you all good health.

April 26, 2020 | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, April 24, 2020

Appellate Advocacy Blog Weekly Roundup Friday, April 24, 2020

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Each week, the Appellate Advocacy Blog Weekly Roundup presents a few tidbits of news and Twitter posts from the past week concerning appellate advocacy. As always, if you see something during the week that you think we should be sure to include, feel free to send a quick note to either (1) Dan Real at DReal@Creighton.edu or on Twitter @Daniel_L_Real or (2) Catharine Du Bois at DuBoisLegalWriting@gmail.com or on Twitter @CLDLegalWriting.

US Supreme Court Opinions and News

The Supreme Court issued (from home) a number of opinions this week, including:

  • Barton v. Barr: The Court affirmed the lower court’s decision holding that a US permanent resident of over 30 years was ineligible to have his deportation cancelled. The case concerned the interpretation of an immigration law that allows immigrants who were deemed “deportable” based on the commission of certain crimes to petition to have their deportation cancelled. The decision interpreted a statutory provision known as the “stop-time” provision, which requires that an immigrant can only be eligible for deportation cancellation if the immigrant has been a continuous resident for at least seven years without committing a serious crime (the crime that renders an immigrant “deportable” can apparently have been committed at any time). The issue came down to whether the “serious crime” in the stop-time provision has to be one of the “certain crimes” that renders an immigrant “deportable.”  The Court affirmed the lower court’s interpretation of the statute and ruled that the crime did not need to be one of the crimes that is listed as a deportable crime. See reports at The Jurist and Bloomberg Law.
  • County of Maui v. Hawaii Wildlife Fund: The Supreme Court broadly interpreted the “functionally equivalent” test in the Clean Water Act. The law requires a permit for a direct discharge of pollutants into federally regulated rivers and oceans or its functional equivalent. The issue was whether Maui County violated the Act by injecting wastewater underground without a permit. The Court concluded that a permit is required “if the addition of the pollutants through groundwater is the functional equivalent of a direct discharge from the point source into navigable waters” and retuned the case to the circuit court.  See reports at The Hill, The Jurist, USA Today, The Associated Press, and The National Law Review.

  • Ramos v. Louisiana: This decision affirms that non-unanimous jury verdicts for serious crimes is unconstitutional and that the requirement applies to states cases as well as federal, which overturns precedent from the 1970s. The decision affects only two states: Louisiana, where the case originated and whose recent law barring non-unanimous jury decisions only applies to verdicts from after 2018, and Oregon, the only state that still allows non-unanimous verdicts. The decision recognized that allowing convictions with non-unanimous juries was rooted in racism, noting that Louisiana had adopted the rule as a way to maintain the “supremacy of the white race” and that the Oregon law could be traced to efforts to dilute “the influence of racial, ethnic, and religious minorities” on juries. Many see this 6-3 decision (and its concurrences and dissents) on what may seem to be a straightforward issue as illuminating on the issue of the role of precedent in future cases. See some of the many reports at The Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Associated Press, Reuters, and the New York Times from Adam Liptak and Linda Greenhouse.
  • Ramos is also noteworthy (especially for legal writers) as being possibly the first Supreme Court decision to have footnoted all citations (there have been dissents that have previously footnoted citations). See Twitter discussion on both sides of that debate here and here.

Other opinions issued this week can be found here: Thryv, Inc. v. Click-To-Call Technologies, LP; Atlantic Richfield Co. v. Christian; and Romag Fasteners, Inc. v. Fossil, Inc.

Federal Appellate Court Opinions and News

  • The Sixth Circuit ruled that “the Constitution provides a fundamental right to a basic minimum education,” which it defined as an education that “plausibly provides access to literacy.” This decision allows students in Detroit’s public schools to go forward with their claims that they have been denied access to literacy. Though the Supreme Court has discussed this issue, it has never decided it. See opinion and reports at The ABA Journal, The Detroit Free Press, and The National Review,  and see a 2018 New Yorker article on the issue.

  • In Tennessee, a US District Court has blocked the state’s order prohibiting procedural abortions during COVID-19.  The opinion recognizes that “[d]elaying a woman's access to abortion even by a matter of days can result in her having to undergo a lengthier and more complex procedure that involves progressively greater health risks, or can result in her losing the right to obtain an abortion altogether.”  See report in The Tennessean, The Associate Press, and CNN.  But in Arkansas and Texas this week, state bans have been upheld or reinstated. In Arkansas, the Eight Circuit dissolved a judge’s restraining order that had allowed surgical abortions to continue after the AR department of health told clinics to stop performing procedures unless needed to protect the life or health of the mother.  See opinion and reports at The Associate Press, The Jurist, and Law360. And, in Texas, the Fifth Circuit has reinstated most of Texas’s abortion ban, ruling that medication abortions (those induced with pills) may also be restricted, but only as applied to those who would reach Texas’s 22-week gestational limit for a legal abortion while the ban was in place. This ruling comes less than a week after it had allowed them to continue.  See opinion and reports from Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Reuters, The Hill, and Bloomberg.

  • In the face of a Second Amendment challenge, the Fifth Circuit confirmed the validity of a statute that prohibits the possession of a firearm by a person who is subject to a restarting order due to a conviction for domestic violence.  See opinion.

Appellate Practice Tips

A recent Texas Appellate Law Podcast this week covered tips for using an iPad as appellate lawyer with guest Jeff Richardson, whose blog is iPhone J.D. Thanks, Jeff for the email!

April 24, 2020 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Appellate Procedure, Federal Appeals Courts, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Phantom Precedents in Ramos v. Louisiana

If stare decisis really is for suckers, the Supreme Court’s decision in Ramos v. Louisiana[1] was an unremarkable end to the anachronistic Apodaca v. Oregon[2] decision permitting states to convict criminal defendants without unanimous jury verdicts. But for those that have argued for a strong stare decisis tradition and defended the doctrine’s importance, the Ramos opinion’s sustained discussion of when to overrule a precedent is a fascinating read.

First, Ramos reiterated that a relatively weak tradition of stare decisis is in vogue on the Supreme Court. In a process that culminated in 2018’s Janus v. AFSCME opinion,[3] the Court has recently moved towards a version of stare decisis that focuses on the poor quality of a precedent’s reasoning, even permitting the Justices to overrule on that basis alone. In contrast, a strong stare decisis tradition sets “poor reasoning” as a condition precedent to stare decisis analysis, not a ground for reversal; such reversals occur only if there is a special justification, such as unworkability, strong reliance interests, new legal developments, or vastly changed facts. Writing for the Court, Justice Gorsuch quoted the weak version of stare decisis in Franchise Tax Board of California v. Hyatt—which in turn relied upon the formulation in Janus—to emphasize that the quality of a decision’s reasoning is the primary consideration within stare decisis analysis.[4] His argument against Apodaca then focused on its “gravely mistaken” reasoning, which made it an outlier in the Court’s Sixth Amendment and incorporation jurisprudence and engendered the reliance of only two states.[5] In addition to the three Justices that joined Gorsuch’s opinion in full, two concurring Justices, Cavanaugh and Thomas, would likewise make the quality of a precedent’s reasoning the primary consideration, if not the singular consideration, in the stare decisis tradition.[6] And even the three-Justice dissent made its argument in defense of Apodaca on the weak stare decisis tradition’s terms. The dissent—an unexpected alignment of Justices Alito, Roberts, and Kagan—argued that Apodaca was not nearly as poorly reasoned as the majority would have it, but was silent on whether such poor reasoning should be a reason to overrule.[7] The dissent’s silence on that point was even more thunderous given Kagan’s prior insistence that “it is not enough [to overrule because] five Justices believe a precedent wrong.”[8]

Second, Ramos introduced a new facet to the stare decisis debate. Can some precedents be so fractured and incomprehensible as to be no precedent at all, becoming a “phantom precedent?”[9] Three Justices that joined the primary opinion in full argued that Apodaca was just such a jurisprudential apparition. For that trio, Apodaca failed to supply a “governing precedent” because its controlling opinion came from a single Justice, Powell, supporting a theory of “dual-track” Sixth Amendment incorporation that a majority of the Apodaca Court itself rejected.[10] And while Sotomayor wrote separately without adopting that portion of the primary opinion, her own view was remarkably similar. She claimed Apodaca was a “universe of one” that was so “irreconcilable with . . . two strands of constitutional precedent” that its precedential value was minimal, if not evanescent.[11]  

Those opinions offered little insight into how to identify the phantom precedents within the many fractured opinions the Court issues each term. Perhaps Apodaca was uniquely unable to generate precedential value; without any guiding principles to identify why that decision was a phantom, it is hard to tell. Perhaps the view that Apodaca is a phantom precedent merely expresses discomfort with the rule in Marks v. United States that the Court’s holding in a fractured opinion is “that position taken by those Members who concurred in the judgments on the narrowest grounds.”[12] Powell’s Apodaca opinion seems to fit that bill, but perhaps the Ramos Court marks the start of a new method to measure the holding of fractured opinions. Or perhaps Ramos intimates the Supreme Court’s desire to allow some of its opinions to have little or no precedential effect, much like the now commonplace unpublished decisions that I have discussed elsewhere on this blog.

Ramos is a complex decision with many layers to unpack beyond the few I’ve mentioned here. But its take on stare decisis is utterly fascinating. In future years, it may mark an important turning point for a doctrine whose death has been reported with great exaggeration.

 

[1] 590 U.S. ___ (2020).

[2] 406 U.S. 404 (1972).

[3] 585 U.S. __ (2018).

[4] Ramos, 590 U.S. ___ (2020) (slip op., at 20).

[5] Id. (slip op., at 20-22).

[6] Id. (slip op., at 7-8, 10-11) (Kavanaugh, J., concurring) (suggesting that the first factor in stare decisis analysis is whether the precedent is “grievously wrong,” which Apodaca was); Id. (slip op., at 2-3) (Thomas, J., concurring) (claiming that “demonstrably erroneous” decisions must be overturned irrespective of any practical stare decisis considerations).

[7] Id. (slip op., at 13-15) (Alito, J., dissenting).

[8] Knick v. Township of Scott, 588 U.S. __ (2019) (slip op., at 16) (Kagan, J., dissenting) (citing Kimble v. Marvel Entertainment, LLC, 576 U.S. __ (2015) (slip. op., at 8)).

[9] Ramos, 590 U.S. ___ (2020) (slip op., at 7) (Alito, J., dissenting).

[10] Id. (slip op., at 16).

[11] Id. (slip op., at 2) (Sotomayor, J., concurring).

[12] 430 U.S. 188, 193 (1977).

April 22, 2020 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Court Reform, Appellate Justice, Appellate Practice, Appellate Procedure, Federal Appeals Courts, Rhetoric, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, April 20, 2020

Historic Arguments During Historic Times

I’m a Houstonian, so today’s below zero oil prices , a first from reports I’ve seen, have been top of mind as I work from my dining room table during the COVID-19 pandemic. That entire last sentence makes my head spin. Buyers paying sellers not to deliver oil. It’s historic. Just four months ago we were looking at the start of a new decade, full of hope. Now, even as I look out my window at the blooming flowers and see all the signs of spring (or early summer here in Houston), I wonder will my family be okay? My students, friends, and colleagues? My city? Our country? How much will institutions have to change? What will the world look like when it’s over?

As much as I love studying history, living through it is painful. Some of the historic events we are seeing, COVID-19 death rates topping the cause of death, record unemployment, speak of incredible individual suffering. Other historic changes are being forced upon institutions slow to change.

Over my last several posts, I’ve followed the Supreme Court’s postponement of Oral Arguments, then the holding pattern that arguments this month and next were in. Finally, on April 13, 2020 the Court issued a release stating that 13 cases would be heard by telephone. Here is an excellent discussion of the Court’s pivot.

As we saw in last week’s post by Texas Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman, other appellate courts have moved oral arguments online with success. Interestingly, the Supreme Court has decided to do its arguments telephonically, despite the video conferencing technology that is readily available and being used in other courts around the country. As Amy Howe points out “They may have decided to go with remote arguments by teleconference in the short term, despite the potential effect on the dynamics of the arguments, because they would rather live with the longer-term implications – live audio versus live video – of that choice.” I’m interested to see how well the justices avoid talking over each other and what impact the format has on the advocates. As we’ve all probably seen in our own Zoom meetings, people talk on top of each other over video conference, too, so video conferencing may not solve much on that account.

On the whole, the Court’s shift to having some form of remote oral argument is a big one. It was likely a difficult decision, but it was a necessary one. In a time of great uncertainty, knowing that our highest court is operational and willing to decide the complex and important cases that come before can give some reassurance. It’s a signal that even though it isn’t business as usual, business is getting done.

April 20, 2020 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Court Reform, Federal Appeals Courts, United States Supreme Court, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Writing a Statement of Facts

In law school, students study legal doctrine in many areas of the law and spend a substantial amount of time reading case law, writing memorandums and briefs, and engaging in real-world simulations.

Of course, while the law is relevant to the disposition of any case, it does not often determine the outcome of a particular case. For example, statutes or constitutional provisions may be ambiguous and precedent may not adequately address the relevant legal question. Rather, the most important aspect of a case is the facts. The facts often determine how the law is applied and present equitable considerations that counsel in favor of a particular outcome. 

Thus, when drafting a trial brief, appellate brief, or pretrial motion, the statement of facts is critical and, arguably, the most important part of your brief. Below are several tips that will help to maximize the persuasive value of your statement of facts.

1.    Tell a story

In your statement of facts, do not simply list the facts or describe the facts in a bland or boring manner. Instead, tell a story – and make it interesting. Doing so will capture the reader’s attention and engage the reader in your story. Consider the following examples:

When the plaintiff was terminated, the defendant (the plaintiff’s employer) completely disregarded the relevant terms of the plaintiff’s employment. Furthermore, the defendant made disparaging and insulting remarks to the plaintiff that caused the plaintiff to suffer substantial distress, and that demonstrated the wrongfulness of the termination,

***

When terminating the plaintiff, the defendant unapologetically stated, “I don’t care what the contract says because I can do what I want and you could never afford a lawyer.” Additionally, the defendant repeatedly berated the plaintiff, calling her “pathetic, a loser, and an embarrassment to the company.” The plaintiff left the defendant’s office in tears, and as she existed, the defendant yelled, “get the f*** out.”

The second example is far more effective. Through the use of specific facts, it shows, rather than tells, the court why you should win.

Of course, when drafting the statement of facts, you should avoid unnecessary adjectives and over-the-top language. 

Finally, remember that you do not have to state the facts in chronological order. Although this may be appropriate in some cases, you can – and should – be creative in your organization. For example, if your case involves the breach of a contract, you may want to begin by describing the events constituting the breach and detailing the damages that your client suffered. Simply put, just as some movies begin with the ending, some briefs can too if doing so enhances the persuasive value of your argument.

2.    Don’t be argumentative

One of the worst things that you can do in a statement of facts is to argue. First, your facts should be drafted in a manner that makes you appear objective. Doing so will engender credibility with the court. Second, arguing in the facts may lead a court to believe that you are presenting an incomplete or biased version of the facts. Third, and perhaps most importantly, when you argue, you are telling, rather than showing, the court why you should win. No one likes to be told what to do.

3.    You can – and should – still advocate

Although you should not argue, you should still advocate. For example, you should emphasize favorable facts over non-favorable facts. You should organize the statement of facts in a manner that highlights the most favorable facts and de-emphasizes unfavorable facts. In so doing, you will be advocating without arguing, and persuading without misleading.

4.    Acknowledge unfavorable facts

Be sure to acknowledge unfavorable facts. In so doing, you should rely on other facts to show why the unfavorable facts should not affect the outcome you seek. If you conceal or misrepresent unfavorable facts, your adversary will highlight this error and your credibility with the court will diminish substantially.

5.    Eliminate irrelevant facts

You should never include irrelevant facts in your brief. Doing so will undermine the persuasive value of your statement of facts and distract the reader. Consider the following example:

The plaintiff is a private figure and employed as a cashier at Whole Foods Supermarket. On January 11, 2012, while the plaintiff was in the midst of her shift and serving customers, the defendant (the store manager) loudly stated that the plaintiff was a “liar, a whore, a criminal, and a disgusting human being.” As a result of these statements, several customers ridiculed the plaintiff and the plaintiff suffered severe emotional distress.    

                                                                                                  ***                                                                                                                                               

The plaintiff is a private figure who was born in Austin, Texas. A talented musician and artist, the plaintiff attended the University of Texas for two years before deciding to pursue a career as an actor. The plaintiff enrolled at the Texas Academy of the Arts and completed a twelve-week intensive dramatic acting program. Soon thereafter, the plaintiff auditioned for many roles, including on the well-known soap opera General Hospital and the primetime television show Breaking Bad. During this time, the plaintiff obtained a job at Whole Foods Supermarket to make ends met while auditioning. The plaintiff enjoyed good relationships with her colleagues. Unfortunately, two months after being employed, and during her afternoon shift, the defendant (the store manager) loudly stated that the plaintiff was a “liar, a whore, a criminal, and a disgusting human being.” As a result of these statements, several customers ridiculed the plaintiff and the plaintiff suffered severe emotional distress.

The first example is far more effective than the second. The second example contains facts that are entirely irrelevant to the legal issues (who cares about the plaintiff’s acting career?), and these facts distract the court from the facts that support the relief plaintiff seeks.

6.    Describe the record accurately

Always describe the record accurately. If you misrepresent facts in the record, you will immediately – and perhaps irreparably – damage your credibility with the court.

7.    You can include law in the facts if it's appropriate

When writing the statement of facts, you can, in appropriate circumstances, include relevant case law or statutory language if doing so would assist the court in resolving the legal issue. For example, assume that your client was arrested on suspicion of driving while intoxicated, and upon arrest, law enforcement, in violation of the U.S. Supreme Court’s holding in Riley v. California, searched your client’s cell phone without a warrant. In your statement of facts, you could – and should – say the following:

On February 20, law enforcement officers stopped the defendant while he was driving home. During the stop, the officers detected the smell of alcohol and subsequently administered a breathalyzer test. The defendant’s blood-alcohol level was .09, in violation of the legal limit of .08, and the defendant was placed under arrest. While under arrest, and over the defendant’s objection, law enforcement conducted a warrantless search of the defendant’s cellular telephone. This search was unlawful because, in Riley v. California, the United States Supreme Court unanimously held that warrantless searches of cellular telephones incident to arrest violate the Fourth Amendment. Accordingly, all evidence seized from the defendant’s cellular telephone should be suppressed.

As you can see from the above example, the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Riley is relevant to the legal question and demonstrates that the search was unlawful. Thus, in a situation like this, including the relevant case law will enhance the persuasive value of your argument and demonstrate beyond doubt that the court should grant the relief you seek.

8.    It's not just what you say, but how you say it 

Be sure to draft a well-written, well-organized, and concise statement of facts. For example:

  • Avoid long sentences (over twenty-five words)
  • Avoid complex or esoteric words (and Latin)
  • Use transition words to ensure flow and clarity
  • Avoid unnecessary repetition
  • Avoid long paragraphs (paragraphs should be approximately three to five sentences)
  • Eliminate unnecessary adjectives and minimize the use of adverbs
  • Avoid nominalizations
  • Never insult the lower court or your adversary
  • Ensure that your brief is free of spelling errors and grammatically correct
  • Know when to break the rules to maximize persuasion      

Ultimately, the statement of facts is your best opportunity to explain why you should win. Following the above tips will ensure that you avoid the common errors that courts frown upon and that undermine the persuasive value of your brief.

April 19, 2020 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Law School, Legal Profession, Legal Writing, Moot Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, April 17, 2020

Appellate Advocacy Blog Weekly Roundup Friday April 17

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Each week, the Appellate Advocacy Blog Weekly Roundup presents a few tidbits of news and Twitter posts from the past week concerning appellate advocacy. As always, if you see something during the week that you think we should be sure to include, feel free to send a quick note to either (1) Dan Real at DReal@Creighton.edu or on Twitter (@Daniel_L_Real) or (2) Catharine Du Bois at DuBoisLegalWriting@gmail.com or on Twitter @CLDLegalWriting.

 
SUPREME COURT OPINIONS AND NEWS:
The United States Supreme Court announced this week that it will hear oral arguments by telephone conference in May.  The Court noted that all Justices would participate remotely, to keep with public health guidance in response to COVID-19.  The Court also indicated that it anticipates providing a live audio feed of the arguments to news media.
 
More on this:
  • CNN reported on the Court's historic plans to livestream argument in the cases, including three centered on President Donald Trump's financial records.
  • The Wall Street Journal had an editorial  about the historic step.
The Court also relaxed some of its normal requirements for paper filings.
 
FEDERAL APELLATE COURT OPINIONS AND NEWS:
The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals this week issued an order denying an emergency motion to stay a Texas court's temporary restraining order that prevented enforcement of the Texas Governor's emergency public health measure preventing medication abortion procedures.
APPELLATE ADVOCACY TIPS:
The Washington Times had an article this week discussing how Zoom is quickly becoming the primary platform adopted by the nation's judiciary to conduct video hearings.
An article on Wordrake discusses the importance of careful editing of legal documents specifically for readability on electronic platforms.  The need to consider variations in how a reader processes the material when reading on an electronic device, as opposed to a printed page, has already been an area of increasing concern, but it is even more prominent of a concern with the sudden shift to remote working environments.
APPELLATE JOBS:
The United States Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit has posted a position for "Special Counsel to the Clerk," seeking a highly qualified attorney to interact with judges and chambers' personnel, providing procedural and substantive advice to the Court and Clerk's Office staff.
 

April 17, 2020 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Mandamus and the Need for Speedy Clarity

Mandamus is, and should be, a rare remedy. Over my years of practice I have filed mandamus less than twenty times in state or federal courts. Yet I have done so three times, and almost a fourth, in just the last six months. As a result, I have had a chance to ponder the unique nature of this remedy and want to offer a few tips if you find yourself having to file this unique "appeal."

In federal court, the All Writs Act (28 U.S.C. § 1651(a)) grants federal appellate courts the power to issue writs of mandamus. Mandamus is intended to be an extraordinary remedy, used only in exceptional circumstances that arise from emergencies or issues of national importance.  LaBuy v. Howes Leather Co., 352 U.S. 249 (1957). If there is any other remedy by appeal or award (such as a money judgment for damages) the remedy is not proper.Most state courts have similar jurisdiction and follow the same general rules.

The error challenged must also generally be "clear." This means, in most cases, that only ministerial duties can be challenged. If there is even a hint of discretion in performing the challenged act, mandamus will likely be denied.

In general, the suit is filed against the officer that abused their discretion. You are thus essentially "suing" the judge, clerk, or other official that clearly violated their duty.

Mandamus must also generally be filed quickly. While there is no deadline in most cases, there is a form of laches applied to mandamus by most courts. And mandamus is often used in situations where an injunction or other order has gone into effect or will go into effect in hours or days.

Mandamus thus offers a unique drafting challenge. You must act quickly. In some cases, within hours of the challenged action (or inaction). Yet you must show that the error is clear, and that there is no other remedy than mandamus. And you must provide all of the record information necessary to support the arguments raised, often without benefit of an official record.

This flies in the face of the usual appellate-lawyer temperament. We are, by and large, a careful and deliberate crowd. Mandamus requires us to shoot from the hip, but still hit the target squarely.

To do so, you must be ruthlessly clean and simple in your analysis. String cites, deep-dive  analysis, and policy arguments must often be discarded in order to cut to the point. And subsidiary arguments are often discarded in favor of a clean main point.

To make sure that my point is cleanly delivered, I try to focus in on a clean statement of the issue and on headers that deliver the entire argument in themselves. I know that the court is likely to start with the table of contents, so I want that table of contents to deliver the argument well. If there is a subsidiary issue that is not addressed in the headers, it should be cut or relegated to the footnotes.

Every necessary point is also made explicit. I do not leave to chance that any part of my burden for mandamus will be rejected. So the lack of adequate alternative remedies is a header. So is the timeliness of the challenge. And the error is explained with subheaders parsing out each step of the analysis.

If I am seeking emergency relief in addition to the mandamus that requires immediate action by the court, I state this explicitly in the mandamus, near the beginning. I then file the motion for emergency relief with the mandamus, if at all possible, so that the court has full briefing on why the emergency relief is necessary.

Finally, and this is the most challenging part for me, I try to stop editing when the mandamus is "good enough." Because of sharp time constraints, a few maxims should be kept in mind:

  • Voltaire: “The best is the enemy of the good.”
  • Confucius: "Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without."
  • Shakespeare: “Striving to better, oft we mar what's well.”

You must edit and clarify with great care. But you also must know when to quit. In a mandamus, this may mean that you only have a few drafts before you must file.

This is the hardest part of a mandamus. You are already somewhat uncomfortable with the idea that you are filing an "extraordinary writ" with so few rules and procedures to guide you. You are probably uncomfortable with the idea of "suing" a judge you may be appearing before again (although you are always carefully challenging the ruling, not the officer). And now, in doing so, you must act quickly and without the comfort of repetitive drafting over time.

But that is the challenge of mandamus. Quick, accurate, and simplified arguments are key. In learning to do so, you may learn to apply those principles to the rest of your work.

 

 

April 14, 2020 in Appellate Practice, Federal Appeals Courts, Legal Writing, State Appeals Courts | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, April 13, 2020

Guest Post: Zoom Arguments--A View from the Texas Supreme Court

We are thrilled to welcome Justice Eva Guzman of the Texas Supreme Court as our guest author.  Justice Guzman has served on the Texas Supreme Court since 2009.  Her Court recently held Zoom oral arguments.  Here are her thoughts on the Zoom argument experience.

The Covid‑19 crisis impacts our everyday existence to an unprecedented degree. But the work courts do must continue. The dedicated judges of the Texas judiciary have united to address novel challenges in novel ways. And at a time of great uncertainty and turmoil, the Texas bar has also stepped up to meet client needs. Social media has played a vital role in disseminating information to the public and the bar in an evolving legal landscape. In different ways, #We’reInThisTogether.

#AppellateTwitter has been a positive space for lawyers and judges to share information, ideas, and practice tips. So, with the Texas Supreme Court’s first‑ever web-based oral arguments looming, I leveraged the #AppellateTwitter community for ideas on best practices. With those arguments successfully in the history books, I will repay the favor with a few tips of my own for the bench and bar.

Preparation is key. On our end, Clerk of the Court Blake Hawthorne, OCA Director David Slayton, and an OCA team led by Casey Kennedy worked tirelessly to make sure every detail was just right—from security to backgrounds, timers, court announcements, monitoring of the argument itself and more. The arguments were relatively seamless. Before the big day, Blake met with the lawyers in each case via Zoom to ensure their familiarity with the technology, lighting, backgrounds, and audio and to answer any questions. I also strongly encourage advocates to practice their argument via Zoom to work through any kinks. If possible, the justices should also test the program by gathering on the platform a day or so before the argument to ensure familiarity with the process.  Practice makes perfect!

Zoom arguments require different pacing. If possible, advocates should pause in between their points to allow for questions. Judges could signal they are about to ask a question by unmuting their mics, moving closer to the computer camera, and addressing counsel by name before asking a question. Speaking over each other happens in live arguments, but the nature of video conferencing makes it more awkward.

Don’t forget the details.

  • Choose an appropriate background or location. Our judges used a uniform background to help set the tone.
  • Fully charge your battery and use a power cord. Batteries discharge quickly while using video applications. 
  • Maximize internet connectivity to avoid dropping off mid‑argument. Disengaging other household devices from wifi is helpful but may prove difficult with so many children distance learning these days.

Finally, don’t forget about time management. Blake Hawthorne’s inclusion of a screen for the “timer” was ingenious, and having a set time for judges and participants to log into their waiting rooms was critical to staying on schedule. 

April 13, 2020 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Current Affairs, Oral Argument, State Appeals Courts, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Tips for Giving An Effective and Persuasive Online Oral Argument

Given the unprecedented and challenging times that have arisen due to the coronavirus, many courts (and law schools) are now conducting oral arguments online (e.g., via Zoom). For many lawyers and most law students, this is likely the first time in which they have been required to deliver oral arguments online.

Below are several tips (some rather obvious) to help lawyers and law students deliver effective and persuasive online oral arguments.

1.    Make sure that you are positioned correctly

When giving an oral argument – or any presentation – online, be sure to observe the following guidelines.

First, whether you are seated or standing, make sure that the camera on your computer is at eye level. Second, you should position yourself so that you are approximately at arm’s length from the camera. Third, to ensure that you are making eye contact with the judge (or professor) always look straight into the camera and avoid looking at the screen. Fourth, make sure that your volume is at the appropriate level so that you can be heard clearly.

2.    Choose a professional background

Be sure to position your desk and computer in an area that includes a professional background and that omits any distracting images. Additionally, eliminate all excess noise.

Also, make sure that the lighting is properly set. For example, if there is too much light in the background, it can cast a glare on the screen and distract the person to whom you are speaking. Finally, be sure to dress professionally.

3.    Avoid Unnecessary Physical Gestures

When presenting your argument, avoid unnecessary movements (e.g., hand gestures), particularly those that will take you out of the camera’s range. Unnecessary movements will distract your audience and detract attention from the substance of your argument.

4.    Get to the point quickly – the judge (or professor, or anyone) may get more easily distracted in an online format

In an online oral argument, there is an increased possibility that a judge (or professor, or anyone) may get distracted more easily, particularly if the environment within which a judge or professor is hearing the argument is less than ideal (e.g., in a home where other family members are present in the immediate vicinity). As such, you should prepare a short, one-page outline that contains the strongest legal and factual arguments supporting the remedy you seek and state them at the beginning of your argument. Indeed, the most persuasive oral arguments include a powerful beginning where an attorney: (1) states clearly the outcome and remedy that the attorney seeks; and (2) explains why the law and facts support that outcome. In doing so, be sure to omit extraneous or irrelevant facts and legal authority. 

5.    Follow all of the rules regarding oral argument as if you were giving the argument in person

You should approach online and in-person oral arguments in the same way. For example:

  • Have a powerful introduction and roadmap
  • State clearly the outcome you seek and begin with the most favorable law and facts that support this outcome
  • Address weaknesses in your case (e.g., unfavorable law and facts) and explain why they do not affect the outcome you seek
  • Answer the judge’s questions directly
  • Be prepared to adjust your argument strategy depending on the questions and concerns expressed by the judge (or judges)
  • Always be honest – never mislead the court or attempt to hide unfavorable law or facts
  • Don’t be a jerk – never attack your adversary and never use over-the-top words or unnecessary adjectives

6.    Be prepared for technical issues

Technical issues sometimes arise when using online platforms such as Zoom or Skype. For example, when I was interviewed via Skype for a faculty position several years ago, my screen suddenly went black and I could not see the faculty members who were interviewing me (although they could still see me). If any technical issues arise, be sure to maintain your composure and go with it. Indeed, in the interview where my screen went black, I still got the job.

7.    Remember that this is new for everyone

Don’t be intimidated or overly concerned about performing an effective online oral argument. This is a new experience for many judges and law professors. At the end of the day, just be yourself – speak conversationally and remember that the skills needed to deliver excellent in-person oral arguments are largely the same as those needed to deliver excellent online oral arguments. And appreciate that, in delivering an online oral argument, you are learning a new skill that may prove valuable in the future.

April 12, 2020 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Appellate Procedure, Law School, Legal Profession, Moot Court, Oral Argument | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, April 10, 2020

Appellate Advocacy Blog Weekly Roundup Friday, April 10, 2020

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Each week, the Appellate Advocacy Blog Weekly Roundup presents a few tidbits of news and Twitter posts from the past week concerning appellate advocacy. As always, if you see something during the week that you think we should be sure to include, feel free to send a quick note to either (1) Dan Real at DReal@Creighton.edu or on Twitter @Daniel_L_Real or (2) Catharine Du Bois at DuBoisLegalWriting@gmail.com or on Twitter @CLDLegalWriting.

US Supreme Court Opinions and News

  • The Supreme Court blocked an extended deadline for absentee voting in the Wisconsin primary this week. In the wake of COVID-19 shutdowns across the country, Governor Tony Evers had  attempted to stop in-person voting. The District Court overturned the ban but allowed absentee ballots mailed and postmarked after election day, April 7, to be counted if received by April 13. The Supreme Court overturned the District Court’s deadline extension, saying that “[e]xtending the date by which ballots may be cast by voters . . . for an additional six days after the scheduled election day fundamentally alters the nature of the election.” See the opinion and reports in The New York Times and NBC News.
  • The Supreme Court will not hear a challenge to the DC Metro policy that bans religious ads. The Archdiocese of Washington argued that the Washington Transit Authority policy violates the First Amendment.  See reports from USA Today, The Washington Times, CNN, and The Hill.
  • The Supreme Court has cancelled April oral arguments due to COVID-19. A News Release stated that the Court will “consider rescheduling some cases from the March and April sessions before the end of the Term, if circumstances permit.”  See comment from The Washington Post, The Hill, CNN, and Reuters.    

Federal Appellate Court Opinions and News

  • The Fifth Circuit has allowed Texas to enforce its abortion ban during the COVID-19 pandemic. The court overturned a Texas district court, which had blocked the ban because it prevented a “Texas women from exercising what the Supreme Court has declared is [a] fundamental constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy before a fetus is viable.” See the decision and reports from The Hill, Reuters, and The Associated Press
  • The D.C. Circuit has overturned the lower court’s block of four death penalty sentences, allowing the Justice Department’s plan to resume executions of federal death row inmates after a 16-year hiatus. The Federal Court had stayed the executions and had issued a preliminary injunction based on concerns about the government’s lethal injection method. See decision and reports from Courthouse News, The Associated Press, and The Wall Street Journal.
  • The First Circuit rules that “so help me god” in the naturalization oath for U.S. citizenship is constitutional. The ruling rejected an atheist claim that it violated her First Amendment rights. See report from Bloomberg Law (subscription required).

Covid-19 and the Courts

The Judicial Conference has temporarily approved the use of video and teleconferencing for some criminal proceedings in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.  See the News Release.

April 10, 2020 in Appellate Advocacy, Federal Appeals Courts, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, April 6, 2020

#ToddlersofAppellateTwitter

Let's be honest for a minute--parenting is hard.  So is being a lawyer.  So is living through a pandemic.  Add all those things together, and you have life as we now know it for many  lawyers across the country.  While most courts are being generous with granting extensions and hearing arguments remotely, briefs still need to be filed and cases still need to be argued.  And, for many people, these tasks must be completed at home with extra helpers on hand--helpers who version of "help" might not be the same as the attorney heading up the office.  

I read a draft motion a few weeks ago that asked for a time extension due to the fact that "the undersigned has two new full-time coworkers (ages 4 and 6) who need time to get up to speed on office procedures and workflow."  I imagine that many lawyers can relate. On #appellatetwitter, I see  attorneys discussing the difficulties they are having getting work done and homeschooling and supervising their young kids.  Their days involve early mornings and late nights of work, with homeschooling and kid-wrangling in between.  The same is true with law professors, who are still trying to deliver a quality legal education, albeit remotely.  

Samantha Stokes of Law.com had a great story on this issue last week, entitled "Your Clients Need Attention. But So Do the Kids." In the story, several female lawyers recount the struggles with managing workload, competing schedules, and young children.  While courts are generally being sympathetic and understanding, the stress of getting work done, of keeping the kids sane, of finding toilet paper, and if everything else that this pandemic brings has been hard.

While I don't have any great solutions (I write this post as my toddler naps), I hope that we can continue to show grace and understanding to those we interact with on a daily basis--whether that be opposing counsel, the court clerk, law students, or delivery drivers.  I would like to think that we are all doing the best we can.  Hang in there and #staysafe!

April 6, 2020 | Permalink | Comments (0)