Saturday, September 26, 2020
Once again, we find ourselves at the end of a week full of heavy news. While we mourn the passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the staggering loss of so many to COVID-19, and worry about the rampant injustice made even more evident this week, we might also take a mental break for something lighter. If you are looking for a fun piece on briefing to take your mind off the news of the day, check out this sample from the California Court of Appeal: https://www.courts.ca.gov/documents/2DCA-eFiling-Sample-Brief.pdf.
In a cheerful, light-hearted way, the Court’s sample brief helps pro se litigants, but also reminds us all to make our briefs simple and clear. See https://www.law.com/supremecourtbrief/2019/03/06/this-8-page-cert-petition-caught-the-justices-eyes-clarence-thomass-many-doubts-meet-the-last-supreme-court-crier/ (discussing a more “real life” example of short, clear writing in a successful eight-page cert petition). The sample also helps litigants include all opening brief sections required by the California Rules of Court.
For example, the Court’s Statement of the Case provides a truly brief summary of the key facts, with no unneeded detail or argument. In two sentences, the sample summarizes the parties’ status and introduces the important facts:
The Three Bears filed a complaint in August 2001 alleging Goldilocks had trespassed on their property by entering their home when they were not at home, consuming a meal and falling asleep in a bed. The complaint alleged that Baby Bear had suffered physical and mental damages as a result of being frightened upon discovering Goldilocks. (CT 1-4.)
The brief also shows proper record cites to the Clerk’s and Reporter’s Transcripts in all sections, something too often missing from briefs.
The sample brief continues with a very straightforward recitation of the facts. including the fun note Baby Bear’s treating doctor was an “expert bear cub psychologist, Dr. Dramatic.” In five paragraphs, the Court’s sample outlines the testimony from the parties, Dr. Dramatic, and a neighbor, Gloria Gardener. For example, “Goldilocks testified she was looking for a boarding facility to take a rest, the Bears' house was very large, there was no fence to indicate this was private property, the door of the house was open and there was a mat at the front door that said ‘WELCOME.’ (RT 25-26.)” Since Goldilocks “thought this was a commercial boarding establishment, as large amounts of food were set out as if for guests, “ she “looked for someone to ask about spending the night[,] saw several sets of chairs and beds all in different sizes (RT 27-28.),” and fell asleep.
As this image shows, the Argument section of the sample brief has three subsections, including the separate sections required in California and many jurisdictions on the standard of review and the elements of the action:
While the Court’s sample is not perfect, and I would remove passive voice and add more express application of the law to the underlying facts, the brief still follows a clear CRAC format. Finally, the brief concludes briefly, as all appellate writing should. Instead of an overly argumentative or detailed conclusion, the sample very quickly summarizes and then asks for specific relief: “Goldilocks respectfully asks that this Court reverse the decision of the trial court and vacate the award of damages.”
Hopefully, the fairy tale context of the Court’s sample will make you smile. But on a deeper level, the brief helps unrepresented litigants and law students with basic brief format. The Court’s brief also reminds experienced practitioners to always check local rules and keep our briefs as straightforward and simple as possible.