Appellate Advocacy Blog

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

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Moving from Pandemic Emergency Zoom Oral Arguments to True Oral Argument Online:  Preparation and Professionalism

 In March, we had only hours to transition from in-person teaching and law practice to remote options.  As many internet memes show, that led to some memorable court appearances sans pants, from closets and bathrooms.  Recently, we’ve been able to step back and assess our remote experiences to see what we can use for better practice and teaching, even as we return to in-person work.  I’ve attended several excellent sessions on online teaching, and I send kudos to William & Mary Law for its fantastic two-day Conference for Excellence in Teaching Legal Research & Writing Online.  (If you could not attend, you can view asynchronous postings here:  https://law.wm.edu/academics/intellectuallife/conferencesandlectures/excellence_online_teaching/index.php.)  Like many of you, my inbox is full of invites for even more webinars and conferences I am not able to attend. 

Luckily, Jill Wheaton of Dykema Gossett recently wrote a summary of the May 4, 2020 ABA Appellate Judges Council CLE webinar on “Appellate Advocacy in the Age of COVID-19.”  The ABA’s program featured judges, a state appellate court chief clerk, and appellate practitioners speaking on how appeals courts will use remote appearances moving forward.  As Wheaton explained, the panel presented “thoughts about, and recommendations regarding, telephone or video appellate arguments” and suggested counsel “do everything they can to make a remote argument as much like an in-person argument as possible.”  Jill M. Wheaton, Appellate Advocacy in the Age of COVID-19, Appellate Issues--2020 Special Edition 1 (ABA May 27, 2020).  Overall, the recommendations for practitioners stressed professionalism in how we approach video appearances.  In other words, be prepared and yes, wear pants.

Part of our preparation for oral argument today should include a test run of our technology.  Whenever possible, appellate practitioners should do moot courts before oral arguments.  Now, we should make our moot courts a test of both online systems and legal arguments.  Since many courts already used some type of internal video conferencing before COVID-19—and a few trial and appellate courts allowed video argument on occasion before 2020--the clerks and judges are already familiar with some remote platforms.  Id.  They expect us to be familiar with the platforms as well.  In fact, many courts have videos of past virtual oral arguments online, and counsel can watch the videos as part of their oral argument preparation. 

We should also be as professional as possible in every detail of our online appearances.  Hopefully, we know to avoid the meme-worthy mistakes of March and April, by dressing in full suits and using a professional-looking digital background or physical space free of clutter and noise for a video appearance.  The ABA panel stressed smaller points as well.  For example, many courts still expect counsel to rise when the bailiff calls the case, and the panel judges noted they prefer advocates to stand when speaking.  Id. at 2.  Therefore, consider either using an adjustable desk, so you can stand when speaking but sit when opposing counsel argues, or use a stool so you can stay at eye level.  The practitioners on the ABA panel suggested using a stack of books to raise your computer to standing level if needed, and to be sure your camera is on the top of your monitor to help you look directly at the judges during the argument.  Id.   Finally, counsel should remember they will be on camera for the entire hearing, even when opposing counsel is speaking.  Id.  Thus, find a way to communicate unobtrusively with co-counsel and your client, if needed.  

We all want life to “return to normal,” but some form of remote oral arguments will no doubt remain after COVID-19 leaves.  For now, “courts have been forced to become creative to continue to advance their dockets, requiring the bench and bar to become creative as well.”  Id. at 3.  Hopefully, these tips from the ABA panel can help us all be more creative, prepared and professional for this new normal.   

June 27, 2020 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Current Affairs, Federal Appeals Courts, Legal Profession, Moot Court, Oral Argument, State Appeals Courts, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, June 6, 2020

Appellate Advocacy Blog Weekly Roundup Saturday, June 6, 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

In a 5-4 decision with Justice Roberts as the swing vote, the Supreme Court rejected an emergency appeal by a California church that challenged Covid-19 related restrictions on attendance at worship services. The church argued that the state guidelines limiting attendance at places of worship to 25% of building capacity or a maximum of 100 attendees violate constitutional guarantees of religious freedom. Justice Roberts concurred in the denial and wrote that the “restrictions appear consistent with the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment” and that the “Constitution principally entrusts the safety and the health of the people to the politically accountable officials of the States to guard and protect.” (Internal quotes and citations omitted.) See opinion and a sampling of the many reports from The New York Times, The Washington Times, The Associated Press, Reuters,

Federal Appellate Court Opinions and News

The District Court for the District of Arizona ruled that a same-sex spouse cannot be denied Social Security survivor benefits for failure to meet the marriage duration requirement without consideration of whether the marriage was prohibited by unconstitutional laws barring same-sex marriage. For a surviving spouse to receive Social Security benefits, the couple must have been married for “a period of not less than nine months.” (42 U.S.C. 416(g).). The SSA argued that the provision was neutral because it applied equally to all seeking benefits. The court rejected that claim because same sex couples have been impacted by law prohibiting their marriages, which affects their ability to meet the marriage duration requirement.  The opinion recognizes that, “[b]ecause same-sex marriage is a fundamental right, and the underpinnings of the duration-of-marriage requirement has relied on the unconstitutional ban of that right, [the regulation] cannot be said to be rationally related to a legitimate interest to a surviving spouse.” See ruling and case summary and reports from Slate and NBCNews.

State Court Opinions and News

The nine justices of the Washington Supreme Court, in an extraordinary step, penned an open letter to the legal community addressing racial injustice. The letter recognizes the role of the judiciary and the legal community in the continuing injustices against black Americans. From the letter:  

Recent events have brought to the forefront of our collective consciousness a painful fact that is, for too many of our citizens, common knowledge: the injustices faced by black Americans are not relics of the past. We continue to see racialized policing and the overrepresentation of black Americans in every stage of our criminal and juvenile justice systems. Our institutions remain affected by the vestiges of slavery: Jim Crow laws that were never dismantled and racist court decisions that were never disavowed.

The legal community must recognize that we all bear responsibility for this on-going injustice, and that we are capable of taking steps to address it, if only we have the courage and the will. . . .

As judges, we must recognize the role we have played in devaluing black lives. This very court once held that a cemetery could lawfully deny grieving black parents the right to bury their infant. We cannot undo this wrong—but we can recognize our ability to do better in the future. We can develop a greater awareness of our own conscious and unconscious biases in order to make just decisions in individual cases, and we can administer justice and support court rules in a way that brings greater racial justice to our system as a whole.

See the full letter and reports from The National Law Journal, Law.360, and The Tacoma News Tribune.

June 6, 2020 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Federal Appeals Courts, State Appeals Courts, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Coronavirus isn't the Only Infection to Worry About Right Now.

Computer virus

In May, while the world was still trying to adjust to life during quarantine, the Texas Office of Court Administration was hit by a ransomware attack. While the details are still a bit sketchy because of an ongoing investigation, we do know that the State refused to pay the demanded ransom, shut down the infected systems, and has struggled since then to continue its work via alternate channels.

For appellate attorneys, this has been particularly frustrating. The systems that were shut down include some of the case notification mechanisms, so attorneys are finding out via social media whether they won or lost an appeal. In some cases, the court's access to the record appears to have been lost, so advocates are being asked to help provide case information and records back to the court. Throughout it all, Texas courts have somehow managed to not only continue to work but to lead in holding remote oral arguments and hearings and in continuing to push their dockets despite the quarantine and a crippled IT infrastructure.

In a past life, I worked as a systems administrator and technician, and even wore a "white hat" while hacking to test security. So I am familiar with the challenges in preventing ransomware attacks. This post, however, isn't written for the IT crowd. I hope to give some advice to the attorneys and professors who generally ignore such posts, but are often the source of the problem.

First, you need to know that ransomware attacks generally follow a set pattern. The attackers implant software that helps them gain control of a system, usually be encrypting data so it is no longer usable. They then notify the victim of the attack and demand a ransom, usually in bitcoin or another cryptocurrency. If the ransom is paid, they promise to decrypt the data. Sometimes they do, sometimes they do not.

Where do you, the user, fit into this scheme? Usually, you are the point of infection. By taking a few precautions you might prevent the next attack, or help with the restoration that follows.

1.     Don't be the Source of the Infection.

Most ransomware is spread by Phishing, or emails that entice you to click a link that then loads the software onto your computer. Your IT department is serious when it asks you not to click on links from outside sources. The same goes for email attachments, and for links sent via text.

Some attacks start with "social engineering," or gaining access to sensitive information from users that can be used to guess passwords. Avoid the social-media posts that ask you cute personal questions and share with your friends. Even if your password isn't related to your date of birth, favorite pet, child's name, or other seemingly harmless bit of data, one of your friends' passwords might well be. Or, the attacker might use that information to personalize an email phishing attack that is just too hard to resist.

Finally, avoid using public wifi, or if you do, use the VPN that your employer has most likely set up for you. This is probably less common now that we are trying to stay in place, but is still a common source of attack.

2.     Help Preserve your Data.

If there is an attack, the target is the sensitive data that you hold. Most likely, that data will be locked away and inaccessible for awhile, if not forever. If your firm or court is going to recover, it needs your help.

Make sure that you keep up with backups. And, if you are working from a court's electronic record available online, do yourself (and the court) a favor and download that information rather than just relying on the online version. After suffering data corruption and other issues, I even email myself drafts of briefs as I progress in writing so that nothing is lost. The idea is to keep multiple copies on multiple storage devices, so that if one fails, there is still a way to recover. Some sensitive data will have to be more restricted, but in general, on appeal at least, we are working with public records that can be stored in multiple places.

3.     Remember that Confidentiality is a Ethical Responsibility.

Ransomware attacks are up across the board. There are even some healthcare providers that have been targeted, although some of them have been offered "discounts" on the ransom because they are essential service providers. Don't think that you are not a target. More importantly, don't think that your client's confidential information is not a target.

Indeed, law firms are increasingly the target of security intrusions. To protect clients, Comment 8 to Rule 1.1 of the ABA Model Rules imposes a duty of competence that includes keeping abreast of the "benefits and risks associated with relevant technology." Recently, Formal Opinion 483 clarified that the lawyer's duties include both taking all reasonable efforts to protect clients from data breaches and informing them when one occurs.

In the end, protecting client data is the professional responsibility of the attorney. You can't just blindly rely on your IT department or contractor and avoid that responsibility. Instead, you must be aware of the vulnerable world we live in, and take steps to be safe with not just your personal health, but the health of your data as well.

(Image attribution: "Virus" by kai Stachowiak, CC0 public domain license)

May 26, 2020 in Appellate Practice, Current Affairs, Legal Profession, State Appeals Courts, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, May 22, 2020

Appellate Advocacy Blog Weekly Roundup Friday, May 22, 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 unanimously ruled that Sudan must pay the over-$10 billion judgement awarded to the victims of the 1998 al-Qaeda bombing of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. The ruling allows Sudan to be held liable for both punitive and compensatory damages. A 2014 appellate ruling had determined that a 2008 law that permitted retroactive application of compensatory damages to cases involving state-sponsored terrorism did not extend to punitive damages.  The Supreme Court reversed that ruling and reinstated the 2012 judgment.  See opinion and reports from Bloomberg, The Washington Post, and The Associated Press.  

  • The Court refused to grant Idaho officials' request to block a transgender inmate’s surgery pending appeal.  The ruling leaves in place a Ninth Circuit order ruling that, by failing to provide the inmate’s gender confirmation surgery, Idaho violated the Eight Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. Idaho is appealing to the Supreme Court, which has not yet decided whether it will hear the case. See reports from The New York Times and NBC News.

  • The Court has refused to grant an “emergency” request by two Texas inmates to reinstate a district court order that had required a Texas prison to take measures to protect inmates against the threat of COVID-19. A federal appeals court stayed the order pending appeal and found that the measures required by the district court’s order went further than Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.  Although agreeing with the ultimate decision to deny the request, Justice Sotomayor issued a statement, to which Justice Ginsberg joined, to “highlight disturbing allegations” in the case. She writes: "It has long been said that a society's worth can be judged by taking stock of its prisons. That is all the truer in this pandemic, where inmates everywhere have been rendered vulnerable and often powerless to protect themselves from harm. May we hope that our country's facilities serve as models rather than cautionary tales." See Justice Sotomayor’s statement and reports in The New York Times, CNN, The Wall Street Journal, and Bloomberg Law.

Federal Appellate Court Opinions and News

  • The Fourth Circuit has allowed an emoluments suit against the president to proceed. The case, by Washington D.C. and Maryland, alleges that Donald Trump violated the Constitution by profiting from foreign and state patrons at his Washington, D.C., hotel. The court found a genuine dispute over the definition of an “emolument,” writing “we can hardly conclude that the President’s preferred definition of this obscure word is clearly and indisputably the correct one.” See opinion and a sampling of the many reports at The New York Times, The Courthouse New Service, The Hill, Politico, and The Washington Post.   

  • The Fifth Circuit has temporarily stayed a Texas district court’s May 19 ruling that would have allowed voters in Texas to vote by mail during the COVID-19 pandemic. The district court’s ruling found that the disability provision in the Texas vote-by-mail code applied to voters who “lack immunity from COVID-19 and fear infection at polling places.” See report at CNN, The Texas Tribune, and The Dallas Observer.

  • The Sixth Circuit granted rehearing en banc and vacated its decision finding that the “the Constitution provides a fundamental right to a basic minimum education” and defining that as an education that “plausibly provides access to literacy.”  This column reported on the Sixth Circuit’s right-to-education decision a few weeks ago.  See the order granting rehearing and reports from Bloomberg Law and Detroit Free Press.

State Court Opinions and News

  • In Michigan, the court have upheld the governor’s right to extend a stay-at-home order. Michigan residents claimed that the stay-at-home measures infringed on their constitutional rights.  The court recognized that the state has authority to enact policy when “faced with a public crisis” and determined that the policy was consistent with the law.  The court further iterated that a citizen’s constitutional rights are “subject to reasonable regulation by the state.”  See report by CBS News and The Hill.
  • In Wisconsin, the state supreme court struck down the governor’s stay-at-home order, ruling that the governor had overstepped his authority by extending the quarantine measures without consulting the legislature.  See the opinion and reports from The Associated Press, The Hill, and Wisconsin Public Radio.
  • In Oregon, the state supreme court stayed a county judge’s ruling that declared the governor’s COVID-19 measures concerning church gatherings “null and void.” See report in The Oregonian.

May 22, 2020 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Federal Appeals Courts, State Appeals Courts, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

A Toast to Those in the Courts Who Were Ready for This Pandemic

 

This blog post might provide you with information you already know.  The information is new to me, which made me think sharing it might assist others as well.  As I was looking at the Louisiana Supreme Court’s website recently, a reference caught my eye.  That reference was to the publication, “Preparing for a Pandemic: An Emergency Response Benchbook and Operational Guidebook for State Court Judges and Administrators.”  The publication can be downloaded here: https://ncsc.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/facilities/id/194

A team from the Conference of Chief Justices and the Conference of State Court Administrators worked on a Pandemic and Emergency Response Task Force to create this document, which was published by the National Center for State Courts in 2016!  That date caught my eye because, like so many of you, I have been stunned over the past few months (yes, months that sometimes feel like years) by what has been going on in the world: stunned by the magnitude of this pandemic.  And now, I am stunned by the fact that this group created this resource four years ago that is so relevant to what the world is experiencing in 2020.

The benchbook/guidebook urges state courts to create their own books tailored to their states in which they include both federal and state laws that will be relevant should a pandemic occur.  It raises issues to be considered in a pandemic, such as maintaining constitutional protections during a pandemic; operating courts during a pandemic; searches, seizures, and other government actions to maintain public health; and jurisdiction of public health issues.  It suggests that courts create certain model orders and court rules to use in the event of a pandemic.  It also provides a resources list that includes citations to state courts that already had such plans back then.  From back in 2016, it discusses and suggests many of the things that we are now discussing and suggesting.

I highly recommend you review this document, if you have not already seen it.  Perhaps it will be helpful to you in your law practice, in your law school, in your court, and even in your personal life as you grapple with and consider issues that do not often present themselves.  Thank you to the National Center for State Courts https://www.ncsc.org/, the Conference of Chief Justices https://ccj.ncsc.org/, and the Conference of State Court Administrators https://cosca.ncsc.org/ for thinking ahead.  I only wish we did not need your good book. 

May 13, 2020 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Court Reform, Appellate Justice, Appellate Practice, Appellate Procedure, Current Affairs, Legal Profession, Oral Argument, State Appeals Courts | Permalink | Comments (2)

Monday, May 11, 2020

Guest Post: Zoom Oral Arguments, Some Tips from the Trenches

This is a guest post from Stephen P. Hardwick, an Assistant Public Defender for the State of Ohio.

I had two Zoom oral arguments in the Ohio Supreme Court in the last week of April. I’ll break what I learned into four categories—the physical and electronic set up, practice and preparation, the argument itself, and finally some thoughts on how to use what might be your only chance to be in the office for weeks or months. And just like preparation for a courtroom argument, there’s a lot more to do preparing for the argument than at the argument itself.

  1. Computer and room set up:
    1. Regardless of what I say here, when it comes to the camera set up, the background, and the aesthetics of the podium area, you should do what you need do to feel comfortable and professional. I explain here what worked for me, but trust your judgment. For example, even though I can’t imagine that I’d do better sitting down, if you’re more comfortable sitting in front of a web cam, you’ll probably do better that way.
    2. Use your office. At least in Ohio, legal services are “essential,” and using your office means you don’t have to shush your kids for hours, share a residential broadband connection with their Zoom classes, or worry about a flushing toilet in the background. When I came home from the first argument, my wife told me a neighbor had been doing concrete work the whole time. Try to imagine that when pleading your client’s case.
    3. If possible, use a high definition web cam and then test whether it the camera angle is better at the top or the bottom of your monitor. Either way, having the web cam close to the screen means that when you look at the judges, the judges will feel like you’re looking at them. I didn’t use a web cam, but I wish I had because it would have provided a higher quality feed. My office is working to find one for the next attorney with an argument.
    4. Use a moderate-sized monitor. I used a huge wall-mounted monitor, but I found myself looking at the tiny laptop screen that was about six feet away because it was closer to the camera. A moderate-sized monitor will give enough space to see the judges without pushing the camera too far from the center of the screen.
    5. If at all possible, physically attach your computer to the office’s Internet service. WiFi is not good enough unless there’s no other choice. Cell connections sometimes are faster than WiFi connections, so if you can’t use a wired connection, test your cell connection and compare it to your WiFi. I had to abandon my first test run with Ohio Supreme Court staff because my WiFi connection was too slow. Most of my suggestions are just suggestions. This is not.
    6. The computer you use for Zoom might be inaccessible for a few hours before argument, so if possible, use one computer for the video hook up and another one for notes, files, and last-minute Westlaw searches. For Ohio Supreme Court arguments, we check in between 7:45 and 8:00 a.m., and then they put us in the Zoom waiting room until our argument time, which might not be until 11:00. During one of my waits, I checked a transcript, which inadvertently changed the angle of my computer screen. Because I was in the waiting room, I didn’t see that I was cut off at the chest until it was time to say, “May it please the Court.” If I had used a different laptop, I would not have had this problem.
    7. Have someone in the room with a remote keyboard and mouse who can take care of technical issues, like muting and unmuting or reconnecting the video if needed. If you can avoid it, you don’t want to pause the argument to take care of a technical problem. Your assistant can focus on fixing a problem while you continue to focus on arguing your case.
    8. Unless you have an exceptional microphone, use the dial-in number from a landline or VoIP. It will almost certainly be clearer, and it will be less problematic than using your laptop microphone. Connect using your “Participant ID” so the audio will be synced with your video. If you don’t know what that means, work with the court’s tech staff.
    9. Set the camera back far enough that it shows the upper half of the podium and a couple feet on either side. I strongly suggest standing at the podium when arguing and sitting when you’re not. Standing makes it easier to use gestures, and it made me feel more professional. If you sit, do so where the judges can see you so that you don’t entirely disappear from their view. Note: Ohio Supreme Court Justice Judith French has recommended either sitting or standing the whole time. She was concerned about awkward transitions. I hope I was sufficiently ready for the transitions that I didn’t bug her, but I was concerned about fidgeting while standing, which would have created its own nuisance.
    10. Professional virtual backgrounds are perfectly fine. So is an empty or nearly empty room. So is a bookshelf or uncluttered office. Whatever you do, you should be deliberate about what the camera will show. You should also have it ready before the test session with the court so that court staff can give feedback on the background. The IT professional helping us had spoken with our Chief Justice about how to run the argument, so if he asked me to change something, the Chief Justice probably would have, too.
    11. On the computer you use for the video feed, quit EVERYTHING. You don’t want anything popping up when you are arguing. You also don’t want your computer using its resources for anything but your argument.
  1. Practice and preparation:
    1. Attorneys get a test session the week before an Ohio Supreme Court argument. The test is both mandatory and extremely helpful. Michael Woods, the Ohio Supreme Court’s IT person, was great. Picture an Apollo-era mission control chief—white shirt with a tie, slightly horn-rimmed glasses, and a headset with a microphone extending around in front. He was also meticulous and calm. If you don’t have a practice session, ask for one.
    2. The Ohio Supreme Court required us to use a Zoom account with our real name and a professional-looking profile photo. The profile picture would appear if the video quit. The name appears over you during the argument. If your kids use the same account for school, make sure you don’t have your kid’s name over your feed and that you won’t present yourself to the court with a dragon avatar
    3. Make sure the court staff knows the number of the caller ID of the phone you will call in from. Often, our office phones give out a different caller ID than the number needed to call that phone. Because the staff had my correct number, they knew that, if needed, they could answer a call from me and immediately plug it back into the arguments.
    4. Do at least one Zoom moot court with the set up you will use for the argument. Have someone else host the Zoom moot because that’s how the argument will go. If possible, do the moot after the official test session so you will be using the set up that the court staff has approved. The practice sessions and moot courts will help you make sure that you have all the equipment you need set up in the best possible way. During my first practice session, I discovered that I needed a very specific adapter to physically connect to the Internet. You don’t want to wait until argument day to discover that you need some piece of equipment.
    5. Have a back-up plan in case you end up with a fever or something else that prevents you from using the office. We all could be the next person to get sick, and even a mild cough will keep us out of the office.
  1. Conduct of the argument itself:
    1. Be ready to act without the normal cues. In the courtroom, an attorney waits at counsel’s table until summoned to the podium by the presiding judge. In the Zoom world, you need to be ready when she calls you.
    2. Prioritize audio. At least in the Ohio Supreme Court, if you lose video during the argument, the Chief will keep the argument moving as long as she can hear you.
    3. I found it helpful to recreate a familiar environment—the podium, sitting while not speaking, and a real glass with cool water in it, just like the Ohio Supreme Court provides during a courtroom oral argument. A water glass might not be important to use, but I bet something small is. Figure out what that is and do it.
    4. Ohio Supreme Court staff required attorneys to leave a cell phone on to get messages before speaking or if there was a problem. That felt weird to me. I’m paranoid about my phone going off, so I didn’t like leaving it on. But I did.
  1. Office issues:
    1. This may be your only chance to personally check on your plants and retrieve stuff from your office. Take advantage of it, but don’t dawdle.
    2. Follow whatever rules your office sets. That will probably mean you’ll need to take your temperature, wear a mask when not presenting, and sanitize everything you touch. Your “essential” colleagues have to come to that place, so respect them enough to be careful.
  1. Final note: If something goes wrong, it’s OK. The judges will be patient as long as you’re making a good faith effort. So calmly do what you can to fix the problem. Remember that screen I accidentally put out of adjustment? During my initial argument, I just made sure my gestures were high enough to see. Before I sat down, I stepped forward, adjusted the camera angle, and sat down. No one said anything, and the argument continued. Your judges will show similar patience with you.

May 11, 2020 in Appellate Advocacy, Oral Argument, State Appeals Courts | 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)

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Make the Standard of Review Work for You

Black’s Law Dictionary defines “Standard of Review” as, “The criterion by which an appellate court exercising appellate jurisdiction measures the constitutionality of a statute or the propriety of an order, finding, or judgment entered by a lower court.”[1] But the standard of review is more than that. The applicable standard of review may determine whether a case is appealed and if so, what issues are raised. And the standard of review may determine whether the trial court’s judgment is affirmed or reversed.[2] Judge Patricia Wald of the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit has said, “Appellate courts have to decide what the ‘standard of review’ is, and that standard more often than not determines the outcome.”[3] Given the importance of the standard of review, appellate advocates should seek to convince the court to apply the standard of review that is most likely to lead to success for their client.

In any appeal, appellate counsel will spend hours deciding whether to appeal and if so, what issues to raise. Appellate counsel will devote considerable time and resources to researching the substantive law applicable to the case, reviewing the record, and drafting the brief. But how much time do we spend thinking about the standard of review and how we can make the standard of review work for our client? Is the standard of review section of the brief just copied from an earlier brief? If so, are we missing a chance to shape the standard of review and find arguments for a less deferential standard of review (or more deferential standard of review if you’re appellee’s counsel) that might help us win our client’s case? What if we could turn an issue that is, at first blush, reviewed for an abuse of discretion into one the court reviews de novo? That’s what happened in West Branch Local School District Board of Education v. West Branch Education Association.[4]

West Branch involved the non-renewal of a teacher’s contract.[5] The West Branch Local School District Board of Education and the West Branch Education Association were parties to a collective bargaining agreement that included a grievance and arbitration procedure.[6] A grievance was defined as a claim that there had been a violation, misrepresentation, or misapplication of the terms of the collective bargaining agreement.[7]

The collective bargaining agreement also contained a teacher evaluation procedure that superseded the evaluation procedure in the Ohio Revised Code.[8] In April 2013 the school board notified a teacher that it intended to non-renew her teaching contract and gave her a statement of reasons for the non-renewal.[9] The school board gave the teacher a hearing on her non-renewal and then voted to non-renew her teaching contract.[10]

The Association thought the school board had violated, misrepresented, or misapplied the collective bargaining agreement’s teacher evaluation procedures, so it filed a grievance.[11] The school board's superintendent denied the grievance and the association then submitted a request for arbitration.[12] That prompted the school board to file a lawsuit to enjoin the association from going to arbitration.[13] The trial court granted a permanent injunction in favor of the school board.[14] The association appealed the trial court’s judgment.[15]

The issue on appeal in West Branch was whether the trial court erred in granting a permanent injunction--a decision that would generally have been reviewed for an abuse of discretion.[16] The association, however, argued that the court of appeals should review the trial court’s judgment de novo.[17]  The association contended that the substantive legal issue that led to the permanent injunction involved the application of the terms of a contract—the collective bargaining agreement.[18] The association said that the terms of the collective bargaining agreement were unambiguous, so the application of the contract was a question of law, and questions of law are reviewed de novo.[19] The court of appeals agreed, reviewed the contract issue de novo, and reversed the trial court’s judgment,[20] a result that would have been unlikely had the court of appeals reviewed the trial court’s judgment for an abuse of discretion.

 

[1] Standard of Review, Black's Law Dictionary (11th ed. 2019).

[2] Timothy J. Storm, The Standard of Review Does Matter: Evidence of Judicial Self-Restraint in the Illinois Appellate Court, 34 S. Ill. U. L. J. 73, 74 (Fall, 2009).

[3] Patricia M. Wald, The Rhetoric of Results and the Results of Rhetoric: Judicial Writings, 62 U. Chi. L. Rev. 1371, 1391 (1995).

[4] 35 N.E.3d 551 (Ohio 7th Dist. Ct. App. 2015).

[5] Id. at 553.

[6] Id. at 552.

[7] Id. at 555.

[8] Id. at 555-58

[9] Id. at 552.

[10] Id.

[11] Id. at 553.

[12] Id.

[13] Id.

[14] Id.

[15] Id.

[16] Id.

[17] Id.

[18] Id.

[19] Id.

[20] Id. at 554-59.

March 3, 2020 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Appellate Procedure, Legal Writing, State Appeals Courts | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Continue Teaching the New Dogs, Old Tricks: The Value of Teaching Appellate Advocacy to Law Students

A majority of U.S. law schools teach persuasive writing and oral advocacy to 1L and 2L students as part of required courses.1 These courses often focus on appellate advocacy. This model has existed for many years, gaining steam especially in the late 1980s after the ABA criticized law schools for failing to properly train law students in appellate advocacy.2 Some law professors and law students question the value of teaching appellate advocacy when we know that many lawyers will not actually engage in writing formal appellate briefs or participate in formal appellate oral arguments during their careers. Through this post I support the continued teaching of the skills required to write an appellate brief and make an appellate argument because the skills taught and tested when doing this kind of work are essential lawyering skills across a wide range of jobs held by lawyers. Lawyers are professional communicators—writing and speaking are essential skills of the profession.

First, writing an appellate brief requires careful, precise, and accurate work. Students must work with and follow procedural and local rules that dictate how to format a particular document, what information must be included, and when and how the document produced must be filed. Students must learn to carefully read a record and research the law to craft legal arguments within parameters set by the rules, including page limits and section requirements that force writers to write and rewrite their work until it is sharp and concise. All of this must be done while the writer is persuasively and accurately explaining to the court why a particular argument has merit when considering the governing law and the facts. The writer must also properly cite the law and the record.  These skills are all skills that are valued in the jobs that lawyers hold, from actually working in a litigation setting as an advocate, to advising and counseling clients in a more transactional practice, to working as a judge or a law clerk, just to name a few settings.

Second, oral communication skills are critical for lawyers. While not all lawyers will choose to engage in a litigation-type practice in which arguing to courts is a part of the work, most lawyers will need to “argue” or explain persuasively in their jobs. Appellate advocacy involves presenting arguments as well as responding to questions; it requires advocates to think on their feet. Lawyers who train in the skills of appellate advocacy will develop skills that will transfer to trial advocacy, negotiation, and other tasks requiring effective oral communication. Transactional lawyers will need to discuss positions with clients, orally communicate terms of a deal or a position, and negotiate terms of contracts. Many of the more formal skills required for oral argument will transfer to this transactional work. Even for those lawyers whose jobs do not include a focus on oral presentations, training to skillfully and thoughtfully respond to questions and clearly present legal and factual analysis is training that is an asset to most everyone in any type of legal job.

Third, developing appellate advocacy skills in law schools introduces students to professional and ethical norms that serve to give these burgeoning lawyers a taste of the legal profession and its traditions. Following rules, extending deference in a professional manner to the court, and showing respect for opposing counsel are all norms that should be learned in law schools and carried into the profession. Participating in the ceremony and discourse required in courses that teach appellate advocacy initiate these soon-to-be lawyers and welcome them into the legal community.

In conclusion, let’s continue to teach the new dogs the old tricks. Let’s strive to improve how we do it. Let’s even consider adding to appellate advocacy instruction, instruction and experiences in a variety of written and oral communication settings, like contract negotiation and drafting, trial advocacy, international advocacy, treaty negotiation and drafting, and other areas where lawyers are called upon to use their communication skills. We can value the foundational skills taught and learned through courses in appellate advocacy and supplement legal education with even more experiences that call on students to learn how to communicate effectively.

 

1 ALWD/LWI Survey 2018, Q. 6.4, https://www.lwionline.org/resources/surveys; Section on Legal Education & Admission to the Bar, Sourcebook on Legal Writing Programs 28, 46 (2006).

2 Michael Vitiello, Teaching Effective Oral Argument Skills: Forget About the Drama Coach, 75 Miss. L.J. 869, 869 (2006).

February 19, 2020 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Appellate Procedure, Law School, Legal Profession, Legal Writing, Moot Court, Oral Argument, State Appeals Courts | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Reasonable Sources on Appeal

Many of the legal standards courts apply to appellate issues resolve around the inevitably fuzzy concept of reasonableness. The reasonable person, reasonable expectations of privacy, reasonable observers, reasonably prudent consumers, reasonable suspicion—all of these tests require advocates to conjure some ideal of what reasonable people might do or think in a given factual scenario. And for most advocates, that standard can seem hopelessly inchoate.

One problem is determining the sources of a “reasonable” standard. Consider the determination of when a person has been “seized” for Fourth Amendment purposes,  and thus the point at which officers must have a requisite level of suspicion to support that seizure. The touchstone test, established in United States v. Mendenhall, 446 U.S. 544, 554 (1980), suggests that officers have seized an individual when, “in view of all the circumstances surrounding the incident, a reasonable person would have believed that he was not free to leave.” The test leaves unanswered whose opinions count in determining what a reasonable person might believe. Does the test measure what a police officer thinks it reasonable for an average citizen to believe—as it seemingly must if the test is to have any utility guiding day-to-day police activity? Or does the test focus upon what the average citizen believes? If the latter, must the test look to the reasonable beliefs of “average citizens” at the highest level of abstraction, or can it take into account the specific characteristics of the defendant, such as race?

The latter question arose recently in the South Carolina Supreme Court’s decision in State v. Spears, No. 27945 (S.C.), where the Court asked at oral argument whether the black defendant’s race should affect the Court’s evaluation of when a reasonable person no longer felt free to leave and was thus seized by police. The South Carolina Supreme Court noted the Mendenhall court’s view, echoed later by the Seventh Circuit, that although the defendant’s race is “not irrelevant,” it is also not dispositive.[1] The Court also carefully noted the Tenth Circuit’s recent suggestion that race is not a relevant factor in the reasonable person test; that court argued that a racial factor would render the test impossibly complex for officers in the field given the “divergent attitudes towards law enforcement” within racial groups.[2] The South Carolina Supreme Court was able to sidestep the issue by finding it unpreserved due to the defendant’s failure to raise it below. But the issue continues to percolate in other State Supreme Courts.[3]

This argument has echoes in broader theories behind the interpretation of legal texts. Originalist accounts of constitutional interpretation, for instance, set their sights on constraining judicial discretion by assuring that would-be activist judges rule according to the law rather than their policy preferences. But the proper sources for originalist interpretation remain unclear. Are the pre-enactment writings of the text’s authors relevant as part of a narrower effort to find the original intent behind the document? What about dictionaries or legal treatises available before (or after) enactment that might shed light upon the popularly understood meanings of a text? And should the interpretive methods taken today echo the interpretive methods that the lawyers or judges of the time of the enactment might have relied upon?

Neither the narrower question of interpreting a specific issue of reasonable beliefs, nor the broader question of interpreting the relevant sources of original intent or meaning, has a clear answer that makes appellate advocates’ jobs easy. But advocates should not resign themselves to guesswork. Definite answers may be impossible in either project. Yet the effort to use all available methods to guide decision-makers can still lend clarity to an apparently insoluble legal inquiry.  Though it is hard to say who has the better of the arguments about the sources and scope of inquiry, it may nonetheless be an argument worth having. Appellate advocates should strive to understand the problems of source in the fuzzy standards they may need to deploy in advocacy, then do their best to resolve the problems by choosing sources in a logical, up-front manner. Those with the most candid and convincing accounts are likely to find success on appeal.

 

[1] United States v. Mendenhall, 446 U.S. 544, 558 (1980); United States v. Smith, 794 F.3d 681, 688 (7th Cir. 2015).

[2] United States v. Easley, 911 F.3d 1074, 1082 (10th Cir. 2018), cert. denied, 2019 WL 1886117 (U.S. Apr. 29, 2019).

[3] See, e.g., Commonwealth v. Evelyn, No. SJC-12808 (Mass.).

February 18, 2020 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Appellate Procedure, Federal Appeals Courts, Moot Court, Oral Argument, State Appeals Courts, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Preserving Evidence for the Record on Appeal

    The record on appeal includes “original papers and exhibits filed in the district court,” a “transcript of the proceedings” from the district court, and a “certified copy of the docket entries.”1 Appellate courts across the country have similar rules. The trial lawyer works hard to present evidence to support the client’s case. The lawyer also works hard to create and present effective demonstrative evidence. Charts printed on large boards may be used to display data and other information supporting witness testimony. Physical models may represent a forest or the seabed and be used by an expert to explain testimony about run off or contamination. And more and more often, in place of these physical charts and models, electronic presentations may be used to demonstrate this information. A witness may testify while reviewing a video of a surgery or other procedure. Models may be shown electronically, the advantage being that the models can be quickly modified or added to as a person is testifying to demonstrate the testimony. These are all effective ways of delivering information to the jury and the court.
    One of the challenges for the lawyer after trying a case with demonstrative evidence includes ensuring that these exhibits, essential to the case at trial, are accessible in forms such that they can be easily transferred to and reviewed by an appellate court, should there be an appeal. Appellate courts prefer to review information in electronic form or paper form; bulky exhibits will not ordinarily be part of the appellate court’s review.2 Thus, the trial lawyer should consider photographing bulky exhibits and entering such photographs into the record so that they can be considered by the appellate court. Information presented electronically should also be included in the record, either by printing and introducing the information in its paper form or by ensuring that the electronic version is preserved either on a flash drive or in an electronic record or transcript created by the court reporter. If the electronic exhibits are manipulated or otherwise changed as part of the testimony, the lawyer must be sure that all versions of what is presented are captured for the record.
    As technology evolves, lawyers need to adapt to ensure that their exhibits are in forms and on media that will be accessible to the appellate courts. Lawyers must also ensure that all exhibits are properly identified in the record and that the record is clear about which exhibits were entered and not entered into evidence. Lawyers must abide by procedural rules and local court rules regarding these issues, of course. Moreover, they must think and act strategically to guarantee that their exhibits will be considered by the trial and the appellate courts. Lawyers should not rely on court staff to manage this information.

1 Fed. R. App. P. 10(a).

2Id. 11(b)(2).

January 29, 2020 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Appellate Procedure, Federal Appeals Courts, Legal Profession, Oral Argument, State Appeals Courts, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Settled Precedent or Doctrinal Dinosaur? Handling Stare Decisis.

Extinct bird

Last year was a rough year for the doctrine of stare decisis, the rule that prior precedent should be followed in subsequent similar cases. In 2018, in Janus v. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Justice Alito quoted from Payne v. Tennessee, a 1991 Rehnquist opinion, reasoning that stare decisis as important because it "promotes the evenhanded, predictable, and consistent development of legal principles, fosters reliance on judicial decisions, and contributes to the actual and perceived integrity of the judicial process. Thus, although stare decisis is not an "inexorable command," past precedent should not be overturned without "strong grounds" for doing so. These grounds included an analysis of the quality of the reasoning, the workability of the rule established, its consistency with related decisions, developments since the rule was handed down, and subsequent reliance on the decision.

In his May 2019 majority opinion in Franchise Tax Board v. Hyatt, Justice Thomas concluded, after analyzing four of these factors, that the first three justified overruling prior precedent. In reaction, Justice Breyer noted in his dissent that believing that a case was wrongly decided cannot justify "scrapping settled precedent."  Instead, according to Breyer, since the dissent in the prior precedent had considered the majority decision to be wrongly decided, but still "plausible," overruling a decision that is not "obviously wrong" simply because the majority now agrees with the prior dissent is "obviously wrong."

The next month, Justice Kagan, writing for the majority in Kisor v. Wilkie, again quoted from Payne regarding the importance of stare decisis, and argued that any departure from the doctrine must be supported by some "special justification" beyond the argument that the prior case was wrongly decided. Finding that the precedent at issue was not "unworkable" or a "doctrinal dinosaur," the majority refused to overturn it. Justice Gorsuch, writing a concurring opinion, seemed to reject Kagan's strict approach, instead returning to the Janus factors created by Alito and suggesting that such factors should permit the overturning of precedent when it "no longer withstands careful analysis."

This back-and-forth battle involves more than just a disagreement over the legal standard for overturning precedent. There are political and social subcontexts that are being flagged in these cases. But that is a subject for a different blog. What I am concerned with is what a practitioner, after all of this sparring, is supposed to do with adverse authority now.

First, it should go without saying that you can't ignore adverse authority. ABA Model Rule3.3(a)(2) states that “a lawyer shall not knowingly … fail to disclose to the tribunal legal authority in the controlling jurisdiction known to the lawyer to be directly adverse to the position of the client and not disclosed by opposing counsel.” Even if you think you can distinguish the authority, or that it is a dead doctrine, you must deal with it.

Second, be sure that you are actually dealing with precedent that is directly applicable to your case. If the authority is distinguishable, you don't need to directly attack it. Just show why the decision does not dictate a result in your case. As Justice Frankfurter wrote, "If a precedent involving a black horse is applied to a case involving a white horse, we are not excited. If it were an elephant or an animal ferae naturae or a chose in action, then we would venture into thought. The difference might make a difference." Reid v. Covert, 354 U.S. 1, 50 (1957) (Frankfurter, concurring). Explain why your differences dictate a different outcome.

Third, when you do have to discuss applicable adverse authority,and you cannot distinguish it, use the structure applied by both sides of the debate whenever possible. Both sides of the debate in the Court give lip service to the idea that stare decisis is not a rigid doctrine. One side seems to focus on whether the prior decision is unworkable or out-of-touch with current law, while the other prefers the multifactoral approach under Janus. Using both approaches therefore seems to be the best bet - quote and use the Janus factors, but focus on why the prior case has become unworkable or is out-of-touch with current law.

Fourth, enlist aid when showing why the prior case is unworkable. Surveys of former Supreme Court Clerks indicate that they find amicus briefs particularly helpful when dealing with complex issues beyond their experience. See Lynch, Best Friends?: Supreme Court Law Clerks on Effective Amicus Curiae Briefs, 20 J.L. & Pol. 33 (Winter 2004). If a doctrine has had an unworkable impact in a particular field, then briefing from amicus in that field may be necessary to get across the point. Consider soliciting that briefing at an early stage, as well as setting out the issue even in intermediate appellate courts.

Fifth, and finally, know your enemy. Understand the underpinnings and history of your adverse authority, so you can help the Court understand how some of those underpinnings may have changed over time. This will require extensive research, but if the Court is going to require "special justification" to change the adverse authority, it will require special effort on your part to explain and justify that departure. This may require some legal digging, but if you can show, at the end, that the adverse case is really a dinosaur, all that digging is worth it.

Thanks goes to appellate lawyer Scott Rothenberg's paper, "Prevailing in the Face of Adverse 'White Horse" Authority" for inspiring this post.

(image credit: Dinornis Elephantopus, Roger Fenton c1854 (Digital image courtesy of the Getty's Open Content Program)).

 

January 14, 2020 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Legal Ethics, State Appeals Courts, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, December 14, 2019

This Holiday Season, All Our Appellate Courts Want Is Good, Civil Writing

In this season of giving, we have the gifts of two new scathing appellate opinions on poor persuasion and civility to remind us all our courts really want for Christmas (and any holiday) is clear, ethical writing.  While we have plenty of past examples of appellate courts taking poor writers to task, in November, we gained two more published opinions building on past decisions and reminding us truly persuasive writing is both straightforward and civil.

The blogosphere has already discussed the November 7, 2019 Seventh Circuit opinion in McCurry v. Kenco Logistics, where the court explained:  “Bad writing does not normally warrant sanctions, but we draw the line at gibberish.”  942 F.3d 783, 792 (7th Cir. 2019).  For a fun review of McCurry listing the many biting phrases the court used, including the new signal “(all errors in original),” see Kevin Underhill’s November 8, 2019 blog.  https://loweringthebar.net/2019/11/seventh-circuit-we-draw-the-line-at-gibberish.html.

The McCurry court cited Stanard v. Nygren, 658 F.3d 792, 801–02 (7th Cir. 2011), a Seventh Circuit decision ordering an attorney to should show cause why he should not be disciplined for poor writing and lack of civility.  Counsel in Stanard first gained notoriety representing alleged repeat wife-killer Drew Peterson in civil litigation, and faced criticism for his past litigation tactics.  See Howard Posner, “Mind Your Grammar,” Cal. Lawyer (Nov. 2012).  In Stanard, the court chastised counsel for “Lack of punctuation,” “Near incomprehensibility,” “Failure to follow basic directions,” “Grammatical and syntactical errors,” and incorrect statements of fact and law.  658 F.3d at 797-800.  According to Judge Sykes, who also authored McCurry:  “At least 23 sentences [in the Stanard brief] contained 100 or more words. This includes sentences of 385, 345, and 291 words.”  Stanard, 658 F.3d at 798.   Moreover, counsel’s refusal to follow court orders and lack of respect for the trial court hindered his representation of his landowner client in StanardId. at 800-02.

For years, I have used Stanard in appellate advocacy teaching to support the idea truly persuasive writing is accurate and precise.  I also use the case to show how lack of civility to the court and others inhibits persuasion. 

Now, we can also point students to McCurry, and we have a new case from California expressly saying lack of civility is unpersuasive.  On November 22, 2019, the California Court of Appeal issued its opinion in Briganti v. Chow, ___ Cal. App. 4th __, 2019 WL 6242111, *1 (Nov. 22, 2019), and ordered the opinion published “to draw attention to our concluding note on civility, sexism, and persuasive brief writing.”  See Debra Cassens Weiss, “Appeals court sees lawyer's reference to 'attractive' judge in brief as a 'teachable moment' on sexism,” http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/appeals-court-sees-lawyers-reference-to-attractive-judge-in-brief-as-a-teachable-moment-on-sexism (Nov. 27, 2019).

Briganti involved, in part, an anti-SLAPP motion regarding claims based on Facebook posts.  2019 WL 6242111, *2-4.   In the trial court, then Superior Court Judge Feuer, now a Court of Appeal Justice, made several rulings for and against defendant Chow, and the Briganti court affirmed those rulings.  Id.  After discussing the merits, the court added an opinion section titled “A Note on Civility, Sexism, and Persuasive Brief Writing,” explaining:  “we would be remiss if we did not also comment on a highly inappropriate assessment of certain personal characteristics of the trial judge, including her appearance, [in] Chow’s reply brief. We do so not to punish or embarrass, but to take advantage of a teachable moment.”  Id. at *4.   

This “teachable moment” was a chance to remind us all sexism, in any form, is unprofessional, unpersuasive, and uncivil.  Chow’s reply brief began with comments Justice Feuer was “an attractive, hard-working, brilliant, young, politically well-connected judge on a fast track for the California Supreme Court or Federal Bench,” noting “[w]ith due respect, every so often, an attractive, hard-working, brilliant, young, politically well-connected judge can err! Let’s review the errors!”  Id. at *4.  When questioned at oral argument, Chow’s counsel “stated he intended to compliment the trial judge.” Id.  Nevertheless, the appellate court concluded the brief “reflect[ed] gender bias and disrespect for the judicial system.”  Id.  According to the court:  “Calling a woman judge — now an Associate Justice of this court — ‘attractive,’ . . . is inappropriate because it is both irrelevant and sexist. This is true whether intended as a compliment or not.  Such comments would not likely have been made about a male judge.”  The court cited the California Code of Judicial Ethics, which compels judges to require lawyers “to refrain from” bias based on gender.  Id. at *5.  As the Briganti court explained, “as judicial officers, we can and should take steps to help reduce incivility,” by “calling gendered incivility out for what it is and insisting it not be repeated.”  Id.

The court ended its opinion:  “We conclude by extending our thanks to the many talented lawyers whose excellent briefs and scrupulous professionalism make our work product better and our task more enjoyable.”  Id  According to Briganti,  good brief-writing “requires hard work, rigorous analysis, and careful attention to detail.”  Thus, while courts “welcome creativity and do not require perfection,” Briganti “simply did not find the peculiar style and content of [Chow’s] brief’s opening paragraph appropriate, helpful, or persuasive.”  Id.

Counsel for Chow appears unrepentant, telling the Metropolitan News-Enterprise the court “totally missed the boat on this one, attacking the messenger . . . for using one generally descriptive word ‘attractive’” and exclaiming “Shame on the DCA! Shame on the DCA!” regarding what used to be called the District Court of Appeal.  MetNews Staff Writer, “Reference in Brief to Female Judge as ‘Attractive’ Is Sexist:  Justice Currey Says Note Is Made of Inappropriateness of Conduct for Instructional Purpose,” http://www.metnews.com/articles/2019/attractive112519.htm (Nov. 25, 2019).  While the Briganti court noted the case did not warrant sanctions, the California State Bar has sanctioned Chow’s counsel in the past.  Id.

Despite the Briganti counsel’s rejection of the opinion, the rest of us can add Briganti to McCurry and Stanard, among others, on our personal lists of cases reminding us all courts really want is clear, honest writing that helps them reach proper decisions.  And for those of us teaching and mentoring new legal writers, these November gifts from appellate courts help us remind young attorneys true persuasion is civil and thoughtful.  Happy holidays!

December 14, 2019 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Appellate Procedure, Federal Appeals Courts, Legal Ethics, Legal Profession, Legal Writing, State Appeals Courts | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

The Genealogy of Law

In Portage County Board of Developmental Disabilities v. Portage County Educators' Association for Developmental Disabilities,[1]  the Ohio Supreme Court held that a court of appeals should review de novo a trial court judgment confirming, modifying, vacating, or correcting an arbitration award.[2] This case resolved a split among Ohio’s intermediate appellate courts, some of which had held that abuse of discretion was the appropriate standard of review.[3]

But why had the split occurred? What support had the lower courts relied upon to conclude that abuse of discretion was the proper standard of review?

It turns out, there wasn’t any reasoned support for the abuse of discretion standard. The split occurred because courts and advocates had failed to trace the genealogy of the law they were citing or had simply said that abuse of discretion applied without explaining why. This shows the need for both advocates and courts to research the origin of the law being cited to ensure well-reasoned arguments and decisions.

Before the Ohio Supreme Court’s decision in Portage County Board of Developmental Disabilities, three of Ohio’s twelve appellate districts, the Eighth, Tenth, and Twelfth, had held that abuse of discretion was the appropriate standard of review when an appellate court reviewed a trial court’s decision confirming, modifying, vacating, or correcting an arbitration award.[4] So let’s trace the genealogy of the abuse of discretion standard in these three districts.

Ohio’s Eighth District Court of Appeals

Cleveland State University v. Fraternal Order of Police said that abuse of discretion was the appropriate standard of review.[5] The court in Cleveland State cited Citibank, N.A. v. White,[6] which said that abuse of discretion was the appropriate standard but the White court didn’t cite any support for that conclusion or explain why abuse of discretion was the proper standard.

An earlier Eighth District case, Miller v. Management Recruiters International, Inc.,[7] had also applied the abuse of discretion.[8] Miller relied on an Eighth District case, Motor Wheel Corporation v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co.[9] But the court in Motor Wheel hadn’t said that abuse of discretion applied; instead, Motor Wheel had recognized that the applicable standard of review was unclear, so the Motor Wheel court reviewed the trial court’s decision under both the abuse of discretion standard and the de novo standard.[10]

Ohio’s Tenth District Court of Appeals

In Dodge v. Dodge,[11] Ohio’s Tenth District Court of Appeals said that abuse of discretion was the appropriate standard of review and cited MBNA American Bank, NA v. E. Paul Jones as support.[12] But the E. Paul Jones court didn’t cite any support or explain why it applied the abuse of discretion standard.[13]

The Tenth District also used the abuse of discretion standard in State of Ohio Department of Administrative Services, Office of Collective Bargaining v. Fraternal Order of Police of Ohio, Inc.[14] That case relied on Licking Heights Local School District Board of Education v. Reynoldsburg City School District Board of Education,[15] which in turn cited MBNA American Bank, NA v. E. Paul Jones.[16] The court in Licking Heights, in citing E. Paul Jones, said that E. Paul Jones cited another Tenth District case, Endicott v. Johrent to support the abuse of discretion standard.[17] While E. Paul Jones had cited Endicott, it did not use Endicott to support the abuse of discretion standard.[18] And Endicott did not say that abuse of discretion was the proper standard of review.[19]

Ohio’s Twelve District Court of Appeals

The Twelve District’s adoption of the abuse of discretion standard appears to stem from the decision of the Ohio Eleventh District Court of Appeals in Citigroup Global Markets, Inc. v. Masek.[20] Masek held that abuse of discretion was the correct standard of review[21] and cited an Ohio Sixth District Court of Appeals decision, Herrendeen v. Daimler Chrysler Corp.,[22] to support the abuse of discretion standard. But Herrendeen didn’t say that abuse of discretion applied—Herrendeen didn’t even discuss the applicable standard of review.[23]

The Masek court also relied on its earlier decision in Rossi v. Lanmark Homes, Inc.[24] The Rossi court did not explain or cite support for its conclusion that abuse of discretion was the appropriate standard of review.

In Buchholz v. W. Chester Dental Group,[25] the Twelfth District cited the Eleventh District’s decision in Masek to support the abuse of discretion standard of review. In re Hamilton cited Buchholz for the same standard.[26]

These cases show the need to trace the genealogy of the law you are relying on. Doing this will allow advocates to develop arguments to support the continued application of precedent or the overruling of precedent. It will also promote the well-reasoned, consistent application of the law.

[1] 103 N.E. 3d 804 (2018).

[2] Id. at 805.

[3] Id.

[4] Dodge v. Dodge, 95 N.E.3d 820, 822 (Ohio App. 10th Dist. 2017), abrogated by Portage County Bd. of Developmental Disabilities v. Portage County Educators' Assn. for Developmental Disabilities, 103 N.E. 3d 804 (Ohio 2018); In re Hamilton v. Intl. Union of Operating Engineers, Loc. 20, 69 N.E.3d 1253, 1255 (Ohio App. 12th Dist. 2016), cause dismissed sub nom. In re Hamilton v. Internatl. Union of Operating Engineers, Loc. 20, 150 Ohio St. 3d 1413 (2017), abrogated by Portage County Bd. of Developmental Disabilities v. Portage County Educators' Assn. for Developmental Disabilities, 103 N.E. 3d 804 (Ohio 2018); and Cleveland State Univ. v. Fraternal Or. of Police, Ohio Lab. Council, Inc., 50 N.E.3d 285 (Ohio App. 8th Dist. 2015), abrogated by Portage County Bd. of Developmental Disabilities v. Portage County Educators' Assn. for Developmental Disabilities, 103 N.E. 3d 804 (Ohio 2018).

[5] Cleveland State Univ., 50 N.E. 3d  at 289.

[6] 99868, 2014 WL 346740, at *3 (Ohio App. 8th Dist. Jan. 30, 2014).

[7] 906 N.E. 2d 1162 (Ohio App. 8th Dist. 2009).

[8] Id. at 1166.

[9] 647 N.E. 2d 844 (Ohio App. 8th Dist. 1994).

[10] Id. at 849.

[11] 95 N.E.3d 820, 822 (Ohio App. 10th Dist. 2017).

[12] Id. at 826, citing MBNA Am. Bank, NA v. E. Paul Jones, 05AP-665, 2005 WL 3485512, at *3 (Ohio App. 10th Dist. Dec. 20, 2005).

[13] MBNA Am. Bank, NA v. E. Paul Jones, 05AP-665, 2005 WL 3485512, (Ohio App. 10th Dist. Dec. 20, 2005).

[14] 89 N.E. 3d 103, 108 (Ohio App. 10th Dist. 2017).

[15] 996 N.E. 2d 1025, 2018 (Ohio App. 10th Dist. 2013).

[16] Id. (“Typically, our review of a trial court decision to confirm an arbitration award is conducted under the abuse of discretion standard. See MBNA Am. Bank, N.A. v. Jones, 10th Dist. No. 05AP–665, 2005-Ohio-6760, 2005 WL 3485512, ¶ 10, citing Endicott v. Johrendt, 10th Dist. No. 97APE08–1122, 1998 WL 212770 (Apr. 30, 1998).”).

[17] 97APE08-1122, 1998 WL 212770, at *1 (Ohio App. 10th Dist. Apr. 30, 1998).

[18] MBNA Am. Bank, NA v. E. Paul Jones, 05AP-665, 2005 WL 3485512, at *2 (Ohio App. 10th Dist. Dec. 20, 2005).

[19] Endicott v. Johrendt, 97APE08-1122, 1998 WL 212770 (Ohio App. 10th Dist. Apr. 30, 1998).

[20] 2006-T-0052, 2007 WL 1395360, at *2 (Ohio App. 11th Dist. May 11, 2007), overruled by Portage County Bd. of Developmental Disabilities v. Portage County Educators' Assn. for Developmental Disabilities, 86 N.E.3d 580 (Ohio App. 11th Dist. 2017).

[21] Id.

[22] L-00-1268, 2001 WL 304843 (Ohio App. 6th Dist. Mar. 30, 2001).

[23] Id.

[24] 94-L-046, 1994 WL 738800, at *6 (Ohio App. 11th Dist. Dec. 30, 1994).

[25] CA2007-11-292, 2008 WL 4541954, at *2 (Ohio App. 12th Dist. Oct. 13, 2008).

[26] In re Hamilton v. Intl. Union of Operating Engineers, Loc. 20, 69 N.E.3d 1253, 1255 (Ohio App. 12th Dist. 2016).

 

 

December 10, 2019 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Legal Profession, Legal Writing, State Appeals Courts | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, December 6, 2019

Appellate Advocacy Blog Weekly Roundup Friday, December 6, 2019

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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:

  • A few weeks ago, this column noted that four federal executions had been stayed, effectively blocking the recent Justice Department decision to resume federal executions. This week, after an emergency bid to a federal appeals court was rejected, the Justice Department asked the Supreme Court to reverse that stay. The request asks that the executions be allowed to continue early next week.  See more from CNN and Reuters.
  • After the Second Circuit refused to block the House of Representative’s subpoena for Donald Trump’s financial records, the President has petitioned the Supreme Court to void the subpoena. APNews. The Second Circuit ruling finds the House Committee’s “interests in pursuing their constitutional legislative function is a far more significant public interest than whatever public interest inheres in avoiding the risk of a Chief Executive’s distraction." Order at page 105.
  • This week, the Supreme Court heard argument on the Second Amendment in New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. City of New York, the first major gun-related case before them in nearly a decade. The case centers on NYC gun ownership laws, which limited the ability to take a licensed firearm out of the home. However, the laws have since been amended, removing the contested restrictions. Thus, one of the more pertinent questions before the court is whether the case is moot.  See NYT OpEd here.
  • The Court is considering an appeal about whether the US Constitution gives homeless people the right to sleep on the sidewalk. Last year, the Ninth Circuit held that it was cruel and unusual punishment for a city to “prosecut[e] people criminally for sleeping outside on public property when those people have no home or other shelter to go to.” Opinion p. 4.

Federal Appellate Court Opinions and News:

  • A recent State Department rule requiring that foreigners disclose their social media accounts when applying for a visa is the target of a new federal lawsuit. The suit raises privacy and surveillance issues and argues that the rule violates the US Constitution’s rights to free speech and association.  See NYTimes article here.
  • The Eleventh Circuit heard argument this week in a case that could set precedent on the issue of bathroom access by transgender high school students. The lower-court ruling on appeal granted the transgender petitioner access to the boy’s bathroom at his high school in Florida.  See AJC article here

State Appeals Court News

  • The Ohio Court of Appeals has overturned a zoning board refusal to allow the company “Broke Ass Phone” to use its name on a street sign.  The court ruled that the word “ass” when used in the phrase “broke ass phone” is neither obscene nor immoral and that the company had a First Amendment right to use the word.  See ABA Journal story here.

 

December 6, 2019 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Appellate Procedure, Federal Appeals Courts, Legal Profession, State Appeals Courts, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Who Really Drives the Appellate Litigation Bus?

No offense to this blog’s readers, but appellate advocates in general are a narcissistic bunch. We like to think of ourselves as the drivers of legal change in our system. We assume that the arguments we present before appellate courts are the impetus for new opinions that will have far-reaching practical effects in law and society. I feel confident in ascribing this self-important attitude to appellate advocates because I held it dearly when I practiced as an appellate public defender. Nothing could be more meaningful, I assured myself, than a worthy struggle in the arena of ideas that is an appellate courtroom, with the eventual victor illuminating the legal path forward for decades.

When I began wearing an academic hat, I was forced to reexamine my assumptions about the role appellate advocates plays in shaping the law. And that reexamination was sobering. Our judicial system carries a deeply embedded faith in the procedural justice of adversarial litigation—the idea that when parties compete in a fair process for adjudicating disagreements, they will produce the most just results possible. But when I examined both my own experiences as an appellate clerk and the available data on high court adjudication, I was disappointed to realize how often judges themselves, rather than litigants, drive the outcomes in our supposedly adversarial courts.[1] Take the United States Supreme Court, for example. Supreme Court litigants and their attorneys play a diminishing role in actually shaping the direction of the law, while the “umpire” Justices themselves take greater control over the direction of jurisprudence. The Justices have lowered the demands of their discretionary dockets by consistently granting certiorari in fewer than 100 cases per year, while simultaneously increasing the length and originality of their opinions; their written work is both longer and contains less borrowed language from the parties’ briefs than ever before.[2] In those opinions, Justices themselves often participate in a kind of top-down lawmaking. An opinion in a case decided today often ghost-writes the brief the Justice would like to see presented in future appeals, allowing that Justice to shape the law according to their preferences in future case they have transparently invited litigants to file.[3]

Oral arguments are little different. For several decades preceding this term, oral arguments have left less and less space for the advocates themselves to shape opinions. Attorneys in the Supreme Court instead play the role of straight man in conversations dominated by the Justices, who appear disinterested in the responses from the lectern. In a comparison of oral arguments in the 1958–1960 Terms and the 2010–2012 Terms, Barry Sullivan and Megan Canty noted the myriad ways in which Justices have come to dominate the direction of oral argument over the last half-century, including an increase in the ratio of Justice-spoken words to advocate-spoken words, a near doubling of the average number of words spoken by the Justices per oral argument, and far shorter opening monologues by counsel.[4]

It was thus tempting to celebrate the Supreme Court’s recently-announced rule permitting the advocates approximately two minutes of uninterrupted monologue at the start of oral arguments. Perhaps this would mark a sea-change for appellate advocacy, revitalizing the role of advocates in Supreme Court litigation. Yet there is reason for hearty skepticism. Justices have long taken a guiding role in the direction of the law through use of the discretionary docket; invitations for specific arguments in future appeals; and techniques to slowly undermine, or even stealthily overrule, the reasoning in precedent cases.[5] The two-minute rule will not cabin any of those techniques that permit the Justices, rather than the litigants, to drive the appellate litigation bus.

One well-worn trope holds that cases are seldom won at oral argument, but can readily be lost if one is insufficiently prepared to defend their brief’s arguments against a barrage of troubling hypotheticals and slippery slopes. If anything, the new rule only erodes that trope at the very extreme margins. Advocates may have slightly greater opportunity, in increments usually measured by a kitchen timer, to shape the direction of the law in their presentation to high courts. But this offers little salve when the hypotheticals come cascading down, with little interruption for actual answers, during the bulk of the argument. For appellate advocacy to meaningfully change, and for advocates to play a more determinative role in shaping the law, the justices themselves must approach their job with greater humility, aspiring to resolve the controversies actually presented rather than those they have hoped to see and invited to come before them. Without that change in attitude and approach, the two-minute rule may be little more than a procedural fig-leaf from a court that has drifted further and further away from the judicial system’s adversarial ideals.

This is all not to say that appellate advocacy has lost its value in today’s world. Preparing for an appeal remains one of the most demanding, rewarding, and fruitful exercises any attorney or law student can undertake. Nothing helps an attorney refine their legal arguments more than planning for the crucible of hypotheticals they might face from a high court. And the history of our nation’s highest courts still suggests that some advocates, through either sheer intellectual brilliance or perfectly-timed moments of inspiration, play a guiding role in shaping the direction of the law. But a clear-eyed evaluation of the appellate advocacy process suggests that Justices are the real drivers of case outcomes. Of course, appellate attorneys must still ensure that their clients receive vociferous representation and a prepared, skilled advocate at the podium. But that podium’s power is limited, and it is not often the driver’s seat for appellate litigation.

 

[1] Michael Gentithes, Check The Invitation: The Trouble with Appeals Invited by Supreme Court Justices, 82 Mo. L. Rev. 339 (2017).

[2] See, e.g., Ryan C. Black & James F. Spriggs II, An Empirical Analysis of the Length of U.S. Supreme Court Opinions, 45 Hous. L. Rev. 621, 630, 634–35 (2008); Adam Feldman, A Brief Assessment of Supreme Court Opinion Language, 1946–2013, 86 Miss. L.J. 105, 137 (2017).

[3] See Michael Gentithes, Check The Invitation: The Trouble with Appeals Invited by Supreme Court Justices, 82 Mo. L. Rev. 339, 341-43 (2017).

[4] Barry Sullivan & Megan Canty, Interruptions in Search of a Purpose: Oral Argument in the Supreme Court, October Terms 1958–60 and 2010–12, 2015 UTAH L. REV. 1005, 1042.

[5] See Barry Friedman, The Wages of Stealth Overruling (with Particular Attention to Miranda v. Arizona), 99 Geo. L.J. 1 (2010).

October 29, 2019 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Court Reform, Appellate Justice, Appellate Practice, Appellate Procedure, Federal Appeals Courts, Legal Profession, Moot Court, Oral Argument, State Appeals Courts, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Ethical Issues on Appeal

Have you thought about the ethical rules that apply to your role as appellate counsel? Ethical rules are probably not at the forefront of your mind when you handle an appeal, but the failure to consider and follow the ethical rules can have serious consequences for appellate clients and counsel. Here we’ll focus on three Model Rules of Professional Conduct that relate to one’s role as appellate counsel and survey instances when appellate counsel might have given more thought to these rules.

Model Rule 1.1: Competence:

A lawyer shall provide competent representation to a client. Competent representation requires the knowledge, skill, thoroughness[,] and preparation reasonably necessary for the representation.

Carlyle Shepperson was a Vermont attorney who was charged with violating DR 6-101(A)(1) and 6-101(A)(2), which were forerunners to Rule 1.1. In re Shepperson, 674 A.2d 1273, 1273 (Vt. 1996). A justice of the Vermont Supreme Court had referred Shepperson to the state disciplinary board over the quality of his work product. Id. Shepperson entered into a remedial stipulation and agreed that he would not practice law until he completed a legal writing tutorial to “develop skills in legal analysis, persuasive writing techniques, writing organization, [ ] use of legal authority, proper citation form, and proper formatting for memoranda and briefs.” Id. at 1273-74. Shepperson later told bar counsel that he would not complete the tutorial and that he had left the United States for an indefinite time. Id.

Bar counsel filed a petition of misconduct and Shepperson filed a response but didn’t appear at the disciplinary hearing. Id. The Board of Professional Conduct recommended that Shepperson be disbarred. Id. The board found that Shepperson’s briefs:

were generally incomprehensible, made arguments without explaining the claimed legal errors, presented no substantiated legal structure to the arguments, and devoted large portions of the narrative to irrelevant philosophical rhetoric. The briefs contained numerous citation errors that made identification of the cases difficult, cited cases for irrelevant or incomprehensible reasons, made legal arguments without citation to authority, and inaccurately represented the law contained in the cited cases.

Id.

The board found Shepperson’s briefs were not competently prepared and didn’t meet minimal standards of competence; that Shepperson didn’t adequately prepare his work or give his work appropriate attention; and that he didn’t properly protect his clients’ interests. Id.

The Supreme Court of Vermont agreed with the board’s findings but issued an indefinite suspension. Id. In doing so, the court noted that Shepperson’s brief in the disciplinary matter showed his deficiencies. Shepperson failed to raise a legitimate legal issue and he didn’t cite a single authority to support his arguments. Id. at 636. Instead, his brief was a “harangue against the legal system” claiming “that the Board and this Court have violated his freedoms of speech and religion and limited his ability to think in diverse ways by dictating what is and what is not a proper legal argument.” Id. The court found that while Shepperson was free to represent himself as he pleased, he could not be allowed to continue to represent clients in a way that failed to safeguard the clients’ interests. The court declined to disbar Shepperson but did suspend him indefinitely.

Appellate counsel also has a duty of candor toward the tribunal. Model Rule 3.3 says:

(a)     A lawyer shall not knowingly:

          ***

          (2) fail to disclose to the tribunal legal authority in the controlling jurisdiction known to the lawyer to be directly adverse to the position of the client and not disclosed by opposing counsel[.]

Gonzalez-Servin v. Ford Motor Co., 662 F.3d 931 (7th Cir. 2011) shows the importance of compliance with this rule.

Gonzalez-Servin involved consolidated appeals from orders transferring cases to courts in Mexico and Israel under the doctrine of forum non conveniens. One case arose from accidents allegedly caused by defects in Bridgestone/Firestone tires installed on Ford vehicles in Latin America. Id. at 933. The other claims concerned contaminated blood products. Id. The Seventh Circuit began its opinion by noting that it had consolidated the cases because each raised “concerns about appellate advocacy.” Id.

In the tire-defect case, the Seventh Circuit found that appellants’ counsel failed to cite adverse Seventh Circuit precedent in either their opening brief or their reply brief, even though the appellees cited the controlling decision in their response brief. Id. The court took the appellants’ failure to cite, “let alone try to distinguish” the adverse case as “an implicit concession that the circumstances of that case [were] ‘nearly identical’ to those of the [tire-defect] case.” Id.

In the blood-products case, the appellants filed their opening brief and then the Seventh Circuit issued two decisions that were adverse to the appellants’ position. Id. at 934. Although the appellees’ brief relied heavily on the newly issued adverse authorities, the appellants’ reply brief discussed one of the adverse cases “a little” and the other “not at all.” Id.

The court admonished:

When there is apparently dispositive precedent, an appellant may urge its overruling or distinguishing or reserve a challenge to it for a petition for certiorari but may not simply ignore it. We don't know the thinking that led the appellants' counsel in these two cases to do that. But we do know that the two sets of cases out of which the appeals arise, involving the blood-products and Bridgestone/Firestone tire litigations, generated many transfers under the doctrine of forum non conveniens, three of which we affirmed in the two ignored precedents. There are likely to be additional such appeals; maybe appellants think that if they ignore our precedents their appeals will not be assigned to the same panel as decided the cases that established the precedents. Whatever the reason, such advocacy is unacceptable.

Id. The court then said that “the ‘ostrich-like tactic of pretending that potentially dispositive adverse authority against a litigant does not exist is as unprofessional as it is pointless’” id. (quoting Mannheim Video, Inc. v. County of Cook, 884 F.2d 1043, 1047 (7th Cir.1989)) and illustrated its point by including these photos in its opinion:

Ostrich

 

Id.

While appellants in those cases didn’t violate Model Rule 3.3(a)(2) (because opposing counsel had disclosed the adverse authority), the court’s opinion makes clear that the better approach is to cite the adverse authority and try to distinguish it.

Finally, appellate counsel must be mindful of Model Rule 8.2(a):

A lawyer shall not make a statement that the lawyer knows to be false or with reckless disregard as to its truth or falsity concerning the qualifications or integrity of a judge, adjudicatory officer or public legal officer . . . .

Swinka Realty Investments LLC v. Lackawanna County Tax Claim Bureau, 688 Fed. Appx. 146 (3d Cir. 2017) (unpublished) and its aftermath show the importance of following Model Rule 8.2(a).

Swinka arose out of a claim that state officials had violated the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments in a tax sale. Id. at 147. On appeal, Swinka’s brief included statements accusing the trial court of contradicting itself; intentionally overlooking genuine issues of fact; creating false analysis; lacking understanding of Pennsylvania tax law; misstating the status of the law; padding its opinion with citations to irrelevant cases; trying to deprive the appellant of its rights; and other types of inappropriate conduct. Id. at fn.2.

The Third Circuit emphasized that appellants’ counsel had an ethical duty to avoid making false or reckless statements about the qualifications or integrity of a judge. Id. at fn.3. The court affirmed the trial court’s decision and said:

Swinka’s brief repeatedly casts aspersions on the District Court’s analytical ability. The aspersions lack substance and utterly fail to advance Swinka’s legal arguments. As such, these unprofessional comments reflect poorly on Swinka’s counsel. When counsel wastes ink attacking the ability of able District Courts instead of advancing his or her client’s legal arguments, we smell more than a hint of desperation and confusion about how an appeal works. It is an unbecoming way to brief an appeal.

Id. at 148-49.

Swinka’s counsel was referred to his state’s disciplinary board and he received a public reprimand for violating Rule 8.2(a). http://www.pacourts.us/assets/opinions/DisciplinaryBoard/out/186DB2018-Vinsko.pdf?cb=1.

We must be aware of the Rules of Professional Conduct when we represent clients on appeal. We must be sure that we provide competent, zealous, representation in a way that respects the integrity of the courts and our profession.

October 15, 2019 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Federal Appeals Courts, Legal Ethics, Legal Profession, Legal Writing, State Appeals Courts | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Unpublished Decisions in the Google era

    Teaching legal writing to first year law students can be humbling. Though the students are unfailingly enthusiastic and extremely trusting of my alleged expertise, occasionally an innocent question exposes just how little I really know about the law. One discussion that humbled me recently concerned the weight of authority. The concepts seem straightforward enough, and once students begin researching independently, they become keenly aware of the need to sort the seemingly infinite cases they can find by the weight they will carry for a hypothetical judge. But my students’ eyebrows rose when they learned that some court decisions, though readily available in a variety of online fora, are “unpublished,” and thus cannot be relied upon by advocates in future cases. And sadly, a legal writing professor assuring them “that’s just the way it is” provided cold comfort for 1Ls. So I wanted to take some time to think through just what does, or does not, justify keeping some decisions “unpublished” in the Google era.

    Appellate Courts have long relied upon unpublished decisions in a significant number of cases, with estimates suggesting that over 80% of federal appellate court decisions are unpublished.[1]  Unpublished decisions are designed to serve several straightforward goals. First, limiting the number of published opinions should simplify the legal research process for litigants; the fewer potentially relevant cases lawyers must sift through, the easier (and cheaper) litigation becomes. Second, limiting the number of published opinions should render appellate court judging more efficient. Judges can focus their energy on perfecting their opinions in the most complex cases on their dockets, while clerks can compose most of the details in the majority of unpublished decisions of the court.

    But these justifications are less compelling today, when nearly every document produced in appellate courts is readily available online. Even if litigators follow the letter of local rules against citation of unpublished decisions, they will often refer to the reasoning present in an unpublished decision to buttress their arguments. They may even be tempted to directly quote from an unpublished decision, then simply drop a footnote to acknowledge that the decision has no precedential value. The proliferation of unpublished decisions thus seems not to simplify the research process for litigants. Both parties feel obligated to sift through unpublished authorities to avoid yielding some advantage to their opponent. The distinction between published and unpublished decisions can even make the litigation process more complex. It forces litigants to first scour traditional and non-traditional resources to obtain digital copies of the supposedly “unpublished” decisions raising similar issues, then to assess the degree to which they should rely upon those decisions in their briefs. The reliance question is especially troublesome in appellate courts where the parties will not learn which panel of judges will hear the case, and thus cannot assess the unique views of the panel about arguments based upon unpublished decisions until well after the written briefs have been filed.

    Furthermore, the promised efficiency gains for appellate court judges seem far-fetched in the digital era. Judges are fully aware that unpublished decisions are just as readily available for the legal community to review, and criticize, as published ones. Judges must therefore exercise the same care in crafting those decisions as published opinions. Furthermore, the choice to qualify a decision as unpublished often signals the author’s lack of confidence in the outcome. It seemingly invites higher courts to closely examine, and perhaps overrule, those decisions.

    Perhaps all is not lost, though, for unpublished decisions if the rules that set out their use are modified to coincide with a different goal: streamlining litigation where some issues are so clear that no written decision is required. For example, perhaps appellate court rules could allow judges to enter a partial summary remand order addressing specific, clear errors, then retain jurisdiction in case any appellate issues remain viable following the remand. This would allow the court to explain that some issues are obvious enough to be addressed without a published decision, but retain jurisdiction to address more complex issues that may remain. Courts could also avoid issuing even an unpublished decision where the only issue raised is simple. Perhaps where error is clear, a per curiam order remanding without opinion at all is appropriate, both to quickly resolve the litigation and to avoid creating quasi-precedent that future litigants must research. Courts would need to avoid over-reliance on that method so that the reasons for their decisions are consistently publicized to litigants and the public, but the promise of streamlined litigation in many cases may be worth the risk.

    In lieu of those dramatic shifts, appellate courts could adopt a more subtle change to the rules for citing unpublished decisions. Appellate courts could expressly permit occasional citations to an unpublished decision, such as in cases where “no published opinion would serve as well to illustrate the argument of the parties.” Such a rule admittedly introduces a difficult standard for litigants and courts. But perhaps such candid acknowledgement that every decision is “published” in the Google era is worthwhile.

 

[1] “From 2000 to 2008, more than 81% of all opinions issued by the federal appellate courts were unpublished.” Aaron S. Bayer, Unpublished Appellate Opinions Are Still Commonplace, The National Law Journal, Aug. 24, 2009 (citing Judicial Business of the United States Courts: Annual Report of the Director, tbl. S3 (2000-2008)).

October 1, 2019 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Court Reform, Appellate Justice, Appellate Practice, Appellate Procedure, Federal Appeals Courts, State Appeals Courts | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 23, 2019

We need more activist judges

Yes, the title of this blog is designed to raise eyebrows.  But no, I am not arguing for judicial activism as defined by the right or the left.  Rather, I am arguing for a court that takes an active role in legal education. We need judges--state and federal--who visit law school classes, speak at campus events, teach classes and seminars, take interns, and otherwise engage in legal education in their state.

Since moving to Arizona, I have been astounded at how involved that state and federal judges are at the state law schools.  For example, each academic year the state Supreme Court and the local appellate court hold arguments at the school where I teach.  The local appellate court also welcomes students in our brief-writing course to its courtroom each semester to give their final arguments, with all of the judges and many of the clerks and staff attorneys serving as judges for the arguments.

Current and retired appellate judges and justices teach courses at the law school. They also attend campus events, give lectures at orientation or to student groups, judge competitions, and attend social events.

While I see the state judges on campus the most, the federal bench is also active.  The federal judges are also good about judging competitions and speaking at or attending events.  They also take a lot of student interns, and I always hear from students about what a great opportunity it was to intern at federal court.

The advantages of an active, engaged bench are profound.

First, judges make great mentors and role models for the students.  Students are often more likely to listen to advice from judges, especially on topics like professionalism and civility, which are extremely important skills for students to learn.

Second, and related, judges reinforce what is said in the classroom.  I can count on one hand the number of times that I have heard a judge give advice on brief-writing, advocacy, or professionalism that I disagree with.  Generally, we are all on the same page, and, to the extent that we want to produce excellent future lawyers, we are all on the same team.

Third, our students are likely to give and do their best if a real judge is involved in an event or competition.  While some students still care about impressing professors, nearly all of them care about impressing judges.  They rightly see judges as a possible future employer and/or someone that they should try to impress.  

Finally, having judges involved gives faculty a break. I can judge arguments, competitions, speak at events, and socialize, but it is so nice to have local judges who are willing to step into that role.  Sometimes, after saying the same things over and over, we faculty members just need a break.  Thankfully, we have enough judges in Arizona who lend a helping hand that they can get a break too!

I want to thank all of the state and federal judges who devote so much time to making law school a better experience for students.  Your hard work does have an impact!

 

September 23, 2019 in Appellate Advocacy, Law School, Legal Profession, State Appeals Courts | Permalink | Comments (1)