The Appellate Process

Forget everything you just went through in the superior court!

Isn’t that a shocking statement? You just spent a ton of money, went through a lot of aggravation, and spent a lot of your personal time in your case.

Now I am supposed to forget it? YES!

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The days of your attorney going to court on motions, pre trial conferences, and case management conferences are all over. Appellate courts don’t have these procedural requirements.

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The days of your answering written interrogatories, producing documents, and going to depositions are over. Appellate courts don’t have these procedural requirements.

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The days of your spending hours/days/weeks sitting in a court room while you, your opponent and witnesses testify are over. Appellate courts don’t have these procedural requirements.

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And the expenses that go with all of these trial court requirements are also behind you.

Courts of Appeal only look at what was before the Trial Court. This consists of (1) the written documents the trial attorneys asked the Judge to read and (2) the reporter’s transcript containing what the parties discussed with the Judge and what the parties and witnesses said under oath in testimony. Courts of Appeal (almost) never look at any new witness testimony, new documents nor anything else. This is because the Court of Appeal wants to know if the Trial Judge made a mistake; and a Trial Judge can only make a mistake if he/she failed to properly consider something the attorneys asked him/her to consider.

Step one

After filing a few routine procedural documents and the Clerk’s Transcript and Reporter’s Transcript, the first big step is the Appellant filing an opening brief. This is the Appellant’s argument explaining how the Trial Judge deprived the Appellant of a fair trial. This “brief” can be up to 14,000 words long.

Step two

The next step is the Respondent filing an “Answer Brief.”  In this brief the Respondent counters the arguments of the Appellant and explains why the Appellant did receive a fair trial and this verdict should stand. The Respondent’s brief may not exceed 14,000 words.

Step three

The Appellant files the final brief known as the “Reply Brief”. It cannot exceed 14000 words. This is the Appellant’s last chance to explain his/her position and counter any new arguments the Respondent may have brought up.

Step four

Finally, the Court of Appeal will entertain oral argument. This is a very short proceeding. No one testifies. No witnesses get on the stand. Its fundamental purpose is to allow the attorneys to emphasize their strongest points and to answer any questions the Court may have. It is limited to a total of 30 minutes….for both sides…i.e. 15 minutes per side.

The decision

The Court of Appeal NEVER tells the attorneys who won at the oral argument. The Court later sends a written opinion stating who won, why, and what happens next. It could be judgment affirmed or judgment reversed and the appellant is declared the victor [rare but does happen] or judgment reversed but the parties must go through a new trial in the Superior Court.

Further proceedings

It is possible for the person not satisfied with the Court of Appeal’s decision to ask it to reconsider or to Petition the Supreme Court to review the decision.