Before Justice David Thompson left the bench in 2021 to become a private neutral, his colleague Justice Bedsworth called him “hard-headed.” And compassionate. But hard-headed? Justice Thompsons explains what Justice Bedsworth probably meant by that: “I say what I mean,” and tends to be direct—particularly at oral argument.
Justice Thompson discusses his more stringent judicial philosophy when it comes to publishing opinions, and granting writ relief. But he does favor tentative opinions and the use of focus letters to make for more effective oral argument.
Justice Thompson also provides some hard-nosed advice to lawyers:
• On writ petitions: If you don’t convince the panel in the first paragraph, you’ve lost. (But some justices might be more lenient.)
• On briefing: Get the basics right. Follow the Rules of Court. Explain how the trial court’s error resulted in prejudice. Acknowledge the flaws in your argument. And above all, be true to the record.
• On using “signposts” in briefing: Transitions between sentences, paragraphs, and thoughts are the way good writers hold their reader’s hand through your brief. And “moreover” is a substandard signpost.
• On doomed appellate strategies: Rearguing the same theory that lost at trial.
• On settling on appeal: If the case hinges on a key legal issue, a neutral with experience on the appellate bench may soften a hard position and help bridge a previously insurmountable gap.
• On oral argument: Never waive. At least show up and offer to answer questions.