Legal News and Appellate Tips

Each week, TVA appellate attorney Tim Kowal reviews several recent decisions out of the appellate courts in California, and elsewhere, and reports about the ones that might help you get an edge in your cases and appeals.

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Tag: Mediation

“They Don’t Laugh at My Jokes Anymore.” Justice Lambden’s Lessons from the Trenches to the Benches and Back

As a consensus-maker, Justice James Lambden never published a dissent in his 17 years on the Court of Appeal for the First District, despite sitting between two indomitable personalities in Justice J. Anthony Kline (Gov. Jerry Brown’s legal affairs secretary) and Justice Paul Hearle (Gov. Ronald Reagan’s appointments secretary). Justice Lambden explains why attorneys should direct their briefs to the justice “in the catbird seat,” and what it was like sitting in the catbird seat.

Justice Lambden also talks about his single unpublished dissent.

Justice Lambden also talks about his time as a judge on the Alameda County Superior Court, the great outdoors, finding and wearing a good hat, and what it’s like for judges to transition to private judging: “Going back out among the bar without wearing the robe is kind of intimidating. Like they say, they don’t laugh at my jokes anymore.”

Justice Lambden serves up a lot of sage advice:

• “Litigation is not like preparing for a battle, it’s more like going on an expedition … like taking a trip across the mountains and encountering different places where you have to do different things.”

• Hire your appellate attorney before the verdict!

• Have an elevator-pitch for your case. If you only have arguments but no theme, you’re not ready.

• On unpublished opinions: Who cares? The California Court of Appeal is not bound even by published decisions, as there is no horizontal stare decisis in our system. If you find good reasoning, use it: if the good argument comes from a published case, make the argument, and cite it. If the good argument comes from an unpublished case, make the argument, but don’t cite it. In either event, it’s not the best citation but the best argument that wins. (This reminds me of Johannes Scotus: “Authority sometimes proceeds from reason, but reason never from authority….We should not allege the opinions of the holy Fathers ... unless it be necessary thereby to strengthen arguments in the eyes of men who, unskillful in reasoning, yield rather to authority than to reason.”)

• On the importance of focus letters and oral argument.

• On access to justice, quoting Chief Justice Ronald George: “Without access, there is no justice.”

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Should Appellate Courts Promote Mediation?

Should appellate courts mediate disputes? Appellate specialist and mediator John Derrick says that the court’s mission is to “weave the tapestry of the common law,” and you do that by deciding cases, not by settling them. After all, you don’t see the Supreme Court trying to get cases to settle, now do you?

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“Ve Haf Vays”: Appellate Court Mediation Programs

Senior Judge Clifford Wallace of the 9th Circuit has said, speaking of appellate court mediation programs, that “we ha[ve] a way to get people to talk.” Appellate mediator John Derrick talks with Tim Kowal and Jeff Lewis about the effectiveness of appellate court mediation programs — and about one unusual way a judge might get parties to talk.

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How to Mediate and Settle Your Appeal, with John Derrick (Cal.App.Law Podcast ep. 32)

Certified appellate specialist and mediator John Derrick talks to Jeff Lewis and me about mediating cases on appeal. John explains that some appellate courts have mediation programs because of a mission to promote settlement. But the courts’ job is to decide cases. John discusses the conflict between these two roles, including a story about an appellate justice who regretted volunteering he wished the case would settle, but then unsubmitting the case for a post-oral-argument mediation. (This case still didn’t settle.)

Some other items discussed:

• There are no mandatory settlement conferences on appeal: should there be? (No.)
• Why parties don’t want to settle on appeal, and what counsel can do about it.
• The importance of stays and posttrial motions.
• Should judges be in the business of mediating?
• When to notify the court about a possible settlement.
• The pros and cons of Zoom mediations.
• As a former publisher, John urges attorneys to use decimal-outline format for headings, i.e., 1., 1.1., 1.2., 2., etc.

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Flout Court Orders, Get Your Appeal Dismissed — But Appellate Court Offers a Second Chance

There are two reasons I am surprised the Court of Appeal published the opinion in Findleton v. Coyote Valley Band of Pomo Indians (D1d2 Sep. 29, 2021) 2021 WL 4452323 nos. A156459 etc., ---- Cal.Rptr.3d ----. The first is that it holds, more forthrightly than I have seen before, that a final collateral order is treated as a judgment for purposes of Code of Civil Procedure section 904.1(a)(1). That is, not only is the collateral order appealable, but orders following it are appealable too under section 904.1(a)(2). (This is a sensible rule, it is just not very well-supported in the statute.)

The second reason I am surprised the court published this opinion on the disentitlement doctrine — i.e., dismissal of an appeal — is because the appellant's disregard and contempt for the lower court's orders was so brazen, and the grounds for disentitlement so clear, that I fear this opinion might mislead readers. In fact, much less egregious violations than the ones in this case — much, much less — may warrant disentitlement.

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Probate Court May Order Mediation, Deem Non-Participating Beneficiary Rights Forfeit, Split Appellate Court Holds

In a surprising split-decision, the Second District held trust beneficiaries who voluntarily decline to participate in mediation forfeit all rights to object to the mediated settlement. Breslin v. Breslin (D2d6 Apr. 5, 2021) no. B301382.
The opinion was first issued on January 26, 2021. Following rehearing, however, Justice Tangeman withdrew from the unanimous opinion and lodged a dissent.

For my part, I agree with Justice Tangeman. And I have two additional concerns about the majority's opinion, concerns not addressed either by the majority or by the dissent.
One is that civil authorities rather emphatically reject the Breslin majority's approach to involuntary mediation here. And another is that there is reason to suspect the majority opinion could be deployed in civil actions.

Watch this space.

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