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: Podcast

Celebrity Attorney Christopher Melcher on What Gets the Courts’ Attention

High-profile and celebrity family law attorney Christopher Melcher has represented some of the largest divorce cases in California, including multiple cases ending in published appellate decisions. Chris talks with Jeff Lewis and Tim Kowal about how celebrity-driven cases shape the law, such as the #FreeBritney movement against conservatorship abuse.

Chris then talks about a way to bring more attention to non-celebrity cases through requests for publication of nonpublished opinions that raise important issues. And what kinds of cases pique the Supreme Court’s interest? It is often not what you think, says Chris, which is where bar networks come in handy in keeping up on legal trends.

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Ross Guberman on Conversational—Rather Than Tweet-Worthy—Legal Writing

Drawing from his experience training federal judges and top law lawyers how to write more effectively, Ross Guberman shares some of his best writing tips with Jeff Lewis and Tim Kowal on episode 33 of the California Appellate Law Podcast at www.CALPodcast.com.
Ross also gives a tour of his latest product, BriefCatch 3.0 (now available on Mac), a tool that scores legal briefs for engagement, readability, flow, punchiness, and clarity. Not sure how to take your writing from merely proper English to Elena Kagan? BriefCatch provides in-app examples of some of the best passages of Supreme Court justices.

Here are some of the tips Ross covers:

✍️ Why more judges are using pithy, attention-grabbing language—and why you shouldn’t imitate it in your briefs.
✍️ Rising above the fray without resorting to quips.
✍️ Getting the judge’s attention by tapping into three universal fears all judges have.
✍️ Discussing “bad facts” confidently, not defensively.
✍️ Using BriefCatch to improve your briefs.
✍️ Remember the purpose of legal writing is to help judges organize their thoughts—briefs are a tool, but aspire to make them tools that are a pleasure to use.

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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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“Stump Tim,” Do Sympathetic Parties Get Better Results? And Other Recent Cases

After Jeff quizzes Tim on a bit of appellate esoterica about the automatic 15-day default extension for appellate briefs, the co-hosts discuss whether appellate justices modulate their approaches to sympathetic cases. The conversation also covers recent cases and news involving:

• An appeal that became moot due to pending litigation
• One federal judge issues a nationwide injunction against the CDC mask mandate, and another federal judge sounds off against nationwide injunctions
• Law firm sued for alleged Unruh Act abuse
• SLAPP suits and... SMACC suits?

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Jeff Lewis Interviews Tim Kowal, on episode 30 of the Cal. Appellate Law Podcast

In this special episode, Jeff interviews me about the best and worst things about appellate law. I talk about a couple of my favorite war stories, my approach to legal writing, and my favorite comedian.

Then to business, we discuss some recent cases, including appellate sanctions for trial court conduct, the nonappealability of arbitrator injunctions, and the publication of a recent family law opinion reversing a judgment for failing to provide a statement of decision.

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David Greco on the Unique Challenges in Probate Appeals

David Greco, who heads up the appellate practice at the probate litigation firm RMO, LLP, shares with co-hosts Jeff Lewis and Tim Kowal some of the unique features and challenges in probate appeals:

👉 Fact challenges in probate appeals are uniquely difficult to win. Probate trials are typically bench trials, and appellate courts very rarely overturn a judge’s factual findings.

👉 The “stay killer” in Probate Code § 1310(b) can render many probate appeals moot. David explains why section 1310(b) is his “favorite provision of the Probate Code.” And should there be a similar “stay killer” in the CCP or Family Code?

👉 Fraught family relationships and charged emotions can make representation in probate appeals difficult.

👉 The large role played by professional fiduciaries—trustees, conservators, and guardians—raises unique ethical and due-process considerations. David explains how abuse of these institutional relationships can and does sometimes happen.

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Creators of the CalAttorneysFees.com Blog, Michael Hensley and Marc Alexander, Discuss Tips for Requesting and Opposing Attorney Fees

The authors of the famous CalAttorneysFees.com blog, Marc Alexander and Michael Hensley, visit the California Appellate Law Podcast for episode 28 to discuss tips, traps, and best practices on attorney fee motions. We discuss why California’s attorney fees statutes can be so complicated, why reasonable fees sometimes get cut, and why unreasonable fees sometimes don’t.

Some key takeaways:

💡 Give the judge a roadmap. Explain: (1) Why you get fees; (2) Why your motion is timely; (3) What is the appropriate lodestar rate; (4) Why is the amount reasonable?

💡 Don’t be greedy! Inflated fee requests can ruin your credibility with the judge, and are likely to be severely chopped, or even denied entirely!

💡 Establish the necessity of litigation by discussing efforts to settle, and incivility by the other side.

💡 Make your objections as specific as possible.

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The Doomsday Provision and the Natural Right to Self Defense

Who needs the Second Amendment? Judge Kozinski once called the constitutional right to bear arms as the “doomsday provision”: that right to which a free citizens resorts when all other rights have failed. But what role does that right have left to play in a hyper power like the U.S.?

Second Amendment attorney Sean Brady, Jeff Lewis, and I discuss some modern examples when other rights have failed, at least temporarily: such as in the wake of Katrina, the L.A. riots, and the George Floyd riots.

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The 9th Circuit’s Skewed 2nd Amendment Scorecard

Judge VanDyke recently criticized the 9th Circuit’s practice of granting en banc review in every recent pro-2nd Amendment decision—and denying review of every pro-gun control decision. And he’s right, says 2nd Amendment litigator Sean Brady. Sean talks with Jeff Lewis and me about his recent amicus brief on that very phenomenon, cataloguing 9th Cir. cases that:
🤔 Rely on the Heller dissent rather than the SCOTUS majority’s holding.
🤔 Hold there is no right to concealed carry even when there is no right to open carry, either.
🤔 Effectively hold there is no right to bear arms, only to keep them.

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Victoria Fuller on Family Law Appeals: Episode 27 of the California Appellate Law Podcast

When we covered some of the tips and pitfalls of family-law appeals on episode 6 of the California Appellate Law Podcast, it became one of our most popular episodes. So we invited Victoria Fuller, a certified appellate specialist focusing on family law, to join us for another installment.

Victoria discusses with Jeff Lewis and me:
• The unique post-judgment relief available under Fam. Code, § 2122 for fraud, duress, mistake, and financial-disclosure violations;
• Expanded relief on motions for reconsideration; and
• The critical statement of decision process.

Despite these remedies, why do family-law appeals feel like such an uphill climb?
(Answer: because family-court judges have so much discretion even they don’t realize the full extent of it.)

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“Prophet Without Honor”: Sean Brady on Judge VanDyke’s Controversial 2nd Amendment Prediction

“I’m not a prophet,” Judge Lawrence VanDyke wrote in his controversial concurring opinion in McDougall v. County of Ventura. Second Amendment attorney Sean Brady disagrees. Joining Jeff Lewis and me, Sean says Judge VanDyke will be proven correct: the Ninth Circuit in the last several years has granted en banc review of every panel decision favorable to the Second Amendment, and has denied review to every unfavorable decision.

(And a few days after taping, On March 8, 2022 the Ninth Circuit granted en banc review of McDougall.)

Sean explains how the Ninth Circuit, and other circuits, have adopted a line of Second Amendment analysis that follows more closely Justice Breyer’s dissent in D.C. v. Heller than the Supreme Court’s majority. That is why, after writing the opinion for the panel, Judge VanDyke also wrote a concurrence, reaching the same conclusion but using this alternative line of analysis.

But wasn’t Judge VanDyke’s concurrence jarring and off-putting? Perhaps. And it is an unusual style for a judge to resort to. But all of us agreed that Judge VanDyke meant it, quite deliberately, to be at least slightly offensive: an affront to the modern taste for cool and logically seamless forms of persuasion. Judge VanDyke genuinely believes that, however it happened, the train has gone off the tracks, and it will take some shoving and heavy breathing to put it back again.

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The “Speedy” in Speedy Trial Becomes Relative, and the Limits of Scientology Arbitration: A Review of Jan. 2022 Cases on Ep. 25 of the Cal.App.Law.Pod.

Reviewing some 9th Circuit and California appellate cases of note from early 2022, Jeff Lewis and I discuss these juicy issues:

💡 Can the 6th Amendment right to speedy trial be indefinitely postponed due to Covid? (Yes, if the defendant is not incarcerated, says the 9th Circuit in *United States v. Olsen*.)

💡 Can the statutory right to a timely conservatorship jury trial be waived? (Yes, even if the judge kind of pushes you around, so stiffen up that spine!)

💡 Can the Church of Scientology compel arbitration of a dispute arising after members leave the church and allege Scientologist actor Danny Masterson rapes them? (No, but the Supreme Court had to step in and tell the Court of Appeal to take a little more time with the writ petition.)

💡 Can a pre-litigation demand cross the line into extortion, and thus fail to qualify for protection under Civil Code section 47’s litigation privilege? (Yes, if the attorney threatens to disclose the allegations to blow up the defendant’s potential merger.)

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