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

“You have permission to use the word ‘that’”: Lindsey Lawton on legal writing & Florida procedure comparisons

Appellate practitioner and former Florida Supreme Court career staff attorney Lindsey Lawton sits down with us to talk legal writing. For Lindsey, writing is not just her day job, she draws influence for use and enjoyment of the written word from beyond legal briefs. While she maintains a grammar beat on LinkedIn, Lindsey says language ultimately is about being a communicator, not a technician.

(Example: I asked Lindsey if the example “the reasons are as follows” is technically incorrect as containing a subject-verb disagreement. Yes, says Lindsey, but “as follow” just sounds too weird.)

Then we continue our experiment in comparing and contrasting state procedural rules. Here is what we gleaned about the differences between California and Florida:

👉 In FL, the Supreme Court makes the rules of civil procedure, unlike CA where that is the province of the legislature.

👉 Unlike CA, in FL the rules allow parties to create an electronic recording of proceedings for purposes of an appellate record.

👉 Both CA and FL have no horizontal stare decisis: district appellate courts may freely disagree with one another.

👉 But unlike CA, a FL District Court of Appeal cannot ignore its own past decisions: to do that, it has to take the matter up en banc (like in the federal system).

👉 Unlike CA, in FL all the appellate opinions are published.

👉 But unlike CA, in FL there is no right to a reasoned opinion, meaning most affirmance are summary affirmances (how frustrating!!).

👉 Unlike CA, in FL there is no right to oral argument on appeal.

👉 Like CA, FL is beginning to experiment with “focus orders,” identifying issues counsel should be prepared to discuss at oral argument.

👉 Like CA, FL follows the doctrine on appeal that a judgment will be affirmed if valid for any reason, even if the trial court’s stated reasons were deficient or wrong.

👉 But FL has a much more colorful name for this: the Tipsy Coachman doctrine!

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Legal-Writing Mentor John Nielsen Compares CA and UT Courts

Appellate attorney John Nielsen is forever grateful to his mentors when he was a young attorney, and he pays it forward now both as a mentor himself and by offering tips on legal writing published at the Appellate Advocacy Blog. John discusses his approach to training young associates, and to legal writing.

Then we turn to how Utah differs from California in civil and appellate procedure, including:

👉 Unlike CA, the UT Supreme Court promulgates its own rules that govern the courts.

👉 Perhaps as a result, in UT there is no court-reporter crisis. Instead, proceedings are electronically recorded. If you need a transcript, a court reporter will transcribe the recording. (This is an important #AccessToJustice issue.)

👉 Unlike CA, UT appellate decisions are binding on the appellate court. The court can overrule its past decisions, but it cannot just ignore them, as often happens in CA.

👉 Unlike CA, all UT appellate opinions are published.

👉 Unlike CA, UT appellants are not entitled to a reasoned opinion on affirmance—which is why many appeals are disposed of by order.

And in true appellate-nerd fashion, during the Lightning Round John and Tim briefly debate the exceptions to using ‘s to make possessives of certain words ending in s.

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Laboratory of Judiciaries: Comparing CA and IL Courts

This podcast is often a soapbox for complaining about oddities in the California court system. But then we wondered: are the courts in other states better? Maybe they’re the same—or worse. So we thought we should start a conversation with a couple of attorneys on their own soap box in Chicago, Dan Cotter and Pat Eckler, the proprietors of the Podium and Panel Podcast, and compare notes about civil and appellate practice in our respective jurisdictions.

Says Pat: “I can’t imagine Illinois does anything that anyone else should adopt.”

Here is what you’ll learn in this episode:

👉 Jury trials: You can only get a general verdict in IL—no special verdicts!

👉 Unlike CA, the IL Supreme Court promulgates its own rules that govern the courts.

👉 But also unlike CA, IL court rules often conflict with the Code of Civil Procedure—and the conflicts are tricky to resolve.

👉 Like CA, IL also has no horizontal stare decisis (appellate court decisions are not binding on other districts).

👉 Like CA, IL issues a large body of uncitable unpublished opinions.

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Congratulations to M.C. Sungaila’s on the 100th Episode of the Portia Project Podcast

The 100th episode of the Portia Project®️ airs today, March 2, 2023, kicking off Women’s History Month. The Portia Project Podcast features women judges, attorneys, and other legal professionals, chronicling their unique paths in the law.

Subscribe in your podcast player, or listen and learn more at https://lnkd.in/gaUyYi2m
.

In anticipation of this achievement, we interviewed M.C. Sungaila, the host and creator of the Portia Project Podcast, in November on the California Appellate Law Podcast. Listen here: https://lnkd.in/gp7SS4zj
.

M.C. was also the Cal.App.Law.Pod’s first guest. You can listen to that episode here: https://lnkd.in/gnnNyDaQ
.

You can support the Portia Project Podcast by purchasing one of the guests’ books, or books by or about other women lawyers here: https://lnkd.in/gqYEffBC

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Ten Trial Tips That Appellate Specialists Want You to Know

You trial attorneys have a job to do. That job is to win the trial. And you can’t always do that and win the appeal at the same time. So you can’t pick a fight on every point. But, you had better fight the ones that turn the case.

And, you had better make a record on it.

On this episode of the California Appellate Law Podcast, reprising Tim’s recent CLE presentation, we cover 10 tips that appellate attorneys want every trial attorney to know:

💡 The rule that contains all appellate rules: Make the Record.

👉#1 Make sure your theories of the case are captured in your pleadings

👉#2 Was key evidence excluded? Preserve the issue by making a proffer.

👉#3 Keep objecting to evidence if the judge “defers” ruling on your MIL.

👉#4 Object to Jury Instructions

👉#5 Review the Verdict for Inconsistences

👉#6 Request and Object to the Statement of Decision

👉#7 File a motion for new trial to preserve challenges to the damages amount …and Watch out for JNOVs!

👉#8 Calculate Appellate Deadlines Correctly

👉#9 Avoid Common Appellate Briefing Mistakes

👉#10 Advise your client about important post-judgment issues (Attorney fees and costs; SLAPP fees; Bonds and Stays of Judgment-Enforcement; Post-judgment interest)

💡 Evergreen Tip: Get a Court Reporter!

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Negligent Referrals and Other Ethical Traps When Referring Clients

For attorneys, the best referral is a referral from another attorney. But before you refer to another attorney, beware of the ethical traps. Kristi Thomas, a labor and employment attorney who also focuses on ethical issue, warns in a recent article that incautious referrals can lead to a conflict of interest, or an improper referral fee, or even liability for making a negligent referral.

Kristi discusses these traps, and offers some tips how to avoid them:

👉 Given multiple names when making a referral, not just one. (Especially if you have a referral-fee arrangement with one of them.)

👉 Don’t vouch for your colleagues. That doesn’t mean you can’t say anything about them, but instruct potential clients to do their own research.

👉 Control the conversation with the potential client to avoid eliciting confidential information and creating conflicts—don’t let them “vent.”

👉 Send non-engagement letters, confirming no attorney-client relationship has been formed.

👉 Check your malpractice policy to see if it covers negligent referrals—not all of them do.

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What You Need to Know about Fee-and-Costs Awards on Appeal

The issue that most often drags appeals back into more litigation is attorney fee and costs. What happens when, while focusing on the appeal, the prevailing party gets a substantial award of fees and costs?

• Do you have to separately appeal from the fees and costs award? (Yes…usually.)

• How can you stay enforcement of the fees and costs award? (Fee & cost awards are stayed automatically…sometimes.)

• If you win the underlying appeal, what happens to the fees and costs award? (It goes away automatically…in theory.)

We discuss these questions and more in this nuts-and-bolts episode of the California Appellate Law Podcast.

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PMQ Declarations, Extortion & AI Judges

On this cases-and-tidbits episode, Jeff Lewis and I discuss:

• Ramirez v. Avon Products: There is no “corporate representative” or PMQ exception to hearsay and foundation objections. So summary judgment had to be reversed.

• Flickinger v. Finwall: Do you ever worry your prelitigation demand letters may be construed as extortion? I mean, Flatley v. Mauro shows the letter has to be really bad, but some judges find extortion where there isn’t any. That can be chilling. Which may be why the Court of Appeal published this recent opinion finding no extortion, thus reversing the trial court.

• Are DVRO or CHROs prior restraints on speech? Czodor v. Luo (Jan. 10, 2023, G060756) suggests narrowly tailoring the restrained speech to statutory abuse.

• Could AI tell the difference between extortion and a permissible demand letter? We discuss one attorney’s proposal that judges replace their law clerks with AI.

• Mitchell v. Mitchell (Jan. 27, 2023, A164780) reminds us that attacking trial court or opponent is not a viable strategy.

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Latest Trends in Defending Unfair Competition Claims, with Greg Nylen

With his background as a brewery owner, business litigator Greg Nylen defends attorneys from “the triumvirate” of unfair-competition claims: the Unfair Competition Law, the False Advertising Law, and the Consumer Legal Remedies Act. Greg shares some trends, tips, and traps emerging in this space, including:

💡 Courts are getting a bit more stringent on the “reasonable consumer test”—the determination whether a large portion of the target market is likely to be misled. Does “krab meat” come from crab? Are rumors that outlet stores carry nowhere-to-be-found merchandise actionable? Increasingly, the courts’ answer to these questions is: Come on.

💡 But the “reasonable consumer” depends on what the product is. King’s Hawaiian bread is actually made in Torrance, CA. Does that matter? Probably not, because bread is bread. But what if the product was beer—where consumers may have more discriminating tastes, and the quality of the water matters to the product? The answer might change.

💡 The “reasonable consumer” is often determined as a matter of law. So plaintiffs’ strategy is to rely on consumer surveys, to make the determination factual in nature. Does it work? As Greg explains, you may be able to attack the survey as a matter of law.

💡 Litigation consumer claims in federal court? Beware of Article III standing. And bookmark the Sonner v. Premier Nutrition case—plaintiffs might not be able to get both legal and equitable relief in federal court.

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Special Education Law with Tim Adams

The autism pandemic now affects between 1-in-44 and 1-in-35 children by the age of 8, according to a December 2021 Rutgers report—a rate that has climbed some 241% since 2000.

And one of the big ways this affects the millions of families raising children with autism is obtaining and fulfilling IEPs—Individualized Education Programs.

Special-education law attorney Tim Adams represents families to get their children the educational support they need. And because districts often have more legal support than financial support, these issues often wind up in court.

And while petitioners may be entitled to recover their attorney fees, surprisingly they are not entitled to their expert costs. This rule (an oversight?) tips the scales sharply against families, and could be easily fixed by Congress.

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Recent Case Tips on Expert Objections, and Strategy on MSJ & SLAPP Hearings

Gearing up for trial with experts? You’re ready with your Sargon and Sanchez objections. But don’t forget Kelly: if the expert’s opinion is outside the consensus, that’s not a Sargon objection—you have to be ready with a People v. Kelly objection.

Filing an MSJ? If the court sets your hearing after your trial date, you’re entitled to get it advanced—or to have your trial continued. (Might be a backdoor strategy to continuing trial dates.)

And a trial court abused its discretion in hearing a SLAPP motion before a restraining-order motion. The SLAPP ruling meant the case was stayed and the restraining-order issue couldn’t be heard. That’s not right. Trial courts need to make sure those issues are heard with or before SLAPP motions.

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The Best Advocacy Tips of 2022

In this roundup episode, we summarize the best tips for briefing, argument, and overall advocacy from the judges, attorneys, and specialists Jeff Lewis and I interviewed on the California Appellate Law Podcast in 2022.

Some of the tips and trends we cover:

There is a trend toward informality in legal writing—but do pop-culture references go too far?

Everyone knows oral argument usually doesn’t change the outcome, unless you have a whiz-bang answer to that all-important question from the panel. Which is why the drumbeat for “focus letters”—where the panel reveals the all-important question in time to formulate an answer to it—is getting louder.

Stop bombarding courts with evidence and arguments. Not only does it overtax juries and judges, it betrays weakness: If you’re right, why do you keep repeating yourself?

And from one of our favorite conversations, Justice James Lambden offered this metaphor for the practice of law and the importance of civility:

“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.”

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