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

The Coming Changes to Med-Mal Caps, with Ben Ikuta

The reason there are so few medical-malpractice attorneys is that, on top of having to overcome juries’ strong pro-doctor bias, damages caps turn even the most hard-fought wins into mere break-even propositions. So how did Ben Ikuta, a new guard med-mal attorney, amassed over $17 million in client victories in 2022 alone?

Ben shares some of his secrets and insights:

đź—ť Winning a medical-malpractice trial requires flawless planning and execution, so hyper-preparedness is essential, including hiring experts even before filing a case.

🗝 The right expert is important. Jargon and confusion work to the defendants’ benefit. So the plaintiff’s experts need to be able to thread the needle between showing expertise while also being intelligible and relatable.

🗝 The MICRA caps limit general damages to $250,000, upending the economics of litigating even the most heart-breakingly devastating injuries caused by egregious negligence. So the only way to bring justice to the bad actors in the healthcare field is to find high-earning victims—the MICRA caps don’t apply to economic damages.

đź—ť In 2023, the $250,000 MICRA caps will be relaxed slightly to $350,000, and the amount may be recovered against the provider defendant, the institutional defendant, and unaffiliated defendants, for a total possible non-economic damages recovery of $1,050,000.

đź—ť Firm culture matters: Ikuta Hemesath is fully virtual, which keeps costs low and gives staff flexibility. What about firm culture and relationships? Ben shares that the firm takes off one day a month for a group outing.

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2,000 Appeals and Beyond, with John Dodd

What does an appeal look like after having done 2,000 of them? John Dodd is one of the few people with that vantage. A former staff attorney at the Court of Appeal who has volunteered on the juvenile-dependency panel along with his civil appeals practice, John explains how “an appeal is an appeal.” Once you have spotted some of the key differences among the various disciplines, it all comes down to the rudiments of appellate procedure and advocacy.

We also discuss:

🏠 Juvenile dependency appeals, and when “the overweening hand of the government” unnecessarily disrupts families.

🏛 How he won the Sanchez case (barring the expert-witness end-run around the hearsay rule for case-specific hearsay) and became one of the leading experts on Indian Child Welfare Act, now a hot issue among constitutional scholars.

🤵 Should you waive oral argument? It probably won’t make a difference but—what if it does?

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Top Cases of 2022

Need to catch up on important cases you missed in 2022? This end-of-year episode has you covered. Listen or click through for the complete list. But our “Most Important Case for Money Litigators” was Siry Investment, L.P. v. Farkhondehpour (Cal. Jul. 21, 2022 No. S262081), holding treble damages and attorney fees under section 496 may be supported in your next fraud, conversion, breach of fiduciary duty, or even breach of contract case. (Covered in Ep. 45.)

We’ve got dozens more.

Coming soon: Our top briefing and advocacy tips from 2022.

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New Cases on MSJ Evidence Rulings and Elder Abuse Attachment Orders

Evidentiary rulings on MSJ are reviewed under the same deferential standard as given evidentiary rulings at trial—i.e., for abuse of discretion—but the Supreme Court cracked the door open on the possibility of de novo review in its 2010 Reid v. Google decision. Those hopeful for more the rigorous standard will be disappointed by a new recent published case.

We also discuss a recent case involving attachment orders in elder abuse suits. Namely, can you get an attachment in an elder abuse case? Maybe, but not based on statutory penalties, so the attachment order had to be reversed.

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New Case Tips for Judgment Creditors & Litigation Privilege

If you have a judgment against a debtor and you want to do some judgment collection in another state, is personal jurisdiction an obstacle? Do you have to show the debtor has minimum contacts with the other state? No, says a new published case. We’ll consider the possible effects of this — they are surprising.

On the perennial topic of deadlines for posttrial motions and appeals, we found yet another exception — if you file a DQ motion, that tolls the posttrial deadlines. Jurisdictional my left foot.

And finally, a new anti-SLAPP case with an expansive application of the litigation privilege.

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“Being Inauthentic Is a Betrayal of People’s Expectations”: Kyle Schneberg on Nursing Home Injury Law

After amassing $100 million for his personal-injury clients, Gerry Spence Trial Lawyer’s College alumnus Kyle Schneberg started Bedsore Law, a national law firm protecting the rights of elders in nursing homes. Kyle sits down with California Appellate Law Podcast co-hosts Jeff Lewis and Tim Kowal to discuss:

• The different approaches taken by personal injury attorneys, from “billboard attorneys” to settlement mills to big-dollar jury trials, and in between.

• How has California’s MICRA cap on medical-injury cases affected victims’ ability to get justice?

• What is the Gerry Spence College like?

• Nursing-home injuries and the changing needs in that space.

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M.C. Sungaila Reports Back After Over 100 Interviews of Women Judges & Attorneys at the Portia Project

M.C. Sungaila has advocated at some of the highest levels of appellate law, and last year took her experience and her heart for mentoring and public interest work to the Portia Project podcast, where she distills the wisdom and experience of women judges, justices, and top attorneys in the nation.

M.C. sits down with Tim Kowal and Jeff Lewis on the California Appellate Law Podcast to discuss some of the insights and recurring themes and advice she’s gleaned from having interviewed now over 100 of the most successful women in the legal profession today:

• The “watershed moment” in the 1980s when Sandra Day O’Connor became the first woman on the Supreme Court, opening the floodgates for women in law.

• The varied paths to the bench, taken by lawyers who never thought it possible.

• A law degree doesn’t just mean one thing, and success sometimes mean failing at your first try, second try, etc., until you find the right fit.

• The disconnect between lawyers and judges: Advocates are looking for an outcome, but appellate judges are looking for an opinion.

• Appellate judges look at oral argument as another part of their process in preparing to make their decision. Don’t look at oral argument as just an isolated 30-60 minutes—that’s not how the panel sees it.

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“You Can’t Lose a Case by Making It Too Clear”: An Interview with Justice John Zebrowski

When the Supreme Court applied lis pendens law inconsistent with the lis pendens statute, Justice Zebrowski wrote a letter that got the attention of the State Bar. That got him on a lis pendens “task force,” which in turn was responsible for convincing the Legislature to amend the lis pendens statutes.

On this episode of the California Appellate Law Podcast, Justice Zebrowski tells co-hosts Jeff and Tim about his work on the Law Revision Commission, and the BAJI Committee writing and amending civil jury instructions. But given the low-absorbency rate with jurors, is the practice of jury instructions at trial merely ceremonial? And what is the difference between BAJI and CACI?

Mediating or arbitrating a case? Justice Zebrowski also offers some advice from 23 years as a neutral.

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“Gateway Drugs” to Legal Tech, with Ernie Svenson

We attorneys are trained to spot patterns, but many of us are poor at spotting patterns of inefficiency in the way we practice. Ernie “The Attorney” Svenson joins this episode of the California Appellate Law Podcast to explain how lawyers can adopt “systems thinking” to make their practice more effective, efficient, and even more fun.

Ernie shares how he learned about efficiency from his judge during his clerkship who, to shave time off the “Oyez, Oyez, Oyez” ceremony, cut the last “Oyez.” And how his judge delegated the task of explaining to new clerks about the edited “Oyez.” Now THAT is systems thinking!

Too abstract? How about a taste? Here are Ernie’s “gateway drugs” to get you hooked on legal tech:

• SaneBox — Most lawyers use some filtering to reduce email load, but SaneBox has really advanced filters that will find you spending less time in your inbox.

• TextExpander — Everyone sends out routine emails (think: retainer agreements). TextExpander populates an complete email with a macro. (And it will getting your gears turning about other ways to automate your day-to-day.)

• Automated Calendaring (e.g., Acuity, Calendly) — No attorney should be booking their own appointments.

Listen to the episode here: https://lnkd.in/gTDweCDf

Please subscribe to the California Appellate Law Podcast in your favorite podcast player.

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“You Know It When You See It”: Justice Thompson (Ret.) on Writ Relief and Judicial Philosophy

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.

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The Cal. Supreme Court’s Outgoing and Incoming Chief Justices, with David Ettinger

The California Supreme Court is getting a new chief justice. What does it mean? The author of prominent legal blog At the Lectern, David Ettinger, joins Jeff Lewis and me to look back on Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye’s 11-year tenure, her legacy, her replacement, Justice Patricia Guerrero—and why is the governor “appointing” a new Supreme Court justice when the state constitution says he needs to “nominate”?

David’s critical coverage of Gov. Newsom’s decision to “appoint” rather than “nominate” drew a phone call from the governor’s office, which he discusses.

We also discuss:

• “Taking one for the team”: how the CJ described her decision to write some of the Court’s more controversial opinions.

• “We don’t need to speak so broadly”: how the CJ described her approach to writing judicial opinions.

• When Gov. Jerry Brown got frustrated with the Supreme Court. Today, the Court grants all of Gov. Newsom’s clemency requests, but it denied many of Gov. Brown’s. Why? Turns out, governors get just as frustrated at summary denials as the rest of us do: “Read the ones who were approved and read the ones who were disapproved,” Gov. Brown challenged, “and you tell me what the rule is.”

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“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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