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: Record on Appeal

Yes, You Need a Court Reporter at the Hearing on a Motion for Anti-SLAPP Fees

Having a court reporter can be critically important to create an oral record for an appeal, but it is not always necessary. Anti-SLAPP motions, for example, involve questions of law which are reviewed de novo on appeal, so a reporter's transcript is not strictly necessary. But what about on an appeal of an order of anti-SLAPP fees? The answer given in Beck v. Yozura (D4d2 Nov. 7, 2022) No. B313689 (nonpub. opn.) is:

Yep, you need a reporter's transcript.

Even if it really seems kind of silly to require a reporter's transcript, like in Beck, where the defendant’s anti-SLAPP resulted in the dismissal of exactly zero causes of action. He just got one allegation stricken.

But that was enough for a $25,000 fee award, without any reductions for the partial success. The appellate court reasoned that, although the trial court’s order did indicate it considered reducing the award, there was no reporter's transcript, so maybe it considered it there.

Takeaways:

1. Bring a court reporter to all dispositive hearings, even if they involve only questions of law and no testimony. Always assume the Court of Appeal will reach for the fact of the lack of a reporter's transcript for an easy affirmance—even if the reporter's transcript pretty clearly could have added nothing to the analysis.

2. Remember to consider requesting a statement of decision before submitting on a motion for attorney fees.

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Preparing the Excerpts of Record for Federal Appeals

This course provides an overview of designating the record and preparing the Appendix or Excerpts of Record for federal appeals. Preparing the record is critically important to success on appeal, but is often overlooked by attorneys, who may come to their paralegals shortly before the briefing deadline. Both attorneys and paralegals should be aware that the process is time-intensive. Not only that, but now that the courts have entered the digital age, the courts require the Appendix or Excerpts of Record to conform to demanding technical specifications. This is a daunting undertaking by both the paralegal and the attorney, and paralegals can add tremendous value by understanding the process and encouraging their attorneys to plan ahead.

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Creditor may intervene to prevent debtor from colluding to pay a different creditor

There is an evergreen warning in Brilliant Digital Ent., Inc. v. PersonalWeb Tech., LLC (D2d4 Oct. 3, 2022 no. B317580) 2022 WL 4716637 (nonpub. opn.) that an incomplete appellate record can doom an otherwise righteous appeal.

And there is also a reminder of a more esoteric nature about a rule that allows unsecured creditors a right to mandatory intervention.

In short, a debtor colluded with plaintiff, a friendly creditor, to avoid paying a $5.4 million judgment it owed to Amazon. Amazon, an unsecured creditor, was denied intervention, but won on appeal on the basis of the collusion exception under Continental Vinyl Products Corp. v. Mead Corp. (1972) 27 Cal.App.3d 543.

But Amazon almost lost this appeal by failing to provide a complete record. Amazon had raised the exception in the trial court by way of a supplemental brief. But on appeal, Amazon did not even include that supplemental brief in the record.

The court allowed Amazon to supplement the record with that brief, but at that point the court noticed that Amazon also had failed to include the underlying motion to intervene, as well as the reply brief and the complaint-in-intervention.

In the usual case, these record defects would have been fatal. Amazon should be very grateful of the court’s indulgence here.

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“You Had to Be There” Doesn't Work on Appeal

One of the challenges for us appellate attorneys arguing posttrial motions is that the trial judge tends to look upon us as johnny-come-latelies. “That’s how things look to you reading the dry transcripts, Mr. Kowal, but you weren’t here when it happened.”

That may be so. But there is someone else who wasn’t there, Three someone elses, in fact: the jurists on the appellate panel. All they will have is the same dry transcript that I have.

While appellate courts tend to defer to a trial judge’s sense of the case, this tends to run up against the great appellate maxim of “record cites or it didn’t happen.” Just saying “you had to be there” doesn’t quite cut it.

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My recent article, Preparing the Appendix in Federal Appeals, in the latest issue of Facts & Findings

If you are setting out on a federal appeal, you will need to prepare the record. To help attorneys and paralegals in this task, you can read my article, “Preparing the Appendix in Federal Appeals,” in the latest issue of Facts & Findings, published by NALA.

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An Advanced Class in Making the Record, with Jimmy Azadian

Merely hiring a court reporter is not enough. Jimmy Azadian explains how sidebars, missed objections, proffers, and hostile judges can all present obstacles to making your trial record. Jimmy shares with co-hosts Jeff Lewis and me about how he has addressed these kinds of problems while serving as embedded appellate counsel.

What is “embedded appellate counsel”? Jimmy explains that, too. And why trial attorneys should consider having embedded appellate counsel at their next trial.

Jimmy, Tim, and Jeff then talk about why California courts, unlike federal courts, do not provide audio recordings of trials. Our courts have the equipment. A statute even provided for electronic audio recordings, as did a Judicial Council rule. But then a powerful lobby got the program permanently mothballed.

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Trial Exhibit Not Moved Into Evidence Deemed Admitted on Appeal

“I forgot to move my exhibits into evidence!” Many trial lawyers have made this sudden realization, often in the middle of the night in a cold sweat. But two recent cases (and a fistful of antacids) may get you back to sleep again.

At the trial between the two partners in a restaurant business in Amirnezhad v. Ghayam (D2d8 May 4, 2022 no. B306361) 2022 WL 1401387 (nonpub. opn.), Amirnezhad prevailed and got an award of almost $160,000 in attorney fees and costs. the basis for the fee award was a promissory note.

But, the note was not admitted at trial.

No problem, the Court of Appeal held. Under Dodson v. Greuner (1938) 28 Cal.App.2d 418 (Dodson), if the circumstances suggest the exhibit was intended to be offered and admitted—that is, it was authenticated, discussed at trial, and there was no dispute about its admissibility—the exhibit may be deemed admitted on appeal.

The Upshot: If you forgot to move a key exhibit into evidence, argue the Dodson case. If you laid the foundation for the exhibit and there was no dispute over its authenticity, then under Dodson the appellate court may deem the evidence to be part of the trial record.

(But you still have to make sure the missing exhibit is part of the appellate record. For this, consider consulting an appellate specialist.)

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Read This Before Using a Settled Statement for Your Appeal

The mother appealing the parentage order in R.M. v. J.J. (D3 Apr. 29, 2022 no. C090018) 2022 WL 1301801 (nonpub. opn.) had a solid issue on appeal: her ex-husband had made frequent angry outbursts and hostile gesticulations throughout the day-long hearing. The mother thought this display of her ex-husband’s rather obvious need of anger management confirmed that giving him custody of a young child was not in the child’s best interests. But the trial court refused to consider the ex-husband’s outbursts. This admitted refusal to consider these angry outbursts, mother argued, was an abuse of discretion.

But the Court of Appeal held: Outbursts? What outbursts? We see no record of any outbursts. Order affirmed.

You see, when you appeal, you have to show the Court of Appeal what happened during the trial court proceedings. The best way to do that is to have a court reporter transcribe every word of the proceedings. But that is expensive. Acknowledging this expense, the rules give financially-constrained litigants another way to provide an appellate record. This alternative is called a settled statement.

But in this case, the settled statement became a heavily-litigated affair, resulting in a version expurgated of the matters relevant to the mother’s appeal. In short, the worst of both worlds.

The Upshot: Do not count on a settled statement. Yes, it is in the rules. But this is not the first time I have heard that a trial judge refused to provide a settled statement, and that a Court of Appeal refused to do anything about it. Do not be misled into thinking there is a way to furnish an appellate record other than a reporter's transcript. Yes, this sets up an access-to-justice problem. The Legislature needs to fund court reporters, or re-institute its audio-recording program (which was nixed, by the way, at the behest of the reporters’ lobby, as a presiding justice recently confirmed for me.)

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“Impossible” Burden Met on Appeal: But Dissent Disagrees

You know about “de novo” and “abuse of discretion” and “substantial evidence.” But most attorneys have never heard of the “finding compelled as a matter of law” standard of appellate review. That is because it rarely comes up. The “compelled finding” standard only comes up when the party with the burden of proof (usually plaintiff) loses at trial, and argues on appeal that its case was so truly overwhelming that only an unreasonable fact-finder would have been left unpersuaded.

With that in mind, there are two interesting things about Missinato v. Missinato (D2d7 Apr. 15, 2022 no. B305989) 2022 WL 1124871 (nonpub. opn.). First, it is surprising because the court found the defendant’s statute-of-limitations defense so overwhelming that only an unreasonable person would be unpersuaded. Second, one of the panel was unpersuaded.

That seems awkward, no?

There are several things about this opinion I find really shocking. #AppellateLinkedIn, take a look and let me know your thoughts.

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Lack of Reporter’s Transcript Fatal to Appeal of a Discretionary Ruling

Trial counsel had some explaining to do at a trial court hearing. The failure to provide a reporter's transcript of that hearing was fatal to the appeal of the resulting order.

In *[Lemus v. Abdeljawad] (D4d2 Sep. 8, 2021) 2021 WL 4075181 (E075789) (nonpub. opn.), the plaintiff obtained a default judgment against the defendant. But the plaintiff got the default judgment under suspicious circumstances. The defendant never received the summons or complaint. When the defendant learned of the default, counsel sent emails to the plaintiff’s counsel asking for the complaint. Counsel left voicemails for plaintiff’s counsel. But plaintiff never responded, and instead pushed ahead to get a default judgment. When the defendant moved to set aside, the plaintiff admitted having received the defendant’s requests for the complaint, but did not explain why he never responded. The trial court set aside the default judgment.

When the plaintiff appealed, he failed to include the reporter's transcript from the hearing. Presumably, the trial court would have asked, at that hearing, “counsel, what possible excuse could you have for not responding to the defendant’s repeated requests for the complaint?” The Fourth District Court of Appeal apparently was curious to know the answer to that as well. The court held the lack of the reporter's transcript alone amounted to a forfeiture of the appeal.

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Do You Really Need a Court Reporter? Read This Debate Between Two Appellate Justices

I found this a really interesting case. It is about whether litigants need to have a court reporter at a law-and-motion hearing. Do you really need a court reporter for every occasion, such as a hearing where no testimony will be offered?

Before you answer, consider the perspectives of the appellate justices who disagreed sharply on the question in *[Weischadle v. Vo](https://casetext.com/case/weischadle-v-vo?resultsNav=false&jxs=ca&tab=keyword)* (D2d1 Jul. 2, 2021) 2021 WL 2766771 (no. B304845) (nonpub. opn.). The majority held the lack of a reporter's transcript at a hearing on a motion to compel arbitration was not fatal. But Justice Chaney penned a forceful dissent. The majority opinion is logical and seems to reach the right result. But Justice Chaney raises important questions whether the majority evaded important procedural safeguards to reach its result.

Given the outcome was a close call, as a practical matter it would be wise to assume a reporter's transcript is necessary for any important law-and-motion hearing, even if testimony will not be offered.

I discuss what happened in *Weischadle* in the rest of the post, along with some comments about judicial admissions, and whether California rules make record preparation needlessly difficult.

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Choose Your Appellate Issues Wisely: Appeal Rejected Because Most Issues Were Forfeited or Improperly Briefed

Specifically, most of the appellants' arguments here were rejected as forfeited. The court also disregarded challenges because the appellants' briefing improperly cited to postjudgment matter in the appellate record in their challenge of the judgment.

The upshot is that great care must be given to the selection of issues on appeal, and whether they are property supported and preserved. Consulting an appellate attorney prior to trial and on appeal may prevent against findings of waiver and forfeiture on appeal.

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