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: Trial Procedure

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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No Right to In-Person Appearances

Although the defendant specifically invoked his constitutional and statutory right to to be “personally present” at his sentencing hearing, the California Court of Appeal in People v. Whitmore (D4d3 no. G059779) 2022 WL 1284371 ___ Cal.Rptr.3d ___, held that limiting a defendant to a virtual appearance, while legally improper, creates no harm. The court affirmed the 10-year sentence.

My Comment: I don’t know about this. I mean, how do you prove that the denial of your right to an in-person hearing hurt you? Here are some possible ideas:

• If you have poor audio or connection quality, say so, early and often.

• If you struggle with or are distracted by the virtual software interface, say so — again, early and often.

• If someone is speaking off camera, like a clerk, alert the court that you cannot see who is speaking.

• If you have an opportunity to speak and you would prefer to stand, tell the court you would like to do so, but that you will need to adjust your camera and microphone. Insist that the court indulge you for as long as that process takes.

• Maybe you like to gesticulate while speaking? You should indicate you are making hand movements but that you are not sure if they are all within the frame.

• Maybe you move your head from side to side or modulate your voice when speaking? You should note that you are not sure whether the microphone is picking up everything.

• In short, demonstrate that conducting the hearing virtually rather than traditionally was distracting, limited your presentation, and ultimately prevented you from the most effective advocacy possible.

What do you think, #AppellateLinkedIn? Will these ideas work?

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Do Curative Instructions Cure Anything?

Here is one reason why trials are so stressful:

What do you do after the jury hears something improper? Object and draw attention to it? Or do nothing and waive?

Appellate attorney Frank Lowrey discusses the options with Jeff Lewis and me. The law presumes that curative instructions purge any prejudice by the offending statements. But one is reminded of the retort Dickens put in the mouth of Mr. Bumble in Oliver Twist upon being informed the law would presume his wife acted at his instruction: "If the law supposes that, the law is an ass — an idiot."

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Stupid Motions in Limine

Filing a critical motion in limine could be key to your trial.
What about 40 motions in limine?

Appellate attorney Frank Lowrey says he’s heard trial judges refer to these as "stupid motions in limine."

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When Does a Motion in Limine Preserve Trial Objections?

Do you still have to object if you filed a motion in limine? While a denial of a MIL preserves your objections, a deferred ruling preserves nothing.

Counsel must be prepared to make contemporaneous objections at every instance to preserve the objection.

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Preserving Trial Objections, and Alternative Takes on a Recent Appellate Contempt Citation: An Interview with Frank Lowrey on the Cal. Appellate Podcast ep. 13

Georgia appellate attorney Frank Lowrey joins Tim and Jeff to discuss Williams v. Harvey, a recent decision by the Georgia Supreme Court concerning preservation of error and motions in limine, in a June 2021 interview in episode 13 of the California Appellate Law Podcast.

Frank notes the important nuances in rulings on motions in limine: a denial preserves the evidentiary objections raised in the motion, while a deferred ruling (neither granting nor denying the motion) preserves nothing – meaning the trial attorney still needs to object to every instance of the offending matter.

Frank also notes that, in some jurisdictions, a curative instruction is presumes to cure any prejudice. This is the case in California, absent exceptional circumstances. (People v. Navarrete (2010) 181 Cal.App.4th 828, 834 ["Ordinarily, a curative instruction to disregard improper testimony is sufficient to protect a defendant from the injury of such testimony, and, ordinarily, we presume a jury is capable of following such an instruction."].) (One is reminded of the reaction of Dickens’s Mr. Bumble upon being informed the law presumed his wife acted under his direction: “If the law supposes that, the law is an ass — an idiot. If that's the eye of the law, the law is a bachelor; and the worst I wish the law is, that his eye may be opened by experience — by experience.”)

Frank, Tim and Jeff also discussed the recent California Court of Appeal opinion previously discussed on this blog finding an attorney in contempt for accusations made in an appellate brief, and discuss whether the court’s admonition against challenging the courts might be somewhat overstated.

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Update Your Trial Bookmarks: Dispositive Motions in Limine and Nonstatutory Motions for Judgment on the Pleadings "a Recipe for Reversal"​

There is an important point of trial practice about filing dispositive motions in limine in Tung v. Chicago Title (D1d3 Apr. 28, 2021) no. A151526 (published). That point is: Don't. The same point is made about relying on nonstatutory motions for judgment on the pleadings: Here is the quote to put in your opposition: "[W]e caution trial judges to be wary when choosing to decide an in limine motion that, no matter how captioned, functions as a nonstatutory motion for judgment on the pleadings, particularly when the motion is filed on the eve of trial. Doing so, under circumstances like those presented here, is a recipe for reversal."

Finally, there is also an excellent tip for expediting an appeal of an early catastrophic trial ruling and avoiding judgment collection pending appeal: dismissing remaining trivial claims (with prejudice), and stipulating to the prevailing party's fees and costs providing enforcement is to be stayed pending appeal. This was a shrewd move by appellant's counsel here, who served their client well.

Read on.

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