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Tag: Unpublished Opinions

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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Why unpublished opinions probably should remain non citable

In defense of the prohibition on citing unpublished opinions, attorney Ryan McCarl notes to Jeff Lewis and me that, so long as California appellate judges continue “nonpublishing” opinions on the assumption practitioners not understand them to be real judicial decisions, we’d have to change their assumption before we change our understanding.

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Published Opinions Are Well-Thought-Out: Shouldn't They All Be?

In their article calling for relaxation of the no-citation rule, appellate attorneys David Ettinger and Dean Bochner point to this interesting quote explaining how much effort goes into a published appellate opinion: it “is an exacting and extremely time-consuming task” and “few, if any, appellate courts have the resources to write precedential opinions in every case that comes before them.” (Hart v. Massanari (9th Cir. 2001) 266 F.3d 1155, 1177.)

But doesn’t every case deserve the same quality of consideration?

How would the reasoning be different if Congress were to say, “you know, this bicameralism and presentment business is an exacting and extremely time-consuming task, and really, what legislature has the resources to go through all that for every important policy matter that comes before it?”

(Of course, a federal court would respond: “No one is saying you cannot cite to unpublished cases. We just don’t like it very much, is all.” But California Rules of Court rule 8.1115 absolutely prohibits any citation to unpublished opinions.)

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Proper and improper ways to get around the no-citation rule

Here are two ideas for getting round the “no-citation rule” that prohibits California attorneys from citing unpublished cases. But careful! Only one of them is actually a good idea.

First, I ask appellate attorneys David Ettinger and Dean Bochner if attorneys may reference an unpublished case the same way a recent published case did: by naming the appellate district that issued the on-point unpublished case. (Bad idea, don’t try it it. I realized it was probably too mischievous when I couldn’t even say it with a straight face.)

Second, simply crib the persuasive reasoning of the unpublished case. (This gets a thumbs-up from both David and Dean and co-host Jeff Lewis.)

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How the No Citation Rule Is Routinely Violated

Did you know you are forbidden to cite unpublished cases — even when urging the Cal. Supreme Court in a petition for review that there is a split of authority? Appellate attorneys David Ettinger and Dean Bochner note that this use of unpublished cases are routinely employed, but it violates California Rules of Court rule 8.1115.

They explain to Tim Kowal and Jeff Lewis on the California Appellate Law Podcast that the rule should be amended so attorneys need not risk becoming “scofflaws” just to continue engaging in this customary and needful practice.

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Two Proposals to Amend the No-Citation Rule

Attorneys are prohibited under CRC rule 8.1115 from citing unpublished cases for any reason. But not even the Supreme Court takes the rule seriously. Practitioners routinely cite unpublished cases in petitions for review to demonstrate the existence of splits of authority, even though rule 8.1115 clearly prohibits this practice.

Attorneys David Ettinger and Dean Bochner join hosts Tim Kowal and Jeff Lewis to explain their two proposals to amend rule 8.1115, and allow citations to nonpubs in appropriate circumstances.

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Law Is What Courts Do, Not What They Say

Appellant expert Myron Moskovitz explains why unpublished opinions are a sleight of hand. Courts do one thing in one case, and the opposite in another case, and then tell you only the first case is “precedent” because the second was not “published.” But ALL cases are published online. We can all we what the court is doing. “Unpublishing” cases is a bad magic trick.

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You’ve Heard of Unpublished Court Decisions, But How About Unwritten Decisions?

One of the criticisms against the uncitability of unpublished appellate opinions is that the fact they are not published feeds a suspicion they are not always thought quite all the way through. Certainly you are more likely to find typographical errors in an unpublished opinion, for instance, than you might in a published one. And I often find myself a bit unsatisfied at the level of legal analysis in an unpublished opinion.

But an unpublished analysis is better than no analysis at all. That is what the litigants got in *[Center Street Dev. Co. v. Superior Court](https://casetext.com/case/ctr-st-dev-co-v-the-superior-court?resultsNav=false&tab=keyword)* (D1d2 Nov. 24, 2021) no. A160894. The First District Court of Appeal just concluded that reversing the summary adjudication order seemed to it “obvious.”

What should have been at least as obvious to the court is that this sort of shortcut violates the state constitution and precedent of the Supreme Court. If the court missed this obvious point, is it possible its summary reversal missed other points as well?

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Dear Federal Judges Please Discuss More Unpublished CA Cases

The frustrating rule against citing unpublished appellate opinions in California courts, Rule of Court 8.1115, has an important exception: if a federal case has cited the unpublished California opinion, then you can cite to it by way of the federal case. Appellate attorneys Frances Campbell, Jeff Lewis, and I discuss.

Any federal judges looking for a way to perform a public service – and earn a lot of gratitude from California attorneys – should cite liberally to unpublished California appellate opinions.

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Winning an Appeal: Our Interview with Author and Attorney Myron Moskovitz

Appellate attorney and author [Myron Moskovitz](http://moskovitzappellateteam.com/team/myron-moskovitz) joins Jeff Lewis and me on episode 20 of the California Appellate Law Podcast. Myron has been practicing appellate law since the '60s, and has curated an impressive collection of effective strategies to win appeals. Some of the topics we discuss include:

- Why appellate courts should provide brief explanations when denying writ petitions.
- Criticisms of Rule of Court 8.1115 prohibiting the citation of unpublished opinions.
- Statements of Decision
- Why the Appellant's Reply Brief may be the most important brief.
- Why you should moot your oral argument before writing your Appellant's Reply Brief.

We also discuss Myron's new book, *[Winning an Appeal](https://store.ceb.com/strategies-on-appeal-2)*. Myron explains this is not a practice guide that just tells you the nuts and bolts of how to appeal, but an actual readable volume with strategies for winning an appeal.

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What Difference Does an Appellate Judge Make: Ideology, Orientation and Temperament in the Intermediate Appellate Courts of California: An Interview with Research Attorney Jeff Calkins

Jeff Calkins, a recently-retired senior research attorney with the Court of Appeal, talks with appellate attorneys Jeff Lewis and me about what it is like working at an appellate court ("like a monastery," in a good way), about how the writ panel works, cultural differences in the different district Courts of Appeal, and why the California appellate courts may tend to go easier on trial courts than federal appellate courts.

Jeff also shares his theory on why California appeals are not as much "fun" as federal appeals (hint: it has to do more with the legislatures than the judges), and disagrees with my proposal that Rule of Court 8.1115 be amended to allow parties to cite unpublished opinions.

Listen to the episode here: https://lnkd.in/gC2hWQJX

Get a weekly digest of these articles delivered to your inbox by subscribing here: https://lnkd.in/g23bc4Y.

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Accusations Are Not Misconduct: The Duty of Candor is Not Limited to “Chesterfieldian Politeness”

The defendants also argued that the plaintiff's attorney called them "cheaters" both during opening statements and closing arguments, and that this inflamed the jury against the defendants.

Not so. An attorney “ ‘may vigorously argue his case and is not limited to “Chesterfieldian politeness.” ’ ” (People v. Fields (1983) 35 Cal.3d 329, 363.)
(SoCal Diesel, Inc. v. Extrasensory Software, Inc. (D2d1 May 3, 2021) no. B290062 (non-pub.).)

And a Reversal Based on Curious Reasoning: Unpublished opinions usually are unpublished because they are uneventful. But sometimes, unpublished opinions are unpublished maybe, just maybe, because they contain reasoning that might not hold up to scrutiny. If at oral argument your panel asks you how it can rely on a particular argument that was not raised below or in the briefs, the answer is: "In an unpublished opinion, your honor." That is the true answer, anyway. It is not the correct answer, obviously. But it is the true answer.

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