I argue a case in the Los Angeles Court of Appeals this morning. I won't discuss what it's all about, as weblogs always seem to me to be poor places to discuss client issues. I'll only say that I'm fortunate to represent the respondent in this appeal, who won in the trial court. Although it should make no difference, I find that my stress level is less when I won in the court below. It is worthy work and fun, though, to try to argue for a reversal in the Court of Appeal. It's heartbreaking when one loses an appeal--from either side of the courtroom--when one believes the law does or should favor one's client.
But you do your best job, yet sometimes you don't win.
I have the briefs before me--the appellant's opening brief, my opposition brief, the appellant's reply brief. In those briefs, and in twelve volumes of papers from the trial court, resides all the facts in the particular universe which is this case. Unlike a trial, in which the court figures out the correct facts, an appeal focuses instead on how to apply the law to the facts determined below.
The Los Angeles Court of Appeal is in a building called the Ronald Reagan building (of course), in downtown Los Angeles. The courtroom for appellate arguments is very professional and impressive. Several different divisions of the Court of Appeal share this courtroom. A particular division will summon cases for oral argument on one day of the week, while another will use another day of the week.
This appeal was filed in January 2004, and it is being heard in December 2004. Barring the unforeseen, this particular court's policy will normally point to the rendition of a decision by February 2005.
Each side will get no more than half an hour to present its arguments. Sometimes the justices ask lots of questions, colloquially called a "hot bench". Sometimes the justices ask a few questions. Sometimes, in the situation colloquially called "cold bench", the justices just listen to one's argument, and then say "thank you".
Because I am on the side of the respondent, the lawyer for the other side will go first. He (in this case a "he") will argue that the trial judge was wrong to rule for my client, relying upon arguments he made in his fiftysomething page brief. Then I will argue that the trial judge was correct, arguing points I have made in a brief I filed back in June 2004. Then he will get to reply, since he in the appellant in the appeal. Although sometimes the justices will make clear where they are heading, the actual decision is virtually always mailed out in writing, within sixty days.
This is the first of five pending appeals I will argue in the next six months, barring settlements or the unforeseen. I enjoy appellate work, because it involves discussion of how the law works and ought to work, which is a fascinating topic. The appellate issues in my appeals, while often important in their own sphere, rarely scintillate or provide fodder for court television. It can take longer to explain a set of issues than the average dinner party, so that I rarely talk about my issues-in-litigation away from work. I do enjoy taking on consumer law issues sometimes, to ensure that my life has at least a few "my car isn't fixed" type of things in it rather than the complex issues of statutory and contractual interpretation which so often fill my bowl.
Three justices will hear the appeal. Often, the argument discloses that one judge has done extra "work up" for each particular appeal. I have never clerked in an appellate court, nor been a judge, but I believe this is part of the design of the process. All the justices, though, will be "up to speed", capable, experienced, and ready to hear, to ask, and to decide.
I've argued a good number of appeals, and I appear in court a good bit, although far less, say, than a criminal lawyer or someone who tries divorces or small personal injury cases all day. My type of practice involves a lot of work on determining and applying the law, and a lot of hearings resolved by motion or at trial on the law more than on the resolution of disputed facts. Of course, though, facts do come into it all, so all generalizations are useless to some degree.
I'm looking forward to standing before the justices, seeking to summarize the favorable points in my case, replying to the points my opponent made, and answering the questions from the panel of justices. It's what I do, and some days, it's who I am. This morning at 9:30, I'll learn how it goes.