2022 was a banner year for appointments and elevations to California’s Courts of Appeal. The State’s new Chief Justice and newest Associate Justice of the California Supreme Court led the news, but Governor Newsom also filled a large number of vacancies on the intermediate appellate courts. With all this change, it seemed a good time to take a quick look at the newest justices who will be shaping California jurisprudence in the coming years.
How and When to Ask a Court to Overturn Intermediate Appellate Precedents
In CoreCivic, Inc. v. Candide Group, LLC, 46 F.4th 1136 (2022), the Ninth Circuit reaffirmed 20 years of decisions holding that special motions to strike under California’s “Anti-SLAPP statute” may be filed in federal diversity actions. As the court reflected, circuits have split over the federal implementation of the various states’ Anti-SLAPP motions. See id. at 1142–43. But the Ninth Circuit’s position on this question has been long settled. Id. at 1140. And the Ninth Circuit’s latest published opinion on the issue does not reconsider the merits of the issue or even attempt to defend its rule against the criticism it has faced from other circuits and even Ninth Circuit judges. See, e.g., Travelers Cas. Ins. Co. of Am. v. Hirsh, 831 F.3d 1179, 1182 (Kozinski, J. concurring). Rather, the decision merely explains the court’s refusal to reverse itself. The relative merits of its precedent and the strength of a party’s arguments against it are largely irrelevant; a Ninth Circuit panel is bound to follow the court’s past decisions except in exceptional circumstances. See id. at 1140–43.
So, what is a litigant to do when it has a need and good faith basis to challenge otherwise binding case law from intermediate appellate courts? Some discussion of the governing principles will help inform an approach.
Not Saying the Quiet Part Out Loud; or, Keep Your Cool on Appeal to Avoid Contempt
It’s safe to say that I’ve been fortunate in my legal career. Among other blessings, I have also benefitted from representing clients who were consistently right on the law and facts and who were even justified from a moral and public-policy perspective. Yet, exasperatingly, I have not prevailed in all of the cases I have litigated. This strange disconnect between objective righteousness and subjective results can only be explained by one thing: judges sometimes make mistakes. And while our appellate-judicial system quite literally exists to catch and rectify those mistakes, even appellate judges and justices sometimes have an off day.
Making the Most of Your Reply Brief
It is a truism in appellate practice that the respondent/appellee is in the best position; the standards of review and presumptions largely weigh in favor of affirmance, and so winning in the trial court is statistically the best way to win on appeal. In the spirit of making lemonade from lemons, however, one of the benefits and joys of being an appellant is getting to file a reply brief.
In California and federal appellate courts of appeal, reply briefs are nominally optional. In practice, all this means (or at least all it should mean) is that your appeal will not be dismissed for failing to file one. But from the perspective of good advocacy, there is really nothing optional about a reply brief. The opening and responding briefs set the field, and the reply is where the battle can be truly and most effectively joined. Indeed, some appellate judges/justices and clerks report (confess?) beginning their review of a case with the reply for just this reason.
Tips and Tricks for Editing Appellate Briefs (and a Shameless Plug)
While oral argument gets all the public attention, appellate practitioners know that their cases are almost always won or lost on the briefs. As a result, in a profession that already places heavy emphasis on good writing, lawyers focusing on appeals are known for honing their written craft to a fine edge. Yet, while it is often said by writing gurus that the key to good writing is good editing, few lawyers devote as much time and energy to learning good editing techniques as they do to developing their writing. The following will preview tips and tricks for editing appellate briefs, both your own work and the work of others.