Tuesday, March 20, 2007

An Appeal on Appeals

This can be considered a public service announcement. Or maybe not.

Appeals are usually pointless. I'm not talking about whining to your parents that you want the $50 AT-AT Imperial Walker or the Millenium Falcon (*sigh* I never got either as a child). I'm talking about the legal kind.

Appeals are usually pointless because of something called the standard of review, which is basically what the appeals court is allowed to look at and potentially change from the lower court's decision. The standard of review is often quite deferential to the trial court. Basically, unless the trial court judge jumped up on the table and danced with a bottle of vodka, you are pretty much stuck with the result. Ok, it is not quite that deferential. Sometimes it is even "de novo" which means the appellate court can ignore the trial court and look at things fresh. This is usually the case if the appeal is about a purely legal issue, such as does the statute require X or not.

I mention this because over 85% of appeals are generally about things that basically there is no chance you can win, and it is pretty darn apparent that there is no chance at first glance. This makes filing an appeal both a waste of time and a waste of money. Of course, if you lost and you are trying to delay paying money, that might be a nasty way of doing so, but if the money you spend on the appeal is more than the interest you'd save by delaying, it is rather pointless.

Criminal appeals are another matter - they are even more pointless, generally, with over 95% affirmed, but then at least you can understand about someone appealing for their freedom and besides, what do they have to lose? Most of the time it is a court-appointed attorney who handles it and they have nothing but time as they rot in prison.

I just felt the need to post it because, in my work on appellate cases, I way too often see cases where it is just stupid that someone filed an appeal - a waste of money and time, and I hope that maybe someone will take this to heart and not waste their money on futility. A good lawyer should tell his or her client when an appeal is pointless. I wonder how many appeals are about lawyers trying to get more money and how many are about clients who aren't interested in listening to their lawyers because of the same stubborn streak that led to the lawsuit in the first place.

As a side issue, what is even better to note is that it is always cheaper and quicker and easier to resolve a dispute without going to court. Many lawsuits could be avoided if people just acted more reasonable, less stubborn, and frankly, less like assholes. That's legal advice you can take to the bank. Beyond the costs, there is also the fact that if you sue your neighbor, win or lose, you still have to live next to them.

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