October 22, 2017

Good Advice, Better Advice: Rethink How You Use Authority

Briefs are too long. Some cases warrant lengthy briefing. Most do not. Shorter briefs are more than judicial preference.[1] Brevity strengthens your writing, clarifies your points, and pleases your audience.[2]

A rarely addressed problem is citing too much authority. When proofreading, many attorneys check a citation’s format and confirm it supports a proposition. But few assess whether to cut the citation or replace it with a better one.

Citations are about judgment. Consider these points.

String Citations Are Not a Problem; They Are a Symptom of a Problem

Nearly every legal writing CLE has a PowerPoint slide dedicated to the irredeemable brutality of string citations. Usually the presenter provides an exaggerated illustration like this:

Parties cannot waive the defense of lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Arbaugh v. Y&H Corp., 546 U.S. 500, 514 (2006); Wisconsin Dep’t of Corrections v. Schacht, 524 U.S. 381, 382 (1998); Lightfoot v. U.S., 564 F.3d 625, 627 (3d Cir. 2009); American Fiber & Finishing, Inc. v. Tyco Healthcare Group, LP, 362 F.3d 136, 138 (1st Cir. 2004); Gardner v. U.S., 211 F.3d 1305, 1310 (D.C. Cir. 2000); Douglas v. E.G. Baldwin & Associates, Inc., 150 F.3d 604, 608 (6th Cir. 1998); Harris v. U.S., 149 F.3d 1304, 1308 (11th Cir. 1998); Chernin v. U.S., 149 F.3d 805, 812-13 (8th Cir. 1998).

Then the presenter condemns string citations for two to three minutes, with a verbal footnote that they are acceptable in rare circumstances like to survey multiple jurisdictions or to show a trend (or consistency) over time.

This advice is not wrong, but it can lead to wrong conclusions.

Astute attorneys hear the advice, return to the office, and dutifully apply it. They scan briefs for precisely what the presenter mentioned: a paragraph with a single sentence followed by a horde of citations spanning multiple lines. If they find a string citation, they cut it down or determine an exception applies. If they find no string citation, hurray! Either way, in the end the attorneys feel confident the number of citations used to support all the propositions is fine because there are no unhelpful string citations. That conclusion is a problem.

Worse, that conclusion misunderstands the problem. The CLE advice frames the problem as string citations. But the absence of unhelpful string citations only means there are no unhelpful string citations. It does not mean the number of citations is acceptable.

The problem is attorneys cite too much authority. Whether that authority appears in a string citation is irrelevant. After all, when does a series of citations become a string citation? After two? Three? Four? Do you restart the count after a new signal word? I do not know and I do not care because it does not matter. You must justify every citation, whether solitary or in a series.

Cutting one string citation from a brief fixes one spot and shortens your brief by a handful of lines. But editing all of your citations improves dozens of sections and can shed pages.

Less is More: Choose the Appropriate Type and Number of Authority

Shed your collegiate habits. Briefs are not a way to show how much research you did, or how smart you are. I understand the hours you spent researching the intricacies of replevin were tiring and frustrating. I understand how few people have the command of replevin you now possess. And I understand that this hard won mastery of replevin should go towards something. Fine, but not your brief.[3]

Your brief has one goal: persuade your audience.[4] If a citation does not help this goal, cut it. Have a reason for every citation you include.[5] Tie that reason to how the citation persuades your audience.

Not using every citation is counterintuitive. If you have the space you want to use every arrow in your quiver.  But too much authority weakens a brief.[6] Citations add length which means more time for your audience to lose focus and patience. You may lose credibility as your audience wonders why the brief is citing unnecessary authority. Too much authority also drowns substance in waves of citations.[7]

Consider a few examples.

Example 1:

A party must file an action for negligence within two years after the cause of action accrues. Section 13-80-102(1)(a), C.R.S. 2017; Colburn v. Kopit, 59 P.3d 295, 296 (Colo. App. 2002).

One proposition, two citations. Why cite two sources? Both are direct citations, meaning there is no signal (e.g. “see also”). The absence of a signal tells the reader the citations directly support the entire proposition. If they both support the entire proposition, you do not need two sources.

Choose one. If the General Assembly chooses a statute of limitations, it codifies this selection in statutes. These statutes bind courts. Here, the statute is clear. When Colburn states the statute of limitations, it is paraphrasing but not interpreting the statute. So the case adds nothing you do not get from the statute. The statute is the strongest authority. It is clear. Cut the case cite.

Example 2:

Courts dismiss negligence claims raised after the two year statute of limitations expires. Section 13-80-102(1)(a), C.R.S. 2017; Colburn v. Kopit, 59 P.3d 295, 296 (Colo. App. 2002).

Again one proposition, two citations. But the proposition is different. It speaks about the remedy courts apply to a tardy claim. The statute does not discuss (although perhaps it implies) the remedy. The case cites the statute, states the statute of limitations, and shows the remedy. It covers all the propositions you need.

Whether to also cite the statute is a judgment call. Although the case is probably sufficient, the statutory citation may help if a court wants to check for amendments or ensure Colburn correctly interprets the statute. This is a strategic decision and may depend on what your opponent contests.

Example 3:

A plaintiff may only succeed on a claim of denial of procedural due process if a state government injured or revoked a constitutionally protected property interest without proper procedural protections. U.S. Const. amend. XIV, §1; Schanzenbach v. Town of La Barge, 706 F.3d 1277, 1283-84 (10th Cir. 2013).

Only the case citation is necessary. The constitutional citation adds nothing. Case law, not the Constitution, establishes the contours of procedural due process. Unless your argument hinges on a textual analysis of the Due Process Clause (unlikely), there is no need to cite the clause.

Example 4:

The Due Process Clause prohibits state governments from depriving any person of life, liberty, or property without due process. U.S. Const. amend. XIV, §1. See also Schanzenbach v. Town of La Barge, 706 F.3d 1277, 1283-84 (10th Cir. 2013).

The citation to the Fourteenth Amendment without any signal tells the reader the Amendment directly states the proposition. The use of “see also” tells the reader the case supports the proposition, but does not directly state it. But a reader cannot tell why the case citation exists. It might add something; it might not. If you have a direct citation followed by a signal word with more authority, you will usually need to state why you included that new authority. Here, either add a parenthetical or cut the case citation.

Example 5:

A complaint must state with particularity the circumstances of a fraud.  F.R.C.P. 9(b).  Courts dismiss claims that fail to meet this heightened pleading standard. See, e.g., Rodriguez v. Bar-S Food Co., 539 F. Supp. 710, 720 (D. Colo. 1982). This requirement protects defendants’ reputations and puts them on notice so they can form a defense. Tatten v. Bank of Am. Corp., 912 F. Supp. 2d 1032, 1041 (D. Colo. 2012). Conclusory allegations are insufficient; the complaint must allege the time, place, and contents of the false representation. Conrad v. The Educ. Res. Inst., 652 F. Supp. 2d 1172, 1182-83 (D. Colo. 2009). The failure to identify the party who made the false statements requires dismissal. Id.

Five citations from four sources. This paragraph explains the general law on pleading fraud. A trial court is probably already familiar with these propositions and does not need a full backstory. Even so, surely one case supports all of these propositions. Do not cite five different sources when one suffices.[8]

Showing several courts have dismissed complaints that plead fraud adds little. After all, what if the other side could cite more cases where courts did not dismiss such complaints? This is a fact-specific analysis. What matters is how the law applies to the complaint in your case. If the complaint’s allegations are close to a case you found, great. If not, more cases will not make a difference.

The ideal authority is one case that supports all these propositions and dismisses a complaint with the most analogous allegations to your case. Next best is one case that supports all these propositions and dismisses a complaint for the reason you advocate (e.g. not identifying who made the false statements) even though the allegations are very different.

Meaningfully Choose Your Authority

If the answer to “Why is this citation here?” is “Because it supports the proposition” then you have not thought it through. This answer explains why you have a citation (as opposed to no citation). But it does not answer why you included this citation. Consider the same question rephrased: of the universe of all authority that supports the proposition, why have you chosen this one?

Step 1: Choose the Appropriate Type of Authority. Often multiple authorities lend support: constitutions, statutes, regulations, case law, legislative history, treatises, dictionaries, articles, etc. Have a reason why you chose one type of authority over another. Why cite a statute and not a case? Why a case and not a treatise?

Step 2: Choose the Appropriate Source. Once you decide on the type of authority, choose a particular source. For example, after you decide to cite case law you must decide which case to cite. Why cite this case instead of that case when both support the proposition? Potential answers include:

  • It is the most recent high court decision which makes it the most authoritative case law on point.
  • It is the seminal case that all the other cases cite.
  • We rely heavily on this case later in the brief so it will make the court’s life easier by having fewer cases to examine.

No one answer is better than the other and this list is not exhaustive. Attorneys may differ. Bottom line: have a reason for everything you do.


[1] “With the docket the way it is—and growing (federal court appellate filings went up again last year)—we judges can only read briefs once. We cannot go back and re-read them, linger over phrases, chew on meanings. Your main points have to stick with us on first contact—the shorter and punchier the brief the better.” Patricia Wald, 19 Tips from 19 Years on the Appellate Bench, 1 J. App. Prac. & Process 7, 10 (1999). See also Judge William Eich, Writing The Persuasive Brief, Wisconsin Lawyer (Feb. 2003), available at http://www.wisbar.org/newspublications/wisconsinlawyer/pages/article.aspx?Volume=76&Issue=2&ArticleID=614 (estimating judges may only spend thirty minutes on the first reading of a brief).

[2] “Repetition, extraneous facts, over-long arguments (by the 20th page, we are muttering to ourselves, ‘I get it, I get it. No more for God’s sake’) still occur more often than capable counsel should tolerate. In our court counsel get extra points for briefs they bring in under the 50-page limit. Many judges look first to see how long a document is before reading a word. If it is long, they automatically read fast; if short, they read slower. Figure out yourself which is better for your case.” Wald, 1 J. App. Prac. & Process at 9-10.

[3] “You do not write for publication. You do not write to show your colleagues how smart you are, how well you know the subject matter, or how stupid you believe the judges to be. All this may well be true. But the name of the game is ‘persuade the judge.’ You don’t score points for anything else.” Ruggero J. Aldisert, Winning on Appeal: Better Briefs and Oral Argument, 24 (National Institute of Trial Advocacy, 2d ed. 2003). “You’re not writing a treatise, a law-review article, or a comprehensive Corpus Juris annotation. You are trying to persuade one court in one jurisdiction. And what you’re trying to persuade it of is not your (or your junior associate’s) skill and tenacity at legal research. You will win no points, therefore, for digging out and including in your brief every relevant case. On the contrary, the glut of authority will only be distracting. What counts is not how many authorities you cite, but how well you use them.” Antonin Scalia & Bryan A. Garner, Making Your Case: The Art of Persuading Judges 125-26 (2008).

[4] Antonin Scalia & Bryan A. Garner, Making Your Case: The Art of Persuading Judges 59 (2008) (“The overarching objective of a brief is to make the court’s job easier. Every other consideration is subordinate.”)

[5] “Conciseness doesn’t mean fewer words; it is the omission of needless words.” Eich, supra n. 1.

[6] “A brief that is readable and to-the-point will make it much easier for the judges to understand and quickly grasp your points, and they will be encouraged to spend more time with your arguments. Unnecessary length, on the other hand, will often result in your strongest points getting lost in the shuffle.” Eich, supra n. 1.

[7] See Alex Kozinski, The Wrong Stuff, 1992 BYU L. Review 325, 326 (1992) (“Keep in mind that simple arguments are winning arguments; convoluted arguments are sleeping pills on paper.”); Patricia Wald, 19 Tips from 19 Years on the Appellate Bench, 1 J. App. Prac. & Process 7, 9 (1999) (“The more paper you throw at us, the meaner we get, the more irritated and hostile we feel about verbosity, peripheral arguments and long footnotes.”)

[8] “As for governing authority, if the point you are making is relevant to your reasoning but is neither controversial nor likely to be controverted, a single citation (the more recent the better) will suffice. Anything more is just showing off to an unappreciative audience.” Antonin Scalia & Bryan A. Garner, Making Your Case: The Art of Persuading Judges 126 (2008).

 

Michael Blasie graduated from the New York University School of Law. He began his career as a commercial litigator and criminal defense attorney in the New York City office of Cooley LLP where he practiced in state and federal trial and appellate courts. After five years he moved to Denver where he currently works as a law clerk to the Honorable David J. Richman of the Colorado Court of Appeals. Michael also serves as a volunteer firefighter for the City of Golden.

The Lawless Landscape of Legal Writing

Editor’s Note: CBA-CLE Legal Connection is pleased to present a new series of legal writing columns authored by Michael Blasie. Michael Blasie began his career as a commercial litigator for Cooley LLP in New York City. He recently moved to Denver, where he is a Law Clerk to Hon. David Richman of the Colorado Court of Appeals. Welcome, Michael!

Think. That’s the key. Good legal writing is not about following rules. Good legal writing is good judgment.[1] Test and improve your judgment with these two guidelines.

Have A Good Reason For Everything You Write

Many attorneys stop thinking about legal writing after a few years of practice. They form habits. They think they know what certain briefs should look like. They stop choosing and begin defaulting.[2] This is a problem.

Although you might not “always” or “never” write a brief a certain way, you should always have a good reason why you wrote a brief a certain way. Why did you write it this way instead of that way?

The reason may be responsive; e.g., at a recent CLE the judges of this court said they find it helpful when briefs do [x]. Or it may be pragmatic; e.g., the court’s rules require [y]. Or perhaps the reason comes from judgment; e.g., this citation warrants a fuller multi-sentence explanation rather than a parenthetical because [z]. All fine. Just have a reason, and make it a good one.

“Because that is how it is done” or “Because that is how [name of other attorney/institution] does it” are not good reasons. Here’s why.

Consider this standard introduction to a brief:

Defendants Profitable, Corp. (“Profitable”) and Not Me, Inc. (“Not Me”), (collectively “Defendants”), respectfully submit this brief in opposition to the motion filed by plaintiffs Harmed Corp. (“Harmed”) and XYZ, Inc. (“XYZ”) (collectively “Plaintiffs”), pursuant to C.R.C.P. 59(e), to amend the judgment filed herein on January 1, 2017 (“Judgment”).

I see this introduction in almost every brief. Why does it exist? You might say it identifies who wrote the document, what the document is, and what relief the authors’ seek. But I don’t think that is why people include it. That reasoning is engineered after-the-fact. Instead people probably write this paragraph because they always have. They saw it in every template they received as a young attorney and they have seen it in most briefs since. So we all do it, for no reason.

Reexamine this introduction in its full context:

 

County Court, Denver County, Colorado
1437 Bannock Street, Room 100
Denver, Colorado 80202, 720-865-7840
____________________________________________________________
Plaintiffs: HARMED CORP. and XYZ, INC.,

v.

Defendants: PROFITABLE, CORP. and NOT ME, INC.
____________________________________________________________

Charisma Genius, Esq.
All We Do Is Win, LLP
123 Main Street
Denver, CO 80204
____________________________________________________________

DEFENDANTS’ BRIEF IN OPPOSITION TO PLAINTIFFS’ C.R.C.P. 59(e) MOTION TO AMEND THE JUDGMENT

____________________________________________________________

Defendants Profitable, Corp. (“Profitable”) and Not Me, Inc. (“Not Me”), (collectively “Defendants”), respectfully submit this brief in opposition to the motion filed by plaintiffs Harmed Corp. (“Harmed”) and XYZ, Inc. (“XYZ”) (collectively “Plaintiffs”), pursuant to C.R.C.P. 59(e), to amend the judgment filed herein on January 1, 2017 (“Judgment”).

 

Recall the purported purposes of the paragraph: to identify who wrote the document, what the document is, and what relief the authors’ seek. I’ll accept it does that. Now explain why we have captions.

The same reasons.

This introduction is wholly redundant with the caption. I know who the authors are, what the document is, and the relief sought because it is in giant capital letters one inch above the introduction.[3]

Approach this introduction from a different angle. If you cut this paragraph what would happen? For starters, most readers would not notice because they reflexively glance over the paragraph anyway. It certainly would not confuse your readers. After all, you have never read an opinion that started with “This is an opinion by Chief Justice Roberts in the case of Smith v. Jones.” Level of confusion: zero. But cutting the paragraph would reduce your word count and provide a chance to hook your audience.

Although this introduction does not hurt your brief, it fails to strengthen it. It blows the opening. Liken it to comedians who open with “How is everyone doing tonight?” Wasted words, wasted time, wasted opportunity. You could have hooked your audience and you didn’t.

True, this introduction could be helpful in some cases. For example, if you represent a third party intervener, this opening could introduce the party and explain its relationship to the case. Or perhaps you use it to avoid confusion when several motions have been filed with similar titles. Use this introduction when you have a good reason.[4]

Lastly, a few stylistic points. Many attorneys compulsively define terms with quoted phrases inside parentheticals. Stop. Unless you have a good reason. Here, there is no need to define all the defendants in the case as “collectively ‘Defendants.’” Obviously the term “Defendants” refers to all the defendants in the case. Such a definition might be useful if you are referring to some, but not all, of the defendants (e.g. “the Colorado Defendants”). Similarly, you can shorten party names (“Not Me” and “XYZ”) throughout the brief without “defining” them and without any risk of confusion. Likewise, if there is only one judgment, then “Judgment” refers to it. This habit is one we think helps readers, but often causes more harm than good. [5] It is a tool that works sometimes. Use it when you have a good reason. Don’t when you don’t. Good writing is good judgment.[6]

Tie Your Reason to How You Will Persuade Your Audience

A good reason is not enough because not all good reasons persuade. You must tie that reason to how it persuades your audience.

For example, legal writing guru Bryan Garner advocates putting citations in footnotes. Garner cites benefits like increasing readability, exposing poor writing, and enhancing the main text discussion of authority.[7] These are good reasons.

But do not neglect your audience. Few judges sanction this practice. Most judges despise footnotes, or at least view them skeptically. Reading a brief with dozens of footnotes will certainly breach expectations and could cause intense frustration.

Suppose you are appealing a criminal conviction. In a lengthy but carefully compelling narrative you weave together the defendant’s unique circumstances, understandable actions, and unfair treatment during the case. Then you a raise a single issue about whether the trial court erred by denying a challenge to a juror who had difficulty understanding voir dire questions and difficulty communicating. Your compelling narrative may elicit sympathy and reflect a mastery of storytelling, but your reader will likely see it as wholly divorced from the legal issue. And a judge may view it as an appeal to emotion without arguing the applicable law.

Finally, most legal writing advice assumes a single audience—the court. But practitioners often have multiple audiences, like senior attorneys and clients. Consider all of these audiences when choosing a writing strategy.

 


[1] See Antonin Scalia & Bryan A. Garner, Making Your Case: The Art of Persuading Judges 59 (2008) (“But whenever you are convinced that departing from any of our recommendations, or from any convention, will make the court’s job easier, depart.”)

[2] See Robert M. Russel, Rhetoric for Appellateers 19 (Handout, March 2015).

[3] See id. at 92 (“Whatever you do, don’t allow this section [the introduction] to duplicate what is written elsewhere. Repetition bores, and boredom invites skimming.”)

[4] For ideas on other ways to start a brief, see Stephen Armstrong & Timothy Terrell, Thinking Like a Writer: A Lawyer’s Guide to Effective Writing and Editing 149-73 (Practicing Law Institute 3d ed. 2008); Ross Guberman, Point Made: How to Write like the Nation’s Top Advocates 3-11 (2d ed. 2014); Ross Guberman, Point Taken: How to Write Like the World’s Best Judges 3-39 (2015) (discussing introductions to opinions).

[5]“There also are lawyers who are singularly devoted to what I call double-identification. They love unnecessary parentheses; and the more unnecessary the better – even if the only sure result is the reader’s total loss of interest in what’s being said.” Judge William Eich, Writing The Persuasive Brief, Wisconsin Lawyer (Feb. 2003), available at www.wisbar.org/newspublications/wisconsinlawyer/pages/article.aspx?Volume=76&Issue=2&ArticleID=614.

[6] For advice about how to reference parties and when to define terms, see Bryan A. Garner, Legal Writing In Plain English 57-62 (2d ed. 2013); Alex Kozinski, The Wrong Stuff, 1992 BYU L. Review 325, 328 (1992); Guberman, Point Made, supra n. 4 at 288-89; Scalia & Garner, supra n. 1 at 120-22.

[7] Scalia &. Garner, supra n. 1 at 132-33.

 

Michael Blasie graduated from the New York University School of Law. He began his career as a commercial litigator and criminal defense attorney in the New York City office of Cooley LLP where he practiced in state and federal trial and appellate courts. After five years he moved to Denver where he currently works as a law clerk to the Honorable David J. Richman of the Colorado Court of Appeals. Michael also serves as a volunteer firefighter for the City of Golden.

Public Comment Period Open for 2018 10th Circuit Local Rules

On Tuesday, September 5, 2017, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals released its 2018 local rules for public comment. Comments will be accepted through October 31, 2017. A final version of the new rules will be posted on the Tenth Circuit’s website on December 1, 2017, and the rules will be effective January 1, 2018. A memo describing the changes to the local rules is available here, and a redline of the rule change is available here.

Effective December 31, 2017, two changes will be made to the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure. Rule 4(a)(4)(B)(iii) will be changed to re-insert a sentence confirming that no fees are due when an amended notice of appeal is filed. Additionally, Rule 28.1(e)(3) will be deleted to correct a scrivener’s error; the rule should have been deleted last year.

Comments regarding the rule change may be submitted to the court clerk via email.

JDF Forms in All Categories Amended by State Judicial

The Colorado State Judicial Branch has been amending its JDF forms in August. To date, there are 246 forms with an August revision date, including forms in every major category.

The JDF forms are being revised to include the following language:

□ By checking this box, I am acknowledging I am filling in the blanks and not changing anything else on the form.
□ By checking this box, I am acknowledging that I have made a change to the original content of this form.
(Checking this box requires you to remove JDF number and copyright at the bottom of the form.)

For a complete list of the Colorado State Judicial Branch’s JDF forms, including those with August 2017 revision dates, click here.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Petition for Mandamus Relief Should Have Been Transferred to Executive Director

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Gandy v. Raemisch on Thursday, August 10, 2017.

C.R.C.P. 106—Dismissal—Transfer of Canadian Prisoner to Canada to Serve Life Sentence—Mandamus Relief.

Gandy is a Canadian citizen serving a habitual criminal life sentence in the custody of the Colorado Department of Corrections (DOC). Gandy applied numerous times to DOC to be transferred to serve the remainder of his sentence in the Canadian penal system. In 2016, the DOC prisons director (director) denied Gandy’s 2015 application in writing. The director stated that under DOC Administrative Regulation 550-05, Gandy would be eligible to reapply in two years. The director did not forward Gandy’s application to DOC’s executive director.

Gandy filed a complaint in district court seeking mandamus relief under C.R.C.P. 106, requesting the court to direct DOC to “process and submit” his application for transfer to the U.S. Department of Justice and asking for nominal punitive damages for alleged violations of his constitutional rights. The court granted defendants’ motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim on which relief can be granted.

On appeal, Gandy contended he was entitled to mandamus relief, arguing that he was entitled to final review of and decision on his transfer application by the executive director.  DOC’s transfer application process imposed a duty on the director to process Gandy’s application and then send it to the executive director for his final review and decision. Because this duty is clear, mandamus relief was appropriate.

Gandy also argued that the two-year reapplication waiting period was improperly imposed. The Colorado Court of Appeals agreed, finding that DOC regulations do not require or provide for the imposition of a two-year waiting period before permitting an offender to reapply.

Gandy further argued that the district court erred when it dismissed his constitutional claims for failure to state a claim because the regulation conflicts with federal treaties and thus violates the Supremacy Clause. However, the court found no conflict between DOC regulations and international treaties.

Gandy next argued that defendants discriminated against him by refusing to process his transfer request due to his national origin. The court agreed with the district court that Gandy did not plead any facts supporting this allegation.

The judgment dismissing Gandy’s constitutional claims was affirmed. The judgment dismissing the complaint seeking mandamus relief was reversed, and the case was remanded with directions to enter an order directing the director to forward the transfer application and recommendations to the executive director for final review and decision.

Summary available courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Sexually Violent Predator Designation Can Be Challenged in Crim. P. 35 Motion

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Baker on Thursday, July 27, 2017.

Sexually Violent Predator Designation—Illegal Sentence—Correction—Crim. P. 35—Timeliness.

Baker pleaded guilty to one count of sexual assault on a child by one in a position of trust and was designated a sexually violent predator (SVP). He was sentenced in 2012. Baker’s counsel did not file an objection to the SVP designation and Baker did not file a direct appeal challenging any aspect of the judgment, including the SVP designation. About a year later, Baker’s counsel filed a Crim. P. 35(b) motion to reconsider Baker’s sentence, which was denied. In 2015, Baker filed a pro se Crim. P. 35(a) motion to correct an illegal sentence, claiming that he was entitled to an additional 19 days of presentence confinement credit (PSCC). The prosecution conceded that Baker was entitled to an additional 18 days of PSCC and the court issued an amended mittimus that included the additional 18 days. In early 2016, defendant filed a motion to vacate his SVP status. The prosecution argued that the court could not reconsider the SVP designation under Crim. P. 35(b) because it is not part of a criminal sentence. The motion was denied.

On appeal, Baker contended that his 2016 motion to vacate his SVP status was cognizable under Crim. P. 35.  It was not cognizable under 35(a) or (b) because an SVP designation is not part of a criminal sentence. However, it was cognizable under Crim. P. 35(c), because Crim. P. 35(c) allows a collateral attack on a conviction or sentence and also on any part of the judgment in a criminal case. A criminal “judgment” includes “findings” made by the district court and any statement that the defendant is required to register as a sex offender. An SVP designation is a finding and part of a criminal “judgment” under Crim. P. 35(c)(2)(VI). And Baker’s postconviction motion can be properly characterized as a collateral attack on the SVP designation. Although Baker did not file a direct appeal challenging his SVP designation, under Crim. P. 35(2)(c) he is not foreclosed from challenging the designation in a postconviction proceeding. Further, Baker’s motion was not time barred because the three-year deadline for collaterally attacking the original judgment of conviction pursuant to Crim. P. 35(c) is renewed when an illegal sentence is corrected pursuant to Crim. P. 35(a), which was done in Baker’s case in 2015. Therefore, the district court erred by denying Baker’s postconviction motion without considering whether the motion was cognizable under Crim. P. 35(c).

The order was reversed and the case was remanded for the district court to reconsider Baker’s SVP designation.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Tenth Circuit: Defendant’s Appeal of Motion to Reconsider Untimely Where Not Appeal of Qualified Immunity Denial

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Powell v. Miller on March 7, 2017.

Powell was released from death row and sued the prosecutor responsible for his overturned conviction, Miller. Powell charged that Miller had suborned perjury from a key witness at his trial, Derrick Smith, and had hidden from the defense evidence of Miller’s agreement to help Smith with his own criminal charges. Miller filed a motion to dismiss. The district court granted the motion in part, but denied qualified immunity on certain claims. Miller did not appeal the ruling.

Three years later, Miller filed a motion to reconsider the denial of qualified immunity. The district court denied that motion because Miller did not present a substantive basis for the court to change its opinion. Miller appealed the denial of his motion to reconsider.

The Tenth Circuit held that a district court’s pretrial denial of a qualified immunity defense, to the extent it turns on an issue of law, is an appealable final decision. But here, the Tenth Circuit held that Miller did not appeal from the district court’s order denying his qualified immunity defense. Instead, Miller appealed from the district court’s order denying reconsideration of that ruling almost three years later. Therefore, the Tenth Circuit held that it lacked jurisdiction to consider the district court’s order denying Miller’s motion to reconsider. It held that Miller could not use his motion for reconsideration to resurrect his right to appeal the district court’s order denying him qualified immunity.

Therefore, the Tenth Circuit dismissed Miller’s appeal due to lack of jurisdiction.

Tenth Circuit: No Appellate Jurisdiction Where Qualified Immunity Denial Not Timely Appealed

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Powell v. Miller on March 7, 2017.

Powell was released from death row and sued the prosecutor responsible for his overturned conviction, Miller. Powell charged that Miller had suborned perjury from a key witness at his trial, Derrick Smith, and had hidden from the defense evidence of Miller’s agreement to help Smith with his own criminal charges. Miller filed a motion to dismiss. The district court granted the motion in part, but denied qualified immunity on certain claims. Miller did not appeal the ruling.

Three years later, Miller filed a motion to reconsider the denial of qualified immunity. The district court denied that motion because Miller did not present a substantive basis for the court to change its opinion. Miller appealed the denial of his motion to reconsider.

The Tenth Circuit held that a district court’s pretrial denial of a qualified immunity defense, to the extent it turns on an issue of law, is an appealable final decision. But here, the Tenth Circuit held that Miller did not appeal from the district court’s order denying his qualified immunity defense. Instead, Miller appealed from the district court’s order denying reconsideration of that ruling almost three years later. Therefore, the Tenth Circuit held that it lacked jurisdiction to consider the district court’s order denying Miller’s motion to reconsider. It held that Miller could not use his motion for reconsideration to resurrect his right to appeal the district court’s order denying him qualified immunity.

Therefore, the Tenth Circuit dismissed Miller’s appeal due to lack of jurisdiction.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Crim. P. 35 Requires Court to Allow Public Defender’s Office to Respond to Motion Requesting Counsel

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Higgins on Thursday, May 4, 2017.

Crim. P. 35(c)—Notice—Public Defender.

Higgins pleaded guilty to felony menacing, and the court sentenced him to 18 months in prison. Higgins thereafter filed a Crim. P. 35(c) motion and requested counsel to represent him on his motion. The district court sent a copy of Higgins’s motion to the prosecution and, after receiving the prosecution’s response, denied the motion without a hearing and without hearing from the public defender’s office.

On appeal, Higgins contended that the district court erred by departing from the procedure outlined in Crim. P. 35(c)(3)(IV) and (V) and that the court’s error required reversal. The court has the authority to summarily deny a Crim. P. 35(c) motion without a hearing if the motion, files, and the record clearly show the defendant is not entitled to relief. However, if the court does not summarily deny the motion, the court is required to send a copy of the motion to the prosecutor and, if defendant has requested counsel, to the public defender’s office, who are given an opportunity to respond to the motion. Here, the court failed to send a copy of the motion to the public defender’s office. Thus, the court erred by departing from the Crim. P. 35(c)(3)(IV) and (V) mandatory procedure. The error was not harmless because it affected the fairness of the proceedings.

The order was reversed and the case was remanded.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Supreme Court: Appellate Courts May Rely on Comparative Juror Analyses in Reviewing Batson Rulings

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in People v. Beauvais on Monday, April 24, 2017.

Juries and Jury Selection—Peremptory Challenges—Batson Challenges.

The Colorado Supreme Court considered whether a trial court must make express findings about the credibility of a party’s reasons for exercising a peremptory challenge when the other party has challenged that strike under Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986). The court also considered when two or more jurors are similarly situated for comparison under Batson such that the dismissal of one but not the other indicates impermissible discrimination. The court held that although express credibility findings significantly aid appellate review, they are not strictly necessary if the trial court’s ultimate Batson ruling is otherwise reviewable on the record. The court also held that appellate courts may rely on comparative juror analyses in reviewing Batson rulings, but only where the record facilitates comparison of the jurors in all respects that reportedly motivated the peremptory strike. The court concluded that the record here supports the trial court’s Batson ruling and that the trial court did not clearly err in denying defendant’s Batson challenges. The court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals in its entirety.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Certification of One Claim in Multiple Claim Suit was Abuse of Discretion

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Allison v. Engel on Thursday, April 6, 2017.

Landowners—Default Judgment—Finality—C.R.C.P. 54(b) —Jurisdiction—Certification.

The parties own adjacent parcels of property and for a number of years have had disagreements about the precise boundaries of their neighboring parcels. The Allisons filed a complaint asserting two trespass claims and a claim for declaratory relief. The Engels filed various counterclaims. Numerous motions were filed, and the district court ultimately certified a default judgment on the counterclaim for unjust enrichment as final under C.R.C.P. 54(b). The Colorado Court of Appeals ordered the parties to file supplemental briefs as to whether the unjust enrichment counterclaim is a separate claim for purposes of C.R.C.P. 54(b) and whether there is no just reason for delay of an appeal pertaining solely to that counterclaim.

Generally speaking, the court of appeals has jurisdiction only over appeals from final judgments. Thus, jurisdiction over an appeal from an order the district court has certified as final under Rule 54(b) depends on the correctness of that certification. Here, the district court gave two reasons for concluding that there was no just reason for delay: (1) “avoid[ing] duplicative efforts” and (2) obtaining “a clear sense of direction in terms of the issues to be considered” at trial. The first reason is plainly insufficient to justify certification because the same could be said about any case involving multiple claims or parties as to which a dispositive ruling is entered on one claim, or as to one party, before trial. The second reason is also insufficient to justify certification because it is not a proper function of Rule 54(b) certification to assuage a district court’s doubts about its decision or to provide “guidance” in the resolution of claims. The district court’s reasons do not show that any party will suffer hardship or injustice unless an immediate appeal of the default judgment on the single counterclaim is allowed. The district court abused its discretion, and the court of appeals lacked jurisdiction.

The appeal and cross-appeal were dismissed.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Complaint Filed After Denial of Motion to Reconsider was Untimely

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Sterling Ethanol, LLC v. Colorado Air Quality Control Commission on Thursday, February 23, 2017.

Interlocutory Appeal—Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Subject Matter Jurisdiction.

Sterling Ethanol, LLC and Yuma Ethanol, LLC (collectively, Companies) are ethanol manufacturing plants that are sources of air pollution in northeastern Colorado. They are required to operate in accordance with air permits issued by the Colorado Air and Pollution Control Division (Division). After the Division issued two compliance orders addressing the Companies’ alleged violations of their air permits, Companies sought timely administrative review from the Air Quality Control Commission (Commission), which operates pursuant to the Colorado Air Pollution Prevention and Control Act (APPCA). Following an evidentiary hearing, the Commission issued a final order affirming the Division’s orders.

Companies filed a motion to reconsider, which the Commission denied. Companies then filed a complaint in the district court 69 days after the Commission issued its final order and 35 days after the Commission denied its motion to reconsider. The Commission filed a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, arguing the complaint was untimely filed. The district court denied the motion. The district court, on the Commission’s request, certified for review the question whether the State Administrative Procedure Act (APA), the APPCA, and the Commission’s procedural rules, read together, compel the conclusion that the complaint was untimely filed, thus depriving the court of appeals of subject matter jurisdiction.

The court held that the district court erred in denying the motion to dismiss because Companies’ complaint was untimely. The party seeking judicial review must file a complaint within 35 days of the effective date of the Commission’s final order, even if that party first filed a motion to reconsider, and the Commission declined to reconsider its order. The plain language of the APPCA, the APA, and the Commission’s procedural rules required such a conclusion.

The order was reversed and the case was remanded for entry of an order dismissing the action.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.