Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Oral argument at the appellate court

I just argued my appeal before the California appellate court in San Jose. I argued for myself, and so did my ex-wife.

On appeal, we get three judges. They are even real judges. We had Nathan D. Mihara presiding, with Wendy Clark Duffy and Richard J. McAdams.

First Mihara asked me how much time I would need. I said that I didn't know because I had never done this before, but that I expect that it will go quickly if there are not too many questions. I think that it ended up taking about 25 minutes. I say "I think" because there was no clock in the courtroom, and the security guards confiscated my electronic devices at the entrance. I had no way of watching the time. Maybe next time I'll bring a simple wind-up non-electronic clock.

Mihara smiled and said that they had already reviewed the papers, and invited to make comments that would supplement those papers. I had already made my best arguments in the papers, so I am not sure the oral argument really makes much difference.

I started by saying that our divorce case has already lasted 3.5 years, and may last another 2 years. This appeal mostly concerns several ways in which the lower court deviated from guideline in ordering child support. I elaborated. My ex-wife was given time to make her statement. I made a brief final rebuttal.

The judges were polite and receptive to the arguments we made. They only showed a general familiarity with the law and the case. We did not get any sharp pointed questions that would show that the judges had seriously thought about what they might do in the case. Maybe their minds were already made up and they were just being coy, but I did not get that impression.

Appeals courts are known for being overly concerned with formalities and technicalies. That is, they will find a way to uphold the lower court by saying that some party did not file some goofy paper on time, if they can.

But these judges did not mention any technicalities. Even when my ex-wife claimed that one of the five or so issues on appeal was not timely because my appeal was filed four days late, the judges did not seem interested. I don't think that this is any indication one way or the other about whether the court will rule based on such technicalities. Maybe they just weren't prepared to discuss them today. Maybe they thought that discussing legal technicalities with a non-lawyer is a waste of time. Maybe they want to decide on an outcome first, and then find whatever justification they need for the outcome later. I am going to give them the benefit of the doubt, and assume that they were trying to reach a conclusion on the merits, and they will have to study the law and the record in the case to do that.

At the end, Mihara said that we would get a written decision within 90 days.

They didn't mention the fact that I currently have another appeal pending in the same case. There is a good chance I'll see at least one of those judges again in a couple of months.

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