Monthly Archives: November 2008

Another Discovery Tip

There’s an old saying that you should never put anything in writing that you don’t want to see as an exhibit someday. There is a lot of wisdom in this.

Yesterday I was taking a deposition in a collateral dispute related to a car accident injury case. I was cross examining a witness about a very strongly worded letter he had sent to one of the people involved. The witness was not happy to be asked about every intemperate thing he had said in the letter, and whether he had any factual basis to say those things. Maybe it will not ultimately affect the litigation, but it sure made him look bad.

Write this down: don’t write correspondence when you are mad! Now, you will most likely do this anyway, but do it in a way that doesn’t cause harm or embarrassment. If you write angry, don’t mail angry.
Let it sit for a day and then reread it. Or show it to a colleague to see if it should be toned down. Angry missives seldom contribute to a real resolution of anything, and can be embarrassing when you have to explain them in a deposition or respond to them as exhibits to a motion.

Be especially aware of email. People tend to write email very conversationally. Don’t email something you don’t want to see again.

Opening on the Circuit Court for Baltimore County

The Maryland Judiciary has announced that there is an upcoming opening on the Circuit Court for Baltimore County.

This vacancy will be created by the retirement of the Hon. Dana M. Levitz. Maryland judges face a mandatory retirement age of seventy. I got to know Judge Levitz while I was interning for the late Hon. Edward A. DeWaters, because at the time the two judges shared chambers. Judge Levitz is very bright, and will be a loss for the Circuit Court for Baltimore County.
I will keep an eye out to see who applies for the vacancy. It will be interesting to see who Governor O’Malley appoints to the seat.

District Court Procedures

Yesterday I spent the morning in the District Court of Maryland for Baltimore City. I was there for a trial on an injury case from a Baltimore car accident. The defendant driver was a Russian immigrant who did not speak English. His defense attorney from Geico Insurance had done what she was supposed to do- file a request for an interpreter with the court. In fact, she had done it three times, because the first two times the court sent the request back to her, even though she had done it correctly. Ultimately the case got postponed because the interpreter the court selected had car trouble and wasn’t able to get to the courthouse.

But the problems defense counsel had getting the interpreter scheduled in the first place got me thinking about how efficiently different Maryland courts are administered. For example, the District Court of Maryland is a statewide unified system. There are District Court locations in all of Maryland’s counties and Baltimore City, but the system itself is funded and administered at the state level. This is great in that all of the locations have similar procedures, and share a common set of forms and rules.

But on the other hand, I think most experienced Maryland lawyers have shared my experience that some of these courts seem to work more efficiently than others. For example, in a multi-defendant case, some locations automatically continue a trial date when a new summons is requested for an unserved defendant, while others do not. This can be really confusing if you often practice in a variety of locations. At Miller & Zois, we practice in every locality in the state. This means we have to pay close attention to the procedures each locality uses in setting cases for trial.

It also seems like the procedures for specially setting cases varies by district. In some counties your case will be set on its own docket, in a particular courtroom. Other places, specially set means more than one case will be on the docket, but the docket will be only specially set cases. I have also had specially set cases that were for some reason left on the regular afternoon docket.

I can’t figure out why there are so many differences in what is essentially a unified court system. It would have to be more efficient if these kinds of things worked the same statewide.

How Will The Election Results Affect Judicial Appointments?

Today’s Maryland Daily Record reports on the possible effects the recent Presidential election may have on appointments to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.

Apparently there is one seat that has been open for over eight years. I won’t pretend to understand all of the political aspects of the federal judicial selection process. But the lawyer in me can’t believe that in eight years nobody could find a lawyer in Maryland who was experienced enough and acceptable enough to both ends of the political system to make it through the appointment process. I mean, at some point, this has to affect the quality of justice in the court system.

Today’s article mentions that the Hon. Andre Davis, who currently sits on the United States District Court for the District of Maryland, may be considered for one of the several open seats. Judge Davis was formerly a judge on the Circuit Court for Baltimore City. He is known for being an excellent judge, and was previously nominated for a seat on the Fourth Circuit by President Clinton.

I think it will be interesting in the coming months to see how President-elect Obama addresses the issue of judicial appointments, particularly since I expect the Democratic majority in the Senate will speed the selection process.

Writing Amicus Briefs

I just finished writing an amicus curiae brief on behalf of the Maryland Association for Justice. The name of the case is Grady v. Brown, which is pending in the Court of Appeals of Maryland. This is a Boulevard Rule case.

The Boulevard Rule is the name of a legal doctrine in and elsewhere governing the right of way of drivers at intersections. Certain roads are favored, and any traffic entering those roads must stop and yield the right of way.

The issue in the case is that the defendant driver entered the favored roadway, but only to a degree that he didn’t think would interfere with the flow of traffic. He was wrong, and there was an accident.

The trial judge in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City allowed the question of the defendant’s negligence to go to the jury, despite the Boulevard Rule. The appeal is on the issue of the court’s denying the Plaintiff’s Motion for Judgment on the issue of the defendant’s negligence. Plaintiff contends that the defendant was negligent as a matter of law.

The plaintiff in the case is represented by my colleague and fellow MAJ member Irwin I. Weiss, of Baltimore County. The defendant is being represented by Mark Brown of H. Barritt Peterson & Associates, also in Baltimore County. Talented, hardworking lawyers on both sides. I am involved in this case as counsel for the Maryland Association for Justice.

Because the resolution of this issue may affect the rights of car accident injury victims across Maryland, the MAJ petitioned for and was granted permission to file a brief as a “friend of the court.” This means that I wrote a brief for the court’s consideration addressing the policy implications of this decision for all drivers in the state.

I have done this before- I have served on the MAJ’s Amicus Committee for three years. I also wrote the amicus brief in Mundey v. Erie Insurance. I love appellate writing, and writing as amicus often allows a little more creativity than representing one of the parties to the case. Plus, this is a way to directly affect the development of the law in my primary area of practice.

The trick in writing an effective amicus brief is to remember that you have a different goal than the attorneys representing the parties. The parties are stuck with their facts, good or bad. You’re not. Amicus have the ability to change the facts or argue hypotheticals in order to illustrate to the court the potential policy implications of the matter before them.

For example, in Mundey, the issue was a requirement that an insured must “physically reside” in the covered household in order to be eligible for uninsured motorists benefits. Unfortunately, the plaintiff in the case had bad facts. He had been kicked out of his parents house for getting in trouble with the law, and other misbehavior. I argued in my brief that the court should ignore the reason the plaintiff was temporarily not residing in his parents household. I argued that what was important was that the decision would affect other people who were temporarily absent from their households for a variety of beneficial reasons, and that it wouldn’t be fair to issue a decision making all of those people uninsured. In order to do this I contacted the Peace Corps, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and the Marayland National Guard. They were more than happy to send me statistics showing the number of Marylanders who were temporarily absent from their households for national service, religious missions, or military service. I included these statistics in the Appendix of my brief. I think this was effective because even though Mundey lost his case, the Court of Appeals of Maryland limited its holding to the facts of that particular case.

In writing amicus briefs it is also important to remember to avoid filing what is called a “me too” brief. The court’s time and attention is valuable. It doesn’t help them to read a regurgitation of the arguments and analysis made by the parties. Brevity is key.

I think it is a lot more difficult to write an amicus brief where the parties are represented by quality appellate counsel. In the Grady case, Mr. Weiss did such a good job that there were policy arguments I avoided entriely in the amicus brief, simply because they had been ably addressed, and I didn’t think there was value in telling the court “yeah, what he said.”

The only part of writing as amicus I don’t like is that under the Maryland Rules, only the parties get to present oral argument to the court. I am not sure exactly when this case will be argued, but I will be watching closely for a decision because this is an important issue in determining the rights of Maryland drivers.