Monthly Archives: June 2012

Waiting for an Appellate Opinion?

If you read this blog regularly, you know that appellate litigation is part of my practice here at Miller & Zois. I handle all of the appeals that arise out of our firm’s trial practice, and I also accept appellate referrals from other attorneys.

One of the things that I get asked a lot by our injury clients and by lawyers who don’t regularly handle appeals is “How long will it take before an opinion is issued?” Any appellate lawyers reading this know that the only answer to that question is “I don’t know.” Sometimes opinions are issued quickly, sometimes not. In Maryland’s state appellate courts, the fastest I have gotten an opinion was about 90 days after oral argument. The longest it has taken was nearly 14 months after oral argument. As far as I know, there aren’t any Maryland rules or statutes governing how quickly our appellate courts must resolve cases.

There are two things that have me thinking about this. The first is that I argued an appeal in the Court of Special Appeals on March 9, and I am eagerly awaiting the opinion. Every morning when I come in to the office, I check the Maryland Judiciary website to see if the opinion has been released. Not having the opinion by now doesn’t really surprise me, since the Court of Special Appeals is a very busy court. In 2010 (the most recent year statistics are available) it received 1,980 new case filings, and resolved 2,140 cases. Considering that the court had 13 judges, including the Chief Judge, that’s a staggering amount of work- 164 cases per judge! I think part of the reason our intermediate appellate court is so busy is that there is a right to an appeal in just about every criminal case, and most people who are convicted tend to exercise that right regardless of the chance of success.

The second thing was an article in the Daily Record about a Court of Appeals opinion that came out in the last few days indefinitely suspending a Maryland attorney. The article pointed out that the Court of Appeals’ opinion was released more than four years after the court heard argument in the case. Oral argument took place on June 9, 2008. The opinion was released June 22, 2012. The reason for the delay wasn’t addressed in the opinion. The Court of Appeals is a busy court too, but I can’t imagine a four-year delay is just because of a busy caseload. I have to think that somebody must have messed up somehow.

I still don’t know how long an appeal is supposed to take- I’m just happy that none of mine have taken four years! From now on when I get asked how long it will take to get an opinion on appeal, I will answer that I expect it to take somewhere between 90 days and four years. Surely that will be an acceptable answer. Right?

Prince George’s County Accident Cases

Certainly, given their preference, plaintiffs’ lawyer will choice PG County or Baltimore City as the venue for almost any Maryland accident case.

If I can’t be in Baltimore, I want to be in P.G County if I have a Maryland traffic accident case.

Maryland’s Top 40 Trial Lawyers Under 40

Everyone likes it when they are offered an award or other professional honor. I know I do. It’s natural to want people to know about it when it happens. The value of receiving professional accolades declines sharply if your potential customers don’t know about it.

I guess blogging about it might be derided as self-congratulatory, or ignored as mere “marketing.” I have decided I don’t care. Haters gonna hate.

Therefore, I am pleased to announce that I have been named one of The National Trial Lawyers’ Top 40 Under 40 for 2012. Membership is offered to only the top 40 plaintiff’s civil or criminal defense trial attorneys in Maryland under 40 years of age (I just squeaked by- I’m 38).

I understand why people sometimes take a cynical view of this sort of thing. A lot of the time, you get a packet in the mail telling you that you have won some sort of “award”, and it turns out to be a pure solicitation: you are being asked to write a large check (I have gotten some asking for as much as $1200) in exchange for receiving an impressive-looking certificate and being able to say you got an award.

So when I received the acceptance materials for this, I assumed it was B.S. and let it sit unread in my inbox for about 60 days. Once I finally read it, I went to the web site listing the other lawyers who were included. I found out that most of the Maryland lawyers listed were people I knew, who I think are good lawyers. After verifying it was legitimate, I was happy to accept.

Does this mean that the lawyers named are necessarily better than those who were not? Of course not. But for someone in the market for legal services, a potential lawyer’s inclusion on these sorts of lists is at least one factor to consider in determining if that lawyer has the skills and experience that he claims he does.
Plus, it does come with a cool certificate. I mean, that counts for something, right?

Timeliness of Court Rulings

Litigation is a deadline-centric business. There are deadlines for just about everything lawyers must do in a court case. The statute of limitations sets a deadline for filing the complaint. There are deadlines for filing expert witness designations, for the close of discovery, and for filing pleadings, motions and appellate briefs. Nearly everything a trial lawyer does has a deadline imposed by the law, the rules of court, or a by court order.

You know who is in the litigation business but is not constrained by deadlines? Judges.

I think every lawyer has had the experience of filing something and it vanishes into the abyss, only to be heard from again when somebody finally gets around to it.

For example, in one of my cases, I filed a motion for sanctions on February 8. Today is June 1. It’s been nearly four months. No ruling has been made, no hearing has been set, no judge’s chambers has contacted me. And I know the court is aware of the motion. It has been docketed and assigned a document number. I filed another motion April 13. It has also been docketed and assigned a document number. Again, as of today, no ruling, no hearing set, no contact from the court. That motion has been ripe for over a month.
I do not believe that this is something that any judge would find acceptable if it were done by one of the parties or their counsel.

I know courts are busy. I know the clerk’s offices are inundated with paper and don’t always operate under ideal conditions. But seriously. Is it really that hard to send a 5 page motion to a judge, have them spend 10 minutes reading it, and then either set a hearing or sign an order?

I wish there were a court rule requiring courts to take action on a motion within a set time period after a motion becomes ripe for a ruling. As it is, there’s not an easy solution to the problem, beyond calling and pestering the clerk’s office to get it sent to a judge. Of course, that creates at least some concern of irritating clerks and/or judges that you will need to interact with in the future.

Not an easy problem. Any readers have a better idea for how to handle these situations? Perhaps require clerks and motions judges to wear clocks like Flavor Flav?