My Contracts professor organized a trip to the 1st Appellate Division court today. A bunch of us from his class and 3 peeps from other sections showed up to get a small tour of the court house and sit in and watch appellate arguments. This court hears all kinds of appeals and since everyone appeals, this court is a busy one.
My shoes were giving me blisters and I was in agony for the 6-minute tour we got. I actually threw the shoes away afterwards. You do not want to see my toesies, who really hate me now.
The court house is just ornate. It still has much of the original marble and structure from when God was a small boy. For whatever reason, and I can't say I minded much, they kept the cloakrooms where lawyers hung their coats and top hats. It's right next to the the Western Union telegraph booth!
We were given the mini-show round by a sitting judge, who then took us into the room the 5 appellate judges use to discuss the cases after hearing the oral arguments. They get the attorneys' briefs and bench memos from their team of lawyers which give a recommendation about the outcome and they have about 4 or 5 days before hearing the arguments to read all that mess. Power to them!
My professor asked a very interesting question: if they get the info beforehand and a recommendation, and read all the briefs themselves, what good does the oral argument do? Attorneys rarely have more than 10 minutes, and even 10 minutes is a lot, to state their case and their briefs are hundreds of pages long. I'm not sure she gave a proper answer to the question. I think maybe the lawyers use the oral argument to sway the judges on a small matter of law or fact they might have overlooked. Or hammer home public policy. At least that's what my Legal Writing professor said last semester.
A lot of what I saw went against much of what said Writing professor said last semester! In fact, the judge even told us that if we're going out for Moot Court don't use ANYTHING we saw as an example! Too funny.
For example, it was hammered home not to talk over the judge's question. I practically have that tattooed on the back of my hand! Every single lawyer bull-dozed right over judge's questions!
The cases were actually interesting, and not too bad to follow, given that we were not aware of any of the facts beforehand. One case had to do with the Housing Authority and the Appellant lawyer kept referring to his client as "horrifically disabled". He said this multiple times and I cringed every time because one of the sitting judges is a member of the disabled community. He looked like a real show-off because when he asked for rebuttal time, he got a resounding "No" from the presiding judge. Ack!
Another case had a student intern for the appellant. The presiding judge told her supervisor to give her an A!
There were a couple of contract and employment law cases, which were fun. It's nice to know what all the terminology means and how it's being applied. Lots of interpretation, statutory and contractual. That was the best part, in my book. One case had the trial judge ruling that the contract had a clear and plain meaning. The appellant argued that there was another "plain" meaning, and it only has to be plausible, so parol evidence has to be admitted. Loved it!
There was even a procedural issue. A complainant did not move for default judgement at trial, when he should have, and now the other side wants the case dismissed but the respondent is going on about it! It was too funny. I wish I could have laughed out loud over that one.
The longest case was the most confusing. I think it had to do with lawyers! Ok, if the judges couldn't get the issue, how am I supposed to? I think what was going on is that the City... ok let's start from the beginning. If someone cannot afford an attorney, one is provided for them. By Legal Aid, because there is no Office of the Public Defender in NY. Fine. If, for some reason, LA cannot provide an attorney, the judge appoints one pro bono from lawyers in the court. Private practice lawyers are supposed to give up some of their hours to pro bono work. Apparently, NY wants to re-draft the system to do something else. What, I am not rightly sure, but it involves some brouhaha with the Bar Associations.
The last case was a tort medical malpractice case, which was boring and took about five minutes in all.
But it was great hearing the lawyers. Apart from that long case, no one spoke for more than 5 minutes. At the beginning, all the lawyers have to be present, regardless of when they are appearing, and request their time. Most asked for 5 minutes, some appellants asked for rebuttal time as well. There were 18 cases on the calendar, but only 10 were actually heard, as the others were only submitting the written briefs. Oh, 1 set of lawyers just stuck around, for nearly 2 hours, just to make sure the judges do not rule on their case as it is being heard before the Court of Appeals on Thursday! The presiding judge thanked them for waiting so long.
It wasn't the cat fight between lawyers you'd think it could be. In fact, many of the opposing lawyers shook hands and chatted. There was a full viewing house and most of the place got up and left after the Bar Association case. Maybe they knew what was going on!
The judges were awfully nice, not like the ones I had for Moot Court. Even when lawyers were talking over them, THEY hushed and waiting for the lawyer to finish. I wonder how much tattoo removal costs?