No Help for Pro Per Appellant

In an unpublished case yesterday from San Diego, In re Marriage of Fields & Cook (D063832), the Court not only reiterated the burdens faced by all appellants but also reminded pro per appellants the Court will not do their job for them:

As we have noted, an appellant has the burden of providing an adequate record and of showing that error occurred and that it was prejudicial.  (Maria P. v. Riles (1987) 43 Cal.3d 1281, 1295-1296.)  Being self-represented does not reduce these burdens.  (Wantuch v. Davis (1995) 32 Cal.App.4th 786, 795.)  In appeals challenging discretionary trial court rulings, an appellant has the burden of making a clear showing of abuse of discretion.  (Hernandez v. City of Encinitas (1994) 28 Cal.App.4th 1048, 1077.)  The appellate court is not obliged to search the record to find support for the appellant’s contentions.  (Niko v. Foreman (2006) 144 Cal.App.4th 344, 368 [noting one “cannot simply say the court erred, and leave it up to the appellate court to figure out why”].)  Court rules also require that each point be stated “under a separate heading or subheading summarizing the point.”  (Cal. Rules of Court, rule 8.204(a)(1)(B).)

Cook does not state his arguments in separate headings nor does he identify specific instances of prejudicial error by the family court.  In addition, at the RFO hearing in the family court, Cook’s counsel did not raise many of the issues Cook raises in propria persona on appeal, including Cook’s claim of judicial bias.  As such, Cook has forfeited his right to appeal on a number of issues.  (See Telles Transport, Inc. v. Workers’ Comp. Appeals Bd. (2001) 92 Cal.App.4th 1159, 1167.)  We nonetheless will exercise our discretion and reach the merits of the issues he raises, where appropriate.

The Court did discuss several of the issues Cook raised, possibly in an attempt to forestall further litigation in the trial court, but rejected them all.  Pleas of “I’m not a lawyer, you Honor.  I’m doing the best I can,” and attempts to convince a Court of Appeal to rule in your favor because you have been wiped out financially by the opposition, requiring you to appear pro per, are high speed train to a loss.  If your case is worth appealing, it is worth finding an appellate attorney to do it correctly.  Failing that, spend some long hours in the law library and on-line reviewing practice guides so you can comply with the basic appellate rules and practices.

The Second District in Los Angeles has helpful information:

Ford Faux Pas

Perusal of unpublished cases can be enlightening.  Bettenhausen v. Ford Motor Company (C071978) April 1, 2014, shows us it is not just the “little guy” who can benefit from specialized appellate expertise. There, Ford appealed from an order awarding $391,433.22 in attorney fees in a “lemon law” action but, according to the opinion, had not filed a written opposition in the trial court, although trial counsel did seek a continuance to file that opposition.  Ford then secured new counsel, who first moved to vacate the award, but after filing a notice of appeal.  The trial court denied that motion as it had lost jurisdiction (CCP 916), but that ruling was not attacked in the Court of Appeal.

In turning to the merits of the appeal from the attorney fee order, the court’s introduction foreshadowed the result:  We presume court orders are correct. [Citations.] As the appellant, Ford bore the burden to provide a record supporting its claims of error.  “To the extent the record is incomplete, we construe it against [Ford].” [Citation.]

The Court explained there was no reporter’s transcript of the hearing on the motion for attorney fees, and it was Ford’s duty (as the appellant) to provide a settled statement to support its appellate claims. “It is the burden of the party challenging the fee award on appeal to provide an adequate record to assess error. [Citations.] Here, defendants should have augmented the record with a settled statement of the proceeding. [Citations.] Because they failed to furnish an adequate record of the attorney fee proceedings, defendants’ claim must be resolved against them.”  [Citation.]

The Court went on to reject Ford’s claim the order could be deemed “excepted to,” finding the appellant was confusing “appealability with reviewability,” as well as adding in brief comments about the jurisdiction of a trial court to rule on a motion to vacate after a notice of appeal had been filed and reiterating new issues could not be raised on appeal.

Ford’s appellate counsel may have been attempting to make the best of a bad situation which was not remedial.  Who knows without reading the record?  The Court of Appeal did indicate a settled statement procedure was available, which increasingly will be necessary in these days of hearings sans reporters.  The other point here is that procedure matters, and litigants–from powerful corporations on down the most humble– can benefit from specialized appellate expertise so as to put your best foot forward and attempt to make that silk purse out of your sow’s ear of a case.

Review Your Standard of Review

In People v. Durst, C071233, March 28, 2014, the Third District published a reminder of the importance of the standard of review, taking counsel to task to the extent of ruling a Miranda argument forfeited, although eventually addressing the merits (doubtless to forestall a potential IAC claim).  The Court’s discussion did not bode well for appellate counsel, beginning:

In arguing in his opening brief that the statement should have been excluded, defendant disregards the trial court’s crucial findings concerning the facts. Most importantly, defendant relies on a transcript of his statements that the trial court expressly found to be unreliable. This appellate strategy forfeits review of the issue.

Review of a trial court’s ruling concerning the admissibility of a defendant’s statement is a two-part analysis. “[W]e accept the trial court’s factual findings, based on its resolution of factual disputes, its choices among conflicting inferences, and its evaluations of witness credibility, provided that these findings are supported by substantial evidence. [Citation.] But we determine independently, based on the undisputed facts and those properly found by the trial court, whether the challenged statements were legally obtained. [Citation.]” [Citation.]

When the appellate standard is substantial evidence review, as it is here with respect to the trial court’s factual findings, the appellant bears the burden of showing that no substantial evidence supports the challenged factual findings.  [Citations.] Failure to set forth the evidence most favorable to the factual findings – or, as in this case, to acknowledge that the factual findings even exist, along with supporting evidence – results in forfeiture of the contention that substantial evidence does not support the factual findings. [Citation.]

The Court goes on to point out the brief relied on a “nonexistent circumstance” since the trial court had specifically rejected a fact asserted at trial, recounting the trial court’s various factual findings and rulings contrary to the defendant’s position at trial, concluding: “The effect of defendant’s appellate strategy is forfeiture, not persuasion.”

It is one thing to argue the trial court proceedings in the most favorable possible light, looking for chinks in “substantial evidence” armor.   But the emphasis must be on possible, with “possible” considered in the context of the relevant standard of review.  Otherwise you may find yourself explaining to the Court why your argument should not be forfeited, and then explain to the paying client why they should pay you for an argument the Court refused even to consider.