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Thank You for Writing Dissents

By Steve Klepper (Twitter: @MDAppeal)

At this year’s bar convention, I took the opportunity to thank Senior Judge Irma Raker for something she did 12 years ago. When I lost the first Court of Appeals case that I argued, Judge Raker wrote a short solo dissent. It meant a lot to me as a young associate, having entered argument feeling like I would win, to know I’d convinced at least one judge.

There are a many different reasons why appellate judges write dissents or refrain from writing them. From a private practitioner’s standpoint, I tell judges that dissents are a powerful way to improve attorney-client relationships. Read More…

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What an 18-Year Term Limit for Supreme Court Justices Might Look Like

By Steve Klepper (Twitter: @MDAppeal)

By a large majority, Americans favor term limits for Supreme Court justices. As Professor Orin Kerr has observed on Twitter: “Reminder: It is incredibly weird that how many Supreme Court picks a President gets depends on who decides to retire or who dies. 18-year terms would make so much more sense than life tenure. Every Prez would get two picks.” I agree with this idea. The devil, however, is in the details.

A constitutional amendment is necessary, and the mere perception of partisan advantage is likely to prevent ratification by the necessary 38 out of 50 states. A delayed effective date could help, even if it may not be enough for an amendment to get traction.

Still, I think it is worth at least starting a conversation on what a term-limits amendment might look like. Read More…

Why Maryland Appellate Courts Should Send Focus Letters Before Oral Arguments

By Derek Stikeleather

Appellate practitioners continuously debate the relative value of oral argument. Although most practitioners—and many appellate judges—agree that the quality of appellate briefing matters much more than the quality of oral advocacy, opinions vary considerably on how much oral argument helps. Some contend that oral argument is more trouble than it is worth. Others disagree, believing that oral argument not only often separates winning and losing on appeal but also increases everyone’s faith in the justice system. Both sides of the debate have some good points; I won’t try to declare a winner here.

One fact beyond debate is that federal appellate courts are holding significantly fewer oral arguments. Read More…

Supreme Court Circuit Split Watch – Fourth Circuit’s Decision in Kumar v. Sudan, on Proper Service of Foreign States in the U.S.

By Michael Wein

 

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals three weeks ago issued a reported opinion in Kumar et al. v. Sudan, addressing how and where a foreign country may be served under 28 U.S.C. § 1608(a)(3), which allows, in pertinent part, service by mail “requiring a signed receipt[] to be addressed and dispatched by the clerk of the court to the head of the ministry of foreign affairs of the foreign state.” This case traces to the U.S.S. Cole bombing in 2000, when 17 Navy sailors lost their lives in a terrorism act against the servicemen and women docked in Yemen.   While al Qaeda claimed responsibility as the source of the bombing, Sudan’s material support for the terrorist organization, was a focus of civil suits holding the country responsible in the tragedy.   As Sudan similarly did in the face of civil suits filed in the District Court for the District of Columbia, (tracing to the 1998 Embassy Bombings in Tanzania and Kenya also by al Qaeda), Sudan felt that the proper response was apparently to not respond at all.[i] Read More…

Why The Baltimore City Circuit Court May Transfer More Tort Cases in 2018

By Derek Stikeleather

A recent Court of Appeals opinion has shaken one of the main pillars that plaintiffs have rested on when resisting transfers to a more convenient forum—deference to the plaintiff’s chosen venue. Univ. of Maryland Med. Sys. Corp. v. Kerrigan, — A.3d —-, 2017 WL 5711857 (Md. Nov. 28, 2017). By expressly holding that trial judges owe little deference to a plaintiff’s chosen venue when no plaintiff resides there, the Kerrigan opinion significantly weakens plaintiffs’ ability to secure the most plaintiff-friendly venues in any case that involves multiple venues. Read More…

Final Judgments and Harmless Jurisdictional Error in Maryland

By Michael Wein

Appealable final judgments have been described as a legal quagmire that for “the past forty or fifty years … no one issue has been the subject of more opinions than the question of whether a trial court order is appealable …” Brewster v. Woodhaven Bldg. & Dev. Inc., 360 Md. 602, 623 (2000). Going further, the Court of Appeals noted “[n]either the Code nor the Rules define when an order or ruling is sufficiently final to qualify as a judgment…’[W]hether a ruling is final’ … is frequently so close a question that decision of that issue either way can be supported with equally forceful arguments, and that it is impossible to devise a formula to resolve all marginal cases coming within what might well be called the ‘twilight zone’ of finality”) Circuit City Stores, Inc. v. Rockville Pike Joint Venture Ltd. P’ship, 376 Md. 331, 347 (2003), quoting in part, Gillespie v. United States Steel Corp., 379 U.S. 148, 152 (1964)). The solution for the “marginal” and/or inadvertent non-final judgment cases being actually decided on the merits by the Maryland appellate courts, with reasonable continuing predictability for the vast majority of appeals that do not have these concerns, may be found in a Federal Rule and legal interpretation, and recent developments support a similar Rules adoption. Read More…

September Term 2016 is a wrap!

By Steve Klepper (Twitter: @MDAppeal)

At noon today, the Court of Appeals of Maryland hit a major milestone. For the fourth straight year, the Court of Appeals met its case management standard of deciding every single case in the same term in which it was argued. By August 31 of each year, the Court of Appeals issues its opinion in every case argued since September 1 of the previous year. This standard was the first major reform that Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera announced when she took over as Chief Judge in 2013. At the time, the Court had just issued multiple opinions that had taken years to decide. Four years later, Chief Judge Barbera is now four-for-four.

Adnan Syed and How to Solve the Court of Special Appeals Public-Access Problem

By Michael Wein

The Maryland judiciary website posted last Wednesday about the Syed case guidelines for the public and news media interested in attending oral arguments. As noted in the detailed order by new Chief Judge Patrick Woodward, oral arguments are being held in Courtroom 1 on the second floor of the Courts of Appeal Building in Annapolis (the larger of the two courtrooms regularly used by the Court of Special Appeals). Courthouse security is taking significant protections against recording devices, and limited seating is being provided to the public and media.

This post is not about the Syed case, specifically. But the circumstances of the Syed oral arguments expose a lack of proper public access to any of the intermediate appellate court’s oral arguments, in noted contrast with the Court of Appeals.[1] Syed is quite obviously a highlighted, media-interest case, which poses an opportunity to discuss what procedures Maryland’s intermediate appellate court should consider, in at least the future, to accommodate public interest in specific, important oral arguments.

Read More…

Hidden Legal Horcruxes: “The Maryland Court of Appeals and the Amply Sized Certiorari Petition”

By Michael Wein

With the release of the movie “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” it’s worth noting that Maryland law embraces Harry Potter, at least tongue-in-cheek. Three appellate decisions, by three separate appellate judges, have cited the popular series of seven books by J.K. Rowling and nine movies — though the citations are only to the first and third books. See People’s Counsel for Balt. Cty. v. Loyola Coll. in Md., 406 Md. 54, 107 (2008) (J. Harrell) (discussing  how the “‘Sorting Hat’ is a magical artifact that is used to determine in which house (Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw or Slytherin) first-year students at Hogwarts School of Wizardry and Witchcraft are to be assigned” in “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone”); Bishop v. State, 417 Md. 1, 26 (2010) (J. Battaglia) (in “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,” a “‘boggart’ is a shape-shifting creature … that takes the form of the viewer’s worst fears. Because it instantly changes shape when someone first sees it, no one knows what a boggart looks like when it is alone. One way to combat a boggart is with the charm riddikulus.”); Bethesda Title & Escrow, LLC v. Gochnour, 197 Md. App. 450, 452 (2011) (J. Zarnoch) (during the litigation, “parties moved in and out of the complaint faster than Harry Potter’s broomstick in a Quidditch match.”) Now it’s time to bring out more advanced concepts of lawyer wizardry exhibited in the later books.

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On Love-Making, Regrets, and Footnotes in Appellate Briefs

By Derek Stikeleather

British playwright Noel Coward memorably observed that coming across a footnote is like going downstairs to answer the doorbell while making love. Although this quip has left my mind’s eye with an image it can’t un-see every time I consider dropping a footnote, it has not banished footnotes from my legal writing. But the vivid quote and a recent Maryland federal-court opinion have prompted me to consider more carefully when and when not to use footnotes.

Read More…