Bad reasons to appeal may be hiding the good one(s)

I’d love to have a nickel for every prospective client who has called me about appealing his case for the wrong reason. I don’t mean that he’s misidentified the best legal issue to raise, or even that his appeal has a very low probability of success. I mean reasons wholly apart from the merits of their case.

When one of these prospects calls, he doesn’t know he wants to appeal for the wrong reason. It’s up to me to deliver the bad news, usually.

You’re probably thinking that this is the part where I tell you not to call me if you’re motivated by any of these bad reasons. But the news isn’t always bad. (More about that below.) Bad reasons don’t mean you have no case. A bad reason just is never (or almost never) enough on its own.  So even if you’re motivated by a bad reason, you should get advice on whether you have a good reason to appeal or, perhaps, attack the judgment in a post-trial motion.

What are some of those bad reasons? A partial list includes:

  1. My attorney committed malpractice! (Maybe so, but . . . )
  2. I hate my ex! (This one comes up all the time in family law cases.)
  3. It’s a matter of principle! (Isn’t it always?)
  4. There was a conspiracy! (“My opponents’ attorney and the judge were always sharing knowing looks . . . “)
  5. The judge hated me! (Judges are overworked and underpaid; don’t take it personally.)
  6. My opponent lied! (This is where the prospective client gets a crash course from me in standards of review.)
  7. The judge believed my ex because she wore a short skirt and low-cut top when she testified! (Really.)
  8. The jury was a bunch of idiots! (Not helpful, even if true, unless . . . )

Notice how they all have exclamation points? The client who wants to appeal for one of these reasons is always emphatic about it, on a mission because anyone with half a brain can see that he is a victim of a gross miscarriage of justice. It’s just so obvious.

But again, just because your reason for wanting to appeal may not be good doesn’t necessarily mean that you have no valid ground to appeal. You can hate your trial attorney, hate your ex, be self-righteous, and be 100% correct that every single witness for the other side lied and all their documents were forgeries, and still have a good — or at least reasonable — case. Get advice. Once your appellate lawyer points out you’re concentrating on the wrong thing, you can start discussing the right things.

In future posts, I’ll expand on some of these bad reasons to appeal, and even talk about some rare exceptions where one or more of these reasons might actually be a good point to raise on appeal.