The Texas Supreme Court has proposed changing the length limits for appellate briefs.
On June 22, the Supreme Court Advisory Committee (SCAC) reviewed and made comments about the proposal, which would amend Texas Rule of Appellate Procedure 9 to create word limits — instead of
page limits — for appellate briefs.
“There were a couple of attorneys who wanted a longer limit for petitions for review, so that was put on the table. Then there were some judges who thought the limits were too long,” says Supreme Court rules attorney Marisa Secco. She notes the SCAC did not make formal recommendations for changes but she plans to present its comments to the high court.
The proposal includes the following word limits:
• direct appeal death-penalty brief to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals — 37,500 words;
• petition and response to the Supreme Court and CCA — 4,500 words;
• reply to a response to the Supreme Court and CCA — 2,400 words;
• brief and response in an appellate court — 15,000 words;
• reply brief in an appellate court — 7,500 words;
• motion for rehearing and response in an appellate court — 4,500 words.
Secco explains that the proposal imposes a 14-point font requirement, allows pictures or charts without
limiting text, and encourages uniform lengths while discouraging the use of formatting tricks, especially footnotes and block quotes.
D. Todd Smith, who co-chairs the State Bar of Texas Appellate Section’s rules committee, says he served on a subcommittee that studied other courts’ rules on word limits and proposed to the high court some limits that would be equivalent to the current page limits in Texas. The Supreme Court’s proposed changes are “within range” of what the appellate section suggested, he says.
The new word limits are “a welcome change” for appellate lawyers who practice in federal courts, which already use word limits as opposed to page limits, says Smith, shareholder in and president of the Smith Law Group in Austin. Lawyers will also be able to insert images into briefs without fearing they will break the page limits.
Smith notes, “There are people who have pointed out that the word counts that are in this proposal may actually decrease the volume of what can be said within each specific document. . . . If that’s true, it will encourage everyone to be more concise, I guess.”
-- Angela Morris