4th Court of Appeals Chief Justice Catherine Stone (pictured) has a warning for lawyers who ask for oral arguments in the appellate briefs they file before her court: “Be careful what you ask for, because you might get it.”
She expects the court to hear many more oral arguments in 2013 than in years past, because the court has implemented policy and procedural changes to make that happen.
Previously, a 4th court staff attorney would read a brief and recommend a case for oral argument. Then, each three-justice panel would read briefs 10 days before hearing the argument.
Now, the justices themselves read briefs at least 60 days before they would hear an oral argument, and the justices make an “informed decision” about whether the case would benefit from an argument, Stone says.
When asked why the court wants to hear more oral arguments, Stone replies, “Mostly when attorneys are asking for oral argument, we are assuming they believe there are issues of importance that need to be addressed face-to-face with the court. Secondly, we do our work in chambers: Litigants as well as lawyers don’t see us doing research and writing. What they can see — and have a sense work is being done — is an oral argument.”
She adds, “People want to see justice in action, and they are entitled to.”
For example, Stone says the court always wants to hear an argument if a case raises a new issue of law or “a new fact situation that hasn’t quite been decided.” Other times, there’s a standard case, but “our initial review may make us think, ‘Gosh, there may be a problem with this jury verdict,’ ” she explains.
Justices spend more time meeting about and preparing for oral-argument cases.
“One repercussion of more oral arguments might be that it takes a little longer for opinions to issue from the court,” she says.
-- Angela Morris