A Quarantine Pastime: Listen to Georgia Court of Appeals Oral Arguments (on the Internet)

The title to this blog post is probably not stopping many readers quickly in their tracks to see what it is about.  I understand.  The blog title also is likely not edge-of-seat dinner party fodder.

Nonetheless, I generally each week read the current Georgia appeals court opinions so that I can keep up with the broad range of legal issues, changes, developments, etc. Today, among the recent opinions I read, is the March 11, 2020 opinion in Doe v. State. Click here for a copy of the Court of Appeals opinion. Click here for the website link for the related appeals court oral argument for Doe v. State.

Briefly, the above Doe v. State does not fall within my area of law practice;  but, deals with an individual who was acquitted of certain felony criminal charges and who sought to have his record expunged under the procedures of O.C.G.A. Section 35-3-37.  Here, however, is one general take-away point from this particular case. A person’s arrest record (even if not ultimately convicted) remains a public record unless the person can sucessfully get his or her record removed under these procedures.  I chose this Doe v. State for this blog post simply because it is the opinion I last read this morning among the recent opinions from the past week.  It is essentially my random selection for purposes of writing this blog post.

My suggestion, however, especially during our long, home-bound quarantine days, is that readers might find very interesting the Georgia Court of Appeals website with the audio-video recordings of the appeals court oral arguments.  This is where the lawyers stand before the Georgia Court of Appeals judges (typically three judges) and present an oral (verbal) argument to try and convince the appeals judges to see the case their way.  The judges often prod the lawyer’s argument with point-on questions, comments, requests for clarification, etc.

Very briefly as background information, litigation cases can sometimes “go up” on appeal with the appeals court having the power generally to determine whether to affirm the lower court’s decision of the case (typically the trial court); to reverse the lower court; and/or to remand the case back to the trial court. Keep also in mind when a matter goes up on appeal that the lawyers cannot for the appeal add any additional evidence, testimony, documents. There are various levels of state and federal appeals courts (e.g., Georgia Supreme Court; The Federal Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit;  the U.S. Supreme Court, etc.).

The purpose of this blog post is not to elaborate further on the procedure, structure, and design of appeals courts.  But I do point out that any case on appeal is as good as it can get at that point of the appeal, depending on how well the trial court lawyers put on, and preserved, the appropriate evidence and how well they procedurally — during the trial — preserved the disputed legal questions for the appeal (This all gets into the procedural details I purposely do not include in this blog post).

Now, back to using the above Doe v. State as an example. I find virtually all appeals arguments very compelling and instructive for the following three primary reasons:

One. The Georgia Court of Appeals allows only 15-minutes of oral argument for the lawyers who represent each party in the case. This is each lawyer’s opportunity to try and hone down — convincingly — the essence of his or her 15-minute appellate argument in a focused, understandable, concise, and persuasive manner.  Keep in mind the lawyers have already previously filed written summaries of their appeals arguments (called Briefs).

This limited 15-minute oral argument means, from my liking, that the 15-minute argument compels the lawyer to get immediately to the heart of the matter without blustering, grandstanding, sidestepping, and purposeful obfuscation. By contrast, these run-of-the-mouth factors are what we lawyers (and clients) too often hear from opposing lawyers in other contexts (phone calls, discussions, trial court hearings, mediation, etc.).  I greatly enjoy the relief of brevity for these 15-minute appellate arguments.

Two.  The boiled-down directness of the lawyers’ arguments, and most often with to-the-point prodding and questions from the appeals judges, give us listeners an audible pathway directly to the heart of the issues, along with the crux of what the appeals judges are considering from their perspective. In my view, listening to these oral arguments is better than CLE (continuing legal education) in that I get can grasp and consider the essence of the issues in 30-minutes or less.  And, in a real-world context.

Three.  The appeals process (in any appeals case) often highlights the deficiencies in how the lawyers conducted the lower-court trial, particularly the existence of insufficient evidence for consideration on appeal, etc. Every appeals court opinion (and the oral arguments) provides great learning material.

Go back above and click the oral argument link.  Will cost you only 30 minutes of time.

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