Monday, January 31, 2005

Back Again

The Silence Is Broken!

To those of you who have been checking this place for new content over the past {mumble} uh - few days, my apologies. Assuming anyone other than Ken Lammers has been. In the last post I explained how I finally got some downtime where I wasn’t pounding the keyboard all day and all night for people who give me money and expect something in return, unreasonable bastards that they are.

{Aside - WordPerfect’s spelling checker doesn’t recognize bastards as a word - it suggests "bastardy" "brassards" "bustards" "dastards" and "bastardize" interesting - on the other hand, Word’s does. One point to Microsoft on the curse word front.}

Anyway, shortly after my last post, my secretary received a nice call from one of the deputy clerks at the Capitol City office of our intermediate appellate court. Were we going to submit a brief in a certain case? Huh? My secretary, who knows the policies of the office as well as I do, maybe better, told her we submit a brief in every actual appeal. Was this, she asked, a petition to appeal or an honest-to-God case before the court? The latter, it seems. She informs the clerk that we have the initial appointment of appellate counsel, which also serves as the notice of appeal, and a ton of stuff from the defendant himself, but no brief on appeal, no motions, no pleadings of any sort from appointed counsel. Well, says the clerk, it was filed with the court in June and your reply brief was due in August. (Mind, this is shortly after New Year’s that this conversation took place.) The case is not yet on a call (that is, not yet scheduled to be reviewed and decided by a panel of judges) but it was in the queue and would go to a panel Real Soon Now. Would we like her to fax us a copy of the appellant’s brief? Oh, yes.

You may wonder, particularly those of you who are lawyers, what the Hell happened. An odd double failure of systems, as near as I can tell. Worthy opposing counsel, per the proof of service included with his brief, sent all his service copies of everything to a non-existent address, listing the elected prosecutor by name, rather than office. The PA doesn’t live in the city where our offices are, nor has he had a private practice there for a couple of decades or so, leaving the post office pretty much clueless. God alone knows where it wound up.

In most cases, heck, all cases before this one, the court itself would have alerted us that something was amiss long before now. For years, the policy has been to send out nasty-grams to counsel 30 days after the date their brief was to be filed. I’ve never been late as an appellant, but as an appellee, those letters set a 21 day deadline to submit a reply brief or it won’t be accepted and the case will go to the panel with only the appellant’s brief. The letter never went out. When my secretary asked about that, the clerk said that’s why she was calling. When they started to pull files and check paper work for the upcoming calls they found this case had more of less fallen through the cracks. Because appellant was late, he didn’t have oral argument. Because we were late, we didn’t have oral argument. So the case was moved from the local office to the Capitol City office to equalize the workload between offices. In the process, no one bothered to send out the 21 day letter. Because, in the final analysis, the significant screw up was the court’s they would accept my reply brief right up to the time the case was set to be heard, when ever that was going to be.

So, there I was, passing through 5,000 feet in a flat spin. . . wait, that’s another story, but similar thoughts and feelings were running through my mind. Including the desire to get a good gun lock on opposing counsel with a GAU-8. The brief was junk, but in my line of work junk is often, almost always harder to answer than a real, substantive, on point issue. And the statement of facts was impossible. When you get an honest, or mostly honest, statement of facts from opposing counsel, you can just accept it, noting any real problems or omissions in the body of your arguments, and save a lot of time writing the reply brief. Not in this case.
It took me about four MisterDA days to write the thing and another half day to do the motion to extend time and proof it and get it ready for my secretary to FedEx to the Capitol City clerk’s office. In actual elapsed time, about eight days because nothing else went away while I worked on this thing. The usual flow of motions for re-sentencing, motions for new trials, and cries for assistance from the trial staff continued, unabated.

Of course, when I wrapped up the Brief From Out of the Void, all my slack time was gone and the February deadlines were looming (looming?! They were charging in mass!) So, that’s what I’ve been doing. It’s much like attempting to keep your head above water in a whirlpool.

Oh, yeah. About three days after we send out the reply brief the court docketed the case for February 1. Last Friday, I get a call from the clerk's office, telling me they granted my motion to extend time and 10 minutes for oral argument. The catch is that the Capitol City offices of the court are about twice as far away, time-wise, as the Major Metropolitan Area offices where my cases are usually argued. To make things even more fun, my case is dead last on a call with a bunch of civil cases where everyone and her brother has been listed for oral argument. Sigh. This means, based on grim experience, that I'll be standing up at least two hours after the call has started. Then the grim drive home. So, in essence, the day, between travel time, waiting time, and finding lunch time, will be totally consumed by one ten minute, unopposed argument on a pointless case. Sigh. Sigh. ‘Cause the brief elves are not going to finish any of the other things due this week and next while I’m gone. Sigh.

More on why we do this later.