TIPS FOR OUT-OF-STATE ATTORNEYS

ARGUING BEFORE THE MICHIGAN COURT OF APPEALS

(and inexperienced attorneys)

 

 

 

 

TIMING & SCHEDULING OF ORAL ARGUMENT

       Oral argument is generally held in one of three cities: Detroit, Lansing, and Grand Rapids.  Sometimes arguments are held at law schools, and once a year a “Northern Michigan” panel is assigned to the Upper Peninsula or northern Lower Peninsula.  The court often – but not always – designates a city most convenient for the attorneys.

       Oral argument is generally conducted on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday of the first two weeks of each month. 

       Multiple cases are set for the same time, so you may have to wait for your argument to begin.  Cases may be re-arranged on the date of argument, with some cases waiving oral argument, so you should not plan to arrive late.

       The court starts promptly at the time designated in your oral argument notice.

       The panel of three judges is assigned randomly from among the 28 judges across the state.  Just because you are arguing a case in one city does not mean the judges all come from that city. 

       The court also uses retired judges.  The former practice of using trial judges is not currently employed.

       The unofficial name of the oral argument session is the “case call” (example: “the March case call in Detroit”).  The panel of judges assigned to each case call session will sit in the same courtroom together for a week (actually, three days of oral argument), and only for one week per month. 

       The names of the assigned judges are included in the oral argument notice.  The court’s website has brief biographical data about each.  The designation “P.J.” after a judge’s name means the judge will be the presiding judge for that panel, and will sit in the center.  This designation is not reserved for senior judges, but is rotated among all judges (although for a single panel, the designation stays with the same judge for the entire month).  The designation “C.J.” means the judge is the Chief Judge for the Court of Appeals.  Only one person on the entire court holds that title.

       If a judge is disqualified from a case, a substitute judge will be assigned for that case only; the case will generally be heard first or last that day. 

 

 

 

CONDUCTING ORAL ARGUMENT

 

 

 

       Counsel table is for attorneys only, not clients.  The tables are marked “appellant” and “appellee.”

       Attorneys address the court from a lectern.  The attached microphone amplifies the voice, and is tied in to a recording system.  Oral argument is recorded for the benefit of the judges.  The court does not make copies of oral argument tapes, but upon motion an attorney can receive permission to listen to the tape at a court facility, and can bring a court reporter if transcription is desired.

       Most attorneys begin oral argument with “May it please the court, my name is ____ and I represent ____.”  If the court seems distracted, it is appropriate to add ”would the court like me to begin?” 

       It is customary for the appellant to indicate how much time he or she wishes to reserve for rebuttal.

       The timekeeping system is rather loose – no official clocks, lights or buzzers.

       The panels of judges all have their own personalities; some adhere to time limits, some are more generous with time.

       The Court of Appeals judges should be referred to as “judges,” not “justices.”  In Michigan, only members of the highest court – the Michigan Supreme Court – are called “justices.”

       The judges have name plates in front of them.  The center judge is always the presiding judge. 

► The court does not like to rely on unpublished opinions of the Court of Appeals.  They should be used sparingly.  !! More Info !!

► When arguing a case to the Michigan Court of Appeals, we use the following examples of shorthand citations:

                    People versus . . . (for all criminal cases)

                    123 Mich 485 (pronounced “Mish,” for Supreme Court decisions – the parallel Northwest Reporter citation is unnecessary since the judges have only the official volumes in the courtroom and in their offices)

                    100 Mich App 205 (pronounced “Mish App” for published Court of Appeals decisions – the Northwest Reporter citation is unnecessary)

                    M.C.L. 750.520 (for statutory citations; the old set of Michigan Statutes Annotated – “M.S.A.” – which used a different numbering system, is obsolete; some attorneys still refer to “M.C.L.A.” for the West version of the statutes, but the Court drops the “A” and refers only to Legislature’s official compilation, “M.C.L.”)  Note that Michigan does not place a section symbol before the section number.

       If you refer to a case cited in your brief, it is adequate to mention the short name of the case and say that it’s cited in the brief.  If you spring a new case on the court, it is appropriate to let the court know it’s not in the brief, and provide the citation slowly so the judges can write it down.

       If you plan to hand something to the judges, bring copies for all three judges, plus copies for opposing counsel.  Ask permission to provide copies to the panel, but do not ask for permission to approach the bench.  The court prefers that you hand any materials to the court officer, who will then hand them to the judges. 

       If you have demonstrative evidence or posters you want to display to the court, you should contact the clerk’s office in advance.  The court officers often prevent such displays unless prior permission has been granted.

       At the end of oral argument on each case, the presiding judge will thank the attorneys and indicate that “the case is submitted.”

 

 

 

DECISIONS/OPINIONS

       The court does not issue decisions from the bench.  Written opinions are mailed to each attorney of record by the clerk.  Opinions generally take between two weeks and six months to be issued, depending on the type of case and the court’s workload. 

       Among the panel, the judges assign opinion-writing responsibilities in advance of oral argument.  This is not disclosed to the public.  Often the judge with the most questions at oral argument is the judge assigned to write the opinion.

 

 

 

OTHER HELPFUL INFORMATION

► The Michigan Court of Appeals website has addresses, maps, judges’ bios, lists of cases scheduled for each “case call session,” court rules, and other important information. 

 

Link to Court of Appeals website

 

 




 

 

JAMES N. McNALLY

Attorney at Law

Specializing in Appeals

Civil – Criminal – State – Federal – Workers Comp

 

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