Today I went to my first appellate court oral arguments. It was everything a law nerd could have hoped for: interesting, entertaining, and dare I say it, downright fun. And might I just add that appellate justices have sweet digs!
No phones are allowed inside the appellate courtroom so there are no accompanying pictures. The (power) trippiest thing is the chairs; each chair is lined up perfectly facing the door to chambers so that the justices can sit right down when they walk in.
We heard two ten minute oral segments, one by a defendant pro dr wearing the most OUTRAGEOUS alligator-skin shoes with what looked like knobs on top. He did, however, do a really nice job articulating his points for a non-lawyer, even the court was impressed.
Then came the three (count ‘em, one, two, THREE) different appeals in the case I came to hear, two from plaintiffs and one from defendants. The argument was colorful to say the least and very entertaining. The justices were engaged and became more so as the day wore on asking more and more questions as well as cracking jokes.
The last issue heard concerned the 1st amendment which very possible could have a published opinion issued so look out for that! Essentially, the trial court judge ordered plaintiffs’ attorney to take down her website during the course of trial to which she asserted her 1st amendment right to free speech.
After having multiple lawyers argue for the defense in the two other matters, they sent this scrawny, 12-year-old looking man to argue this point for them. They might as well have just waved the white flag. When he stood to argue, the chief justice goes, “You” (pointing to the man), “not her?!” (referring to another lawyer who had argued previously) at which point everyone (lawyers, justices, observers etc.) chuckled to themselves. The poor guy launched right into his argument without first introducing himself or his representation and had to be admonished to begin again and it only got more entertaining from there.
At one point the chief justice proposed a hypothetical question involving a voting rights case and a civil rights attorney asking for clarification on their assertion of “commercial” and “political” texts and what would happen if the two were mixed on a website. To which the defense responded in the affirmative and the justice actually exclaimed: “that makes no sense!”
Other quotable moments included:
- The chief justice joking about his age and lack of technology when he was a trial court judge: “We had TV in my day… we even had color TV.”
- Defense counsel trying to assert that an admonishment by the trial court not to Google the trial attorneys somehow limited the jury’s 1st amendment right to which all three justices cut him off simultaneously:
- “That’s a stretch, you don’t want to walk down that path.”
- “That’s just insulting.”
- “You can’t even say that with a straight face.”
- And a justice speaking on the gravity of the issue at hand as far as limiting free speech and the trust we place in jurors to follow court orders: “What you’ve said is threatening to the [entire court] system.” Deep.
All in all, I can say that I was not disappointed by the trip.