What is an Appeal and Why Do I Need an Appeals Lawyer?
By: Kathi M. Sandweiss, Esq.
An appeal is a request for a higher court to review a lower court's decision. An appeals lawyer handles cases on appeal when a party loses or is unhappy with some part of the decision made by the lower court. The appeals court reviews the record made in the trial court. Nothing new can be added to the record; this is not the time to add new facts or evidence. The appeal is not a trial and looks nothing like what you see on TV. The appeal is much less exciting, and is typically handled by a lawyer who is experienced and skilled at research and writing. An appeals lawyer presents the facts and law to the appeals court in a legal brief that looks like a book. The appeals court decides whether to affirm or to reverse the trial court's decision based upon the written briefs.
When an appeals lawyer represents you as the appellant - the person who is appealing - the lawyer tells the appeals court why the trial court made errors and should be reversed. When an appeals lawyer represents you as the appellee - the person who is defending the trial court's decision - the lawyer explains why the court ruled correctly.
In Arizona, the Court of Appeals reviews decisions made by the superior court. There are two divisions of the Court of Appeals; if your case was litigated in Superior Court in Maricopa, Yuma, La Paz, Mohave, Coconino, Yavapai, Navajo or Apache County, it will be heard in Division One of the Court of Appeals. Cases arising out of Superior Courts in the other counties are heard in Division Two. If you are unhappy with the decision in superior court, you have 30 days to file your notice of appeal. The time limit is absolutely firm; it's called "jurisdictional," which means you absolutely cannot miss the deadline or you will most likely forfeit your right to appeal.
With the notice of appeal, you need to:
- file a cost bond, and
- within 10 days file a docketing statement, and
- within 10 days certify that you have arranged for transcripts of your lower court hearing
When you first meet with an appeals lawyer, they will need to look at a few important papers. The most important document is the judgment. An appeals lawyer will want to find out if it's a final, signed, appealable judgment. Next, an appeals lawyer will look at the record of the case - the transcripts of the hearings and the documents you presented to the court - to decide whether there is an appealable issue and whether the trial judge made a mistake that can be corrected on appeal.
People always want to tell appeals lawyers about all the mistakes their trial lawyer made. But that doesn't help you on appeal because your appeals lawyer will have to work with what is already in the record. Remember, the appeals court will not review anything that was not presented or is not part of the official court record from the trial court. If you are the party who is appealing, the job of your appeals lawyer is to explain to the appeals court why, based upon the information presented to the trial judge, the trial court ruled incorrectly and should be reversed.
Finally, you may wonder why you would need an appeals lawyer if you won your case. If your opponent is unhappy with the decision and appeals it, you need an appeals lawyer to write a brief on your behalf to defend the decision. When an appeals lawyer represents the appellee - the person who won - it's her job to show the appeals court that the trial court reviewed all the evidence presented and ruled correctly.
About the author: Kathi M. Sandweiss is an attorney at the Phoenix law firm of Jaburg Wilk. She is the head of the appellate law department and has represented many clients at the Arizona appellate courts. Kathi may be reached at 602.248.1000 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article is not intended to provide legal advice and only relates to Arizona law. It does not consider the scope of laws in states other than Arizona. Always consult an attorney for legal advice for your particular situation.
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