20 June 2014

FIVE PRINCIPLES FOR SUCCESSFUL APPEALS OF ADVERSE TRIAL JUDGMENTS



1. BE ON TIME WITH FILING THE APPEAL

It might strike you as strange that it's more important to be on time with an appeal, than to have great grounds of appeal, but really that's how life works in general. The world's best employee who's always three hours late for work isn't going to last long in any job. 

Most appeal limitation periods are a maximum of 30 days from the date of judgment. Some are as short as 10 or 15 days. Most count all calendar days (including holidays and weekends), though some only count Monday to Friday working days. It all depends on the wording of the court rules that govern your case.

Some appeal rules require that you serve and file the appeal within the time limit, meaning serve the notice of appeal on the opposing party, and actually file that notice together with proof of service in the correct appeal court. Others require that you only file within the time limit, with service to come slightly later. 

If you are thinking: “oh, missing that limit by a few days can't be such a big deal, can it?” think again. You'll at least need to bring a motion before the appeal court to extend time for filing, and offer evidence of a very good reason why you were late. Quite frequently, you'll just be told you're too late.

Miss the deadline to file the appeal by a few years, and no one is likely going to care about how good your appeal grounds happen to be or even your reason for being late unless you're still locked up in jail. The principle of finality means that courts don't like it when cases where final decisions appear to have been taken get resurrected over and over again. 


2. APPEAL TO THE CORRECT COURT

People, lawyers included, frequently appeal to the wrong court. Why this happens is because appellate routes can get complicated. 

Criminal appeal routes aren't usually too complicated, but you may still need to choose between your provincial Superior Court and the Court of Appeal if you were convicted in provincial court. In some provinces, you have a choice in where to bring your appeal, however your grounds of appeal might be more restricted if you go directly to the Court of Appeal. The Supreme Court of Canada may also eventually be an option.

Civil appeal routes are a lot more complicated than criminal routes. First you need to determine if your matter is governed by federal or provincial law in assessing your civil appeal options. 

For appealing government decisions, you might need to go to one of a variety of specialized administrative tribunals. 

Federal civil matters might also need to go to the Tax Court, the Federal Court, or the Federal Court of Appeal. Don't get to thinking that you would logically always go to the Federal Court first, and then to the Federal Court of Appeal – sometimes you jump over the Federal Court, depending on which body you are appealing from. 

In Ontario for provincial administrative and small claims matters, one option could be going to the Divisional Court, but if you are appealing a small claims judgment you would go to a single judge panel of the Divisional Court who would hear your case in the location where your other Superior Court judges sit, whereas if you need a three judge panel of the Divisional Court such as when the appeal is from the Landlord and Tenant Board, then those hearings only happen in limited regional centres which is where you need to file the notice of appeal. As a further example of restricted geography for appeals, in bankruptcy matters in Ontario there are only four locations in the province that hold hearings. Thus you need to figure out not only the correct names of the court, but also where it sits so that you file your appeal documents in the correct registry office.

If you're wondering: “why so many different appeal courts?” the answer is similar to the age old question: “why do many different government departments with so many offices?” Courts are split up along both geography and subject matter expertise, just like government offices. 


3. FIND A TRUE APPEALABLE ERROR OF LAW, RATHER REHASHING THE TRIAL JUDGE'S FINDINGS OF FACT 

You can't just appeal because you lost at trial. You need a good reason for why an appeal court should overturn the trial judge's findings. And the fact that you don't like those findings isn't a good enough reason. 

Generally, you need to put your finger on an error of law, or mixed fact and law, that happened during the trial and that may have affected the end result. If you can show multiple errors, all the better. 

Usually no new evidence is heard on an appeal. An appeal isn't just a second kick at the trial can. Rather, an appeal is a fairly academic review of the trial process, to ensure that you received a fair trial, and that the trial judge didn't make any significant errors of law during the trial that may have affected the end trial result. 


4. GET THE SYMPATHY OF THE COURT BY EXPLAINING THE INJUSTICE

As much as lawyers love technical legal arguments, I've found they tend not to succeed on appeal by themselves. Rather, during an appeal you also have to get the sympathy of the appeal court, by explaining to the court the injustice you suffered at trial, and how the appeal court can advance the cause of justice by deciding the appeal in your favour. Try to make the appeal about more than just you, and generalize it to be about similar injustices that might also befall others. 

5. ORDER THE TRIAL TRANSCRIPTS ASAP

Appeals are almost always based on trial transcripts, regardless of whether those transcripts are of a 20 minute highway traffic speeding offence trial, or a 20 days child custody family law trial. You need to be able to afford to pay for the transcripts and order them in a timely way in order to perfect your appeal toward getting a hearing date. 

Count on at least $500 per day of trial for transcript costs. But a 20 minute hearing will be very inexpensive - the $500 isn't some kind of minimum charge. You usually don't have to order transcripts prior to filing your notice of appeal, but you should do so soon thereafter, and usually need to provide proof to the appeal court that you have ordered and paid for the transcripts. Most of the time advance payment will be necessary. And make sure you order the required number of copies according to the appeal rules - you can't just photocopy an official transcript for court use. 

You can successfully conduct an appeal yourself, but an experienced appeals lawyer can greatly increase your chances of success, and save you lots of hassle. Usually appeal fees are quoted on a flat block fee basis, rather than hourly, so at least you'll have some cost certainly over whether hiring a lawyer is both worth it and something you can afford. In determining your ability to conduct your own appeal, you should carefully consider the level of court you will be appealing from: the lower the level of court, the more likely a do-it-yourself appeal might work. 


15 June 2014

HOW TO BEST SUPPORT YOUR PROFESSIONAL MISCONDUCT DEFENCE

Credit: Jennifer Wilson; University Western Ontario News
Anyone who is a professional risks being accused of misconduct at some point in her or his career. Because the standard for proving that misconduct is generally only proof on a balance of probabilities (just more than 50%), rather than the proof beyond a reasonable doubt standard of criminal allegations, you need to be ready to much more proactively rebut professional misconduct than you would in a criminal investigation situation.

You're usually going to need to present written responses to initial misconduct inquiries, and later testify under oath to defend yourself if those allegations progress to a full tribunal hearing. What this means is that you need to practice your profession defensively, being always aware that any action (or lack of action) that you decide upon could potentially lead to a misconduct allegation.

Now I know that taking this advice to extremes can lead to paranoia and working life paralysis, where you'll be afraid to even start work each day for fear that something you do could lead to a discipline investigation being launched against you. But the opposite extreme where you just do what you subjectively think best, without turning over your actions in your mind in comparison to objective professional conduct standards, will equally lead you down a potentially quite dangerous path.

So how to get on with your professional work life, protecting yourself and your livelihood, while at the same time being able to take decisions and enjoy your job? I would suggest there are two principles to follow: the D3 principle, and the TAD principle. These principles weren't created by academics, just by me out of a result of my years of work in the professional misconduct defence legal field.

The D3 principle stands for: document, document, document. This is the principle closest to my heart as a lawyer, and addresses situations after they have happened. I have several professional discipline clients who have, in my opinion, potentially strong defences available to rebut allegations of professional misconduct levelled against them, but who lack anything more than their own personal (and unfortunately sometime vague) recollections about what really happened and who really said what to whom concerning the events in question.

In the teeter-totter that credibility contests can turn into, you don't want to get stuck in the position of only having your own sworn testimony and current recollections of events that might have happened years before to defend yourself with. Having notes taken contemporaneously with events, including detailed dates, times, people spoken with, close paraphrasing of actual conversations, and back up documents are all vital to defending your version of the story.

Now I know document, document, document might seem like an overstated principle, but I find some of my clients don't even get past the first "document" in protecting themselves. You want to preserve all your emails, notes of all your telephone conversations (preferably preserving voice mails), personal notes of your activities, back up documents like video recordings, radio logs, security footage, and witness names and contact details.

I'm not suggesting you do this for every facet of your professional life. But you must do so for situations that set off your spidey sense tingling! You might even at the time write letters to others involved, in order to confirm that they agree with your version of events. Don't just stick your head in the sand and hope that nothing comes of a situation.

The TAD principle is really a more preventative version of the D3 principle: Think, Act, Document. This means that for situations where your gut is telling you there might be some professional ethics risk, you slow down, THINK through the potential ramifications of doing or not doing something (and maybe obtain advice from your professional regulator), ACT only after have taking that time to reflect, and again DOCUMENT your actions, and the thought processes and consultations that went into that Act.

How often are these dangerous situations going to come up? Probably not every day. Though perhaps once a week. And I would suggest certainly once a month. If you aren't wondering if a situation is professionally dangerous at least a few times a year, you aren't trying hard enough.

I've defended teachers, accountants, police officers and medical professionals all accused of misconduct, and the common desire on both my and my clients' parts has always been a desire for better records of the events in question, actually kept by my clients, rather than being potentially selectively retrieved by professional regulatory investigators and prosecutors.

Practicing your profession defensively meaning spotting the problem situations before they explode. You're going to miss a few of them - it happens to all of us. But if you've at least documented most situations, you will greatly enhance your chances of a successful professional misconduct defence, giving your lawyer and yourself something to work with to rebut allegations during an investigation or hearing, rather than just taking blow after blow from the prosecution's evidence, and being only able to offer up a weak "I didn't do it" in your own defence.