So, I recently had the dubious honor of presenting oral arguments before the Federal Court of Appeals. I say “dubious,” because how fit I was to the task remains unknown. I was both extremely thrilled and anxious to tackle this. I have some experience with appellate work, mostly the briefing parts, but this was the first time I have appeared to argue at this level. Needless to say, it was a little nerve-wracking.
The case involves a 1983 claim based on excessive force. Long story short, a police officer pulled a man over, claimed the man exited the car wielding a knife, at which point the officer shot and killed the man. The officer later admitted to planting a knife at the scene. We represent the surviving family members. Our argument is predicated on the assertion that the municipality involved failed to train and supervise the office, in violation of the decedent’s Constitutional rights, and that this failure resulted in the death. The defendants had moved for summary judgment at the trial level and lost, at which point they appealed it.
We were later in the docket, so I got to sit through several other cases – which gave me both the chance to see what to expect and the chance to get increasingly nervous. It was awesome to watch the judges work – they were all very well prepared and the questioning was just amazing. For my case, the other side went first. The panel began questioning me before I even reached the podium. I had hard arguments to make based upon submission of evidence and evidentiary burdens. The legal arguments were a tad tricky, as there isn’t very much case law that fits the corners of our case facts and legal arguments. All in all, though, I think it fared well. My fifteen minutes went by very quickly; I think there is something inherently unsatisfactory about being the appellee in that you do not get rebuttal time.
Things I have learned? One, that I will always be extremely well-prepared on issues the judges have no interest in discussing. Two, there is nothing more important in appellate work than a strong familiarity with precedent. And three, I will always need to wear the highest heels I own and can stand in, otherwise I will need a box to stand on.