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Reading is difficult. As a writer, I help the reader every way I can think of. As a reader, I work hard not to miss the big things in the middle of the road.

Monday, October 2, 2017

U.S. Supremes Not Coming to Rescue Civilly Committed Sex Offenders, at Least, not Soon

United States Supreme Court announced today that it would not hear a case concerning the constitutionality of Minnesota's sexually violent predator law. The committed people won in the trial court, the State of Minnesota took it up on appeal to the United States Court of Appeal for the Eighth Circuit, which overturned the trial court. The committed people had asked the United States Supreme Court to hear it, but the high court did not. With very few exceptions, SCOTUS gets to choose the cases it wants to hear. About 7,000 to 8,000 cases are brought to SCOTUS each year that someone wants them to hear. About 80 get the full treatment-- merits briefing and oral argument, and about a 100 get some kind of ruling without oral argument, etc. The chances of SCOTUS taking any case in particular is a little more than one out of a hundred.

Today, the first Monday in October, is the beginning of the court's term for this year. The Justices' main holiday is from the end of May to September. You may ask what do the Justices do in September before the official beginning of the court's term. What they do is prepare and have the Long Conference. The Justice meet together most Fridays to choose what cases to hear and which justice will supervise the writing of court's opinion in each case. But they don't have such meetings over their summer vacation. When they come back, they have about three months' requests for cases to be taken, and they get rid of those summer requests in one long meeting-- the Long Conference in September.

On that first Monday in October, SCOTUS announces that it is taking or refusing to take about one-third of the cases for the year.

The Beaumont Court of Appeals is still responsible for far more of the appeals of sexually violent predator civil commitment matters than the other courts. If SCOTUS had taken the Minnesota case mentioned above, SCOTUS could have decided to make major changes in that law that would have affected every state, including Texas. But those old rivers, the Potomac and the Neches will likely keep on flowing the way they always have, at least for another year.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Texas Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals Clarify Texas Rule of Appellate Procedure 33.1

The Texas high courts say this rewording is intended only to clarify, and not to change, existing law. They say it's been in force since July 1, 2017. The new part is in bold; the old in regular Roman.
33.1. Preservation; How Shown
(a) In General. As a prerequisite to presenting a complaint for appellate review, the record must show that:
(1) the complaint was made to the trial court by a timely request, objection, or motion that:
(A) stated the grounds for the ruling that the complaining party sought from the trial court with sufficient specificity to make the trial court aware of the complaint, unless the specific grounds were apparent from the context; and
(B) complied with the requirements of the Texas Rules of Evidence or the Texas Rules of Civil or Appellate Procedure; and

(2) the trial court:
(A) ruled on the request, objection, or motion, either expressly or implicitly; or
(B) refused to rule on the request, objection, or motion, and the complaining party objected to the refusal.

(b) Ruling by Operation of Law. In a civil case, the overruling by operation of law of a motion for new trial or a motion to modify the judgment preserves for appellate review a complaint properly made in the motion, unless taking evidence was necessary to properly present the complaint in the trial court.

(c) Formal Exception and Separate Order Not Required. Neither a formal exception to a trial court ruling or order nor a signed, separate order is required to preserve a complaint for appeal.

(d) Sufficiency of Evidence Complaints in Civil Nonjury Cases. In a civil nonjury case, a complaint regarding the legal or factual insufficiency of the evidence— including a complaint that the damages found by the court are excessive or inadequate, as distinguished from a complaint that the trial court erred in refusing to amend a fact finding or to make an additional finding of fact—may be made for the first time on appeal in the complaining party’s brief.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Texas Rule of Appellate Procedure 4.6 Did Not Go into Force Friday, September 1, 2017

In the last issue of the Texas Bar Journal-- August 2017, the Texas Supreme Court and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, promulgated Texas Rule of Appellate Procedure 4.6 as a rule that would go into effect last Friday, Sept. 1, 2017. The weekend's new September 2017 issue withdraws those notices so that there can be more public comment (I bet the prosecutors didn't like one or more things about it.).

Here is the proposed new T.R.A.P. 4.6.
No Notice of Trial Court’s Order on Motion for Forensic DNA Testing
     (a) Additional Time to File Notice of Appeal. Notwithstanding Rules 26.2 and 26.3, a defendant may move for additional time to file a notice of appeal under Code of Criminal Procedure chapter 64 (Motion for Forensic DNA Testing) if the defendant neither received notice nor acquired actual knowledge that the trial judge signed an appealable order before the time for filing a notice of appeal had expired.
     (b) Contents of Motion for Additional Time. The motion must be in writing and sworn, state the earliest date when the defendant first received notice or acquired actual knowledge that the appealable order had been signed, and comply with Rule 10.5(b)(2).
     (c) When and Where to File.
          (1) The motion must be filed within 30 days of the date upon which the defendant first received notice or acquired actual knowledge of the trial court’s signing of the appealable order. But in no event may the motion be filed more than120 days after the date the appealable order was signed.
          (2) The motion must be filed in the proper court of appeals.
     (d) Order of the Court. The court of appeals must grant a motion for additional time if it finds that the defendant neither received notice nor acquired actual knowledge of the trial judge’s signing of an appealable order before the time for filing a notice of appeal had expired and that the defendant timely filed the motion for additional time. The time for filing the document will begin to run on the date when the court grants the motion.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Do Not Lose Your Mind While Seeking Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law in Texas

This is about appealing a Texas state bench trial. The fact-finding judge does not need a jury charge (Though I confess I make one up when practical. It'll tell me what kind of findings the appeals court will likely expect the side with the burden of proof to have proven.).

I start with practical experience.

1. Usually the trial judge asks the party who is going to be the appellant to draft proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law. If something is found wrong with the findings and conclusions, the party that's going to suffer is the winner at trial. The trial judge may change them greatly, but at least gets to edit someone else's first draft instead of starting from scratch.

2.    They're called findings of fact and conclusions of law. But conclusions of law.as compared to findings of fact are trivial. Conclusions of law, are, at least in part, redundant with the judgment. I've even seen judges propose and sign findings of fact and make no conclusions of law at all.

3. There is nothing illegal or improper for the loser at trial to file their own proposed FoF & CoL. In extremely rare cases the trial judge has been so impressed by the loser's FoF & CoL, that the judge switches sides as to the judgment.

Findings of fact and conclusions of law have to be requested within 20 days after a final judgment is signed. But there's more.If the court fails to file timely findings of fact and conclusions of law, the party making the request shall, within thirty days after filing the original request, file with the clerk and serve on all other parties in accordance with Rule 21a a "Notice of Past Due Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law" which shall be immediately called to the attention of the court by the clerk. Such notice shall state the date the original request was filed and the date the findings and conclusions were due.Upon filing this notice, the time for the court to file findings of fact and conclusions of law is extended to forty days from the date the original request was filed.


The parties can ask for specified or amended within ten days, If trial court is not sea No findings or conclusions shall be deemed or presumed by any failure of the court to make any additional findings or conclusions.

In a Texas state criminal case, an appeals court may order a trial judge for file FoF and CoL notwithstanding  what the parties did about these points. Cf. Tex. R. App. P. 34.5 (c) (2).

Monday, July 10, 2017


Folks, I don't expect to be back from vacation until July 31, 2017. See you back then, tanned, rested and ready.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Can a State Hold that Powers of Attorney Will Only Bind Principals to Arbitration if Binding to Arbitration Is Expressly Mentioned in the POA?

A wife has a general power of attorney to act on behalf of her husband. A daughter has a general power of attorney to act on behalf of her mother. Using the powers of attorney they sign their loved ones into a nursing home. The paperwork includes a binding arbitration clause. When the husband and mother die, the wife and daughter blame the deaths on the nursing home and sue it. The nursing home moves to dismiss the suits to stick the plaintiffs with binding arbitration.

The trial court rules in favor of the plaintiffs, as does the court of appeals, as does the Kentucky Supreme Court. They hold that under Kentucky law a power of attorney can only bind a principal to arbitration only if the right to bind the principal to arbitration is expressly provided in the power of attorney.

The Supreme Court of the United States ruled in favor of the nursing home. They held that the Federal Arbitration Act superseded any state rule disfavoring arbitration, and, that, therefore, Kentucky's rule was contrary to that act.

Justice Kagan wrote for seven members of the court. New Justice Gorsuch recused himself, and Justice Thomas dissented consistently with earlier opinions of his that the Federal Arbitration Act doesn't apply to state court proceedings.

Kindred Nursing Centers, v. Clark, No. 16-32, 581 U.S. _____, (May 15, 2017.)

Some disputes are better suited to arbitration than to trial.  Arbitration with choice of law is good for international trade disputes, especially where the contracting parties can each pay the costs of hiring the arbitrators, etc.  Otherwise, an unscrupulous party could grow a million flowers of delay that could drag on for years. Arbitration has worked pretty well between stockbrokers and their customers. They make sense where our brains are miswired to make a disinterested decision (For more on this read Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely. I could even see that nursing home wrongful death cases might qualify.

Arbitration makes me uncomfortable in arm's length consumer transactions, especially when the consumer is expected to pay in the low four figures or above in advance for the arbitrators and must \ additionally a lawyer who knows about arbitration and the subject matter of the dispute. Often the location is very convenient for the business (in a town where one of their main offices are) and very inconvenient for the claimant who, along with counsel,  might have to make multiple cross-country trips.

Arbitration can burden a claimant with high costs and strip a claimant of many of the protections of the constitutions (federal and state), statutes (federal and state), and procedures of courts- arbitration of manufactured housing disputes, workplace discrimination, software license agreements, etc. Furthermore, these contracts are often contracts of adhesion.  Don't agree to arbitration? Well, then no mobile home for you, or job, or use of vital software.

Notwithstanding all that, if arbitration is sometimes advisable, I am sympathetic with courts. like the one here in Clark, making it very difficult to weasel out of arbitration agreements, It would not take  very many exceptions to make the FAA a dead letter.