So you are a firm believer in the rule of law, get an new appeal case and all the stars are in alignment. You made your fee and are ready to get justice for your client who unfairly lost at the trial court level, because the judge made some bad rulings that you can prove were bad rulings. You research all your issues upside down and sideways. The law, as applied to your facts, is clearly on your side. You are confident that you will file the appeal and obtain the justice that your client deserves under the 'rule of law'. You do a brilliant job drafting your initial brief and file it. You show the brief to others who concur that you are right. You file the appeal brief and start to anticipate your big win and the notoriety you will achieve from your hard meritorious work product.
Your opponent files an Answer brief that you find incomplete, inaccurate, and not on point. Now, you are even more confident that you will win than before you filed your appeal! This is great!! You wait for the Appellate Court's ruling. You wait some more. The ruling is finally made and you read the Appellate Court's opinion with the utmost anticipation. You lose the case. That' s right, you lose the case! The entire opinion says "Per Curium Affirmed".
If that scenario sounds impossible, it is not. In fact, the majority of Appellate Court opinions rendered by certain Florida District Courts simply say "Per Curium Affirmed" or just "Affirmed".
The undersigned, not wanting to believe that the appeals process in certain Florida District Courts is a farce, did a little digging to determine why the 'rule of law' was routinely ignored.
The Nameless Faceless Law Clerks: Did you know that your case was being decided, not by a panel of appellate court judges, but by a single law clerk? True. The undersigned interviewed three (3) former law clerks for appellate district courts and they all said the same thing, and that is, the appeal package is assembled by the law clerk, who compiles the issues and makes recommendations how the case is to be decided. The law clerks recommendations are followed most of the time; one clerk said 99% of the time they are followed. How can that be? Why is this happening? Why don't appellate judges do their jobs and derive their own legal conclusions?
Who are these law clerks? They are not appointed and they are not elected, but they in fact wield authority in your cases. This is a bastardization of the appellate court processes, because the appellate court judges that you think are deciding your cases are not. The judges signing your opinion ruling never outlined the issues of your case, researched those issues, decided those issues, or wrote the opinion. They just signed it the majority of times underneath the opinion "Per Curium Affirmed". The author considers this delegation of duties the majority of time to be misfeasance in office.
The Confidentiality Surrounding Appellate Decision Making Processes: Have you ever looked into whether you can get the appellate court files pursuant to a request for public information? Don't bother; in Florida these files are not subject to public information requests. What does that mean in real terms? That means that there is no check and balance to ensure that the appellate court judges are actually reading and reacting to your appellate case. "Per Curium Affirmed" No opinion. No court file. No notes. Nothing. How does that sit with you from a common sense perspective?
These things will never happen in a Federal District Court. There will always be a detailed written opinion and ruling for everything that you do and every motion that you make. You may not like the opinion, but at least there will be an opinion for you to agree with or disagree with and react to.
Florida's appellate court regime promotes politically based rulings, ad hoc rulings, cronyism, bad rulings, bad caselaw, and thousands of opinions where the rule of law is completely ignored, without sound legal reasoning, and without recourse by anybody. This does not promote compliance with the rule of law, but promotes a false pretense of compliance with the rule of law.
The undersigned is shocked that in 2019 these processes are the same they have always been in Florida and nobody seems to see the fallacies of the system in a capsule. There is no accountability and no public view. The appellate court judges in many, but not all, Florida Districts are a secret society wielding their gavels and routinely signing important legal decisions, affecting thousands of peoples lives; that were effectively ruled upon by nameless, faceless, law clerks. This regime should not be permitted to exist in 2019 in Florida or anywhere else. These unfettered and confidential appellate court processes and the unofficial authority granted to law clerks, is both oppressive and unfair. I voted for an appellate court judge and I am entitled to an original decision and written opinion from an appellate court judge in Florida. Are you?
Citizens of Florida should be entitled to inspect the appellate court processes involved in appellate cases affecting their lives. Florida needs to make appellate court records and notes available for public inspection. That act alone would cause appellate court judges to take their jobs more seriously and document reasons supporting their decisions made, for fear of public reprisal. The current honor system in place that appellate court judge's will do the right thing is archaic and subject to abuse. Honor systems don't work and this one is no different. Florida's appellate court system needs and overhaul and the people of Florida are entitled to inspect the work of these elected officials, the same as they can inspect the work product of the governor if they so chose.
This article is for informational and educational purposes only and should not be construed as constituting legal advice. It is intended to provoke critical thinking related to the issues presented. The opinions rendered are the opinions of the Author, a non attorney. Nothing presented in this Article should be interpreted as legal advice as any such interpretation is unintended. In fact it is not legal advice and was written by a non-attorney. You should consult with your attorney to determine the best course of action to take on your case.
Copyright 2019 All Right Reserved, by Joseph J. Pappacoda, JD, Senior Litigation Paralegal, GhostWriter Paralegal, Chartered, Fort Lauderdale, Florida