The California Academy of Appellate Lawyers

Enjoying Appellate Practice Beyond the Courthouse - With Food

Once known as the Appellate Lawyers Eating and Drinking Association, the California Academy of Appellate Lawyers was launched in 1972 when then-Presiding Justice Otto Kaus of the Second Appellate District mentioned to a couple of lawyer friends that serving on an appellate court could be isolating. He suggested occasional dinner gatherings of a handful of judges and lawyers where they could talk casually about appellate justice.

A photo collage dated July 1974 shows former Third District Justice Leonard Friedman listening intently to someone just beyond view at the Academy's first annual Ojai Seminar. It might have been Kaus or Marcus Kaufman, both of whom went on to serve on the California Supreme Court, or then- Ninth Circuit Judge Shirley Hufstedler, or Justice Lynn ("Buck") Compton, who served on the Second District Court of Appeal but was later known for his service in Easy Company, portrayed in the HBO series "Band of Brothers." That first Ojai meeting brought these noted judges together with a complement of appellate lawyers including Ellis Horvitz, Raoul Kennedy, Michael Berger, Hillel Chodos, Gideon Kanner, as well as the late Paul Selvin, Burt Goldstein, Cyril Viadro, and Edward Lascher.

There have been more than 40 spring meetings since 1974 in venues around the state, but the event is the same: the Academy invites eight to ten appellate justices to brainstorm about appellate issues and to share dinner. The food is excellent, the wine carefully selected, and the conversation stimulating. Chief Justices Cantil-Sakauye, George, Lucas, and Bird have all attended, as well as every other Supreme Court justice (usually just one per year), most other Court of Appeal justices, and many Ninth Circuit judges. Participants meet around a hollow square table for several hours Saturday morning and again Sunday morning. Pending cases are off limits as topics of conversation but the Academy has debated a host of issues involving the policies and administration of appeals courts such as appellate ethics, publication of opinions, reliance on staff attorneys, division size, appellate rule changes, the value of oral argument, judicial elections, memorandum opinions, and sanctions for frivolous appeals. The ground rule is confidentiality, and the exchanges are frank and sometimes surprising, even to the judges, who do not always get a chance to learn how their counterparts in other districts and divisions approach issues. As one former justice put it:

"[W]e rarely receive attorney input in the area of appellate procedure and process itself. Meeting with your group, both formally and informally between sessions, was quite helpful and has caused me to rethink many of the ways we conduct our court business. Nothing deflates judicial arrogance better than a candid exchange of views with a bunch of appellate experts."

In addition to the annual weekend seminars, the Academy meets in Pasadena in the Fall and in San Francisco in the Winter for less formal programs followed by dinner with area judicial officers and court staff. Beyond these meetings, the Academy sponsors the Viadro-Selvin Award, a cash prize for the best brief at the annual Roger J. Traynor Moot Court Competition. It has recently co-sponsored, with the Constitutional Rights Foundation and Second Appellate District, an outreach program bringing high schoolers to the court of appeal for an inside look at our judicial system.

The Academy has an active amicus curiae committee, and has filed amicus briefs in In re Conservatorship of McQueen (2014) 59 Cal.4th 5602; Kurwa v. Kislinger (2013) 57 Cal.4th 1097; Reid v. Google, Inc. (2010) 50 Cal.4th 512; Brown, Winfield & Canzeroni, Inc. v. Superior Court (2010) 47 Cal.4th 1233; Silverbrand v. County of Los Angeles (2009) 46 Cal.4th 106; Alan v. American Honda Motor Co., Inc. (2007) 40 Cal.4th 894; Walker v. Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (2005) 35 Cal.4th 15; People v. Pena (2004) 32 Cal.4th 389; In re Rosenkrantz (2002) 29 Cal.4th 616; and Lewis v. Superior Court (1999) 19 Cal.4th 1232.  The Academy has also submitted letters to the Supreme Court in support of petitions for review, has proposed appellate rule changes, and has offered educational programs at the State Bar's annual meetings. Various Academy members have served on and currently serve on committees convened by the Chief Justice or the Judicial Council on rule changes and other procedural matters affecting appellate courts and practitioners.

The Academy now has over 100 dues paying members. An unusually close-knit group, its members regularly exchange practice tips by listserve, and refer clients to one another. Qualifications include (1) good character and professional reputation, (2) outstanding appellate ability, and (3) a continuing commitment to quality appellate practice. The applicant must have a minimum of ten years of practice, having served as lead counsel in no fewer than 25 appeals and having argued at least 15 appeals or writs. Northern and Southern California membership committees rigorously review the applicants' briefs in three appeals (together with their opponents' briefs and the decision or decisions), and obtain recommendations from former opponents as well as co-counsel and judges. The committees' recommendations are presented to the full membership at one of the Academy's three annual meetings.

Margaret M. Grignon of Grignon Law Firm in Long Beach is the current President. First Vice-President is Susan Brandt-Hawley of Brandt-Hawley Law Group in Glen Ellen, Second Vice- President is John A. Taylor, Jr. of Horvitz & Levy in Burbank, and Secretary-Treasurer is Kirk C. Jenkins of Sedgwick LLP in Chicago.

Academy members are active in the State Bar Appellate Courts Committee and in the American Academy of Appellate Lawyers, but the CAAL remains the premier Appellate Lawyers Eating and Drinking Association. For working beyond the courthouse on issues of concern to appellate practitioners and meeting interesting and committed colleagues and judicial officers in congenial settings, it cannot be beat.

Wendy Lascher is an appellate lawyer in Ventura. She was president of the California Academy of Appellate Lawyers in 1986-1987, and now serves on its amicus curiae committee. Charity Kenyon of Sacramento (Academy President 2008-09) contributed to this article.

January / February 2006


"Reprinted with the permission of Sacramento Lawyer."