4th District Shortens Allowable Extensions for Reply Briefs and Criminal Appeals

The Fourth District Court of Appeal has shortened the allowable time period for agreed extensions of time: Effective May 1, 2018, parties will only be allowed to agree to 90 days for an initial or answer brief, and 15 days for a reply brief. The Court has also shortened the agreed extension period for criminal appeals significantly, once again applying the same standards to criminal and state appeals.

The new order, AO 2018-1 [.pdf], keeps the amount of time of an agreed extension for the initial brief at 90 days (which in 2016 came down from the original 120 days), but shortens the reply brief stipulation time from 30 days to 15. See AO 2016-1 [.pdf]. When the Fourth District first allowed agreed enlargements in 2011, the time periods were much larger: 120 days for initial or answer, and 60 days for reply. In 2016, the Court changed the rules to keep the 120/60 for criminal, but shorten it to 90/30 for civil. The new Order applies to both civil and criminal cases, and once again aligns the timing for both. Now, however, the time for a reply brief is even shorter, and the rule is 90/15 for all.

Be on the lookout, as we will soon be offering our readers a handy download to keep all of the different rules straight!

Can Judges and Lawyers Be Facebook “Friends”? It Depends Where You Are.

An attorney can be friends with a judge IRL (in real life). Now they can be Facebook friends too–at least in the Third District.

The Third District Court of Appeal, recognizing the evolving influence and role of social media in our society, has held that a judge should not be disqualified from a case for merely being Facebook “friends” with counsel for a party.

In Law Offices of Herssein and Herssein, P.A., v. United Services Automobile Association, 3D17-1421 (Fla. 3d DCA Aug. 23, 2017), the petitioners filed a writ of prohibition, seeking to disqualify the trial court judge because a potential witness and a potential defendant was listed on the judge’s personal Facebook page as a “friend.”

This issue has nearly a decade of history in Florida law.  In 2009, a Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee Opinion said that a judge may not add lawyers who may appear before him as “friends” on social networking sites, and vice versa.  In 2012, the Fourth District relied on the JEAC Opinion and granted a writ of prohibition, disqualifying a judge because he was Facebook “friends” with the prosecutor, Domville v. State, 103 So. 3d 184 (Fla. 4th DCA 2012).

Then, in 2014, the Fifth District granted a writ of prohibition because the trial judge “reached out” to a party in a dissolution case while litigation was pending and tried to “friend” her on Facebook.”  Chace v. Loisel, 170 So. 3d 802 (Fla. 5th DCA 2014).  While clearly what the trial court did was wrong, and factually different than the issue in Domville, the Chace court went on to express “serious reservations about the court’s rationale in Domville.”  The Fifth District said that “there is no difference between a Facebook ‘friend’ and any other friendship a judge might have,” and that “Domville’s logic would require disqualification in cases involving an acquaintance of a judge.”  The Fifth District also noted that “A Facebook friendship does not necessarily signify the existence of a close relationship.”

This is the legal landscape in which the Third District decided Herssein.  Preliminarily, the court recognized that merely being “friends” in the conventional sense has been historically insufficient to warrant disqualification of a judge.  It then latched onto the Fifth District’s statement regarding the closeness of Facebook “friends,” applying this rationale for three reasons:

  • “Some people have thousands of Facebook ‘friends,'”
  • “Facebook members often cannot recall every person they have accepted as ‘friends’ or who have accepted them as ‘friends,'” and
  • “many Facebook ‘friends’ are selected based upon Facebook’s data-mining technology rather than personal interactions.”

The Fifth District noted that Domville had been decided many years prior, in a quickly-evolving technological landscape–stated simply, times have changed.  It certified conflict with Domville, and denied the petition, holding that merely being Facebook “friends” with someone no longer demonstrates closeness of a relationship.

So where does that leave us practicing attorneys?

  • In the Third District, whether you are Facebook “friends” with a judge is irrelevant to whether your actual relationship is sufficiently close to warrant disqualification.  See Herssein.
  • In the Fourth District, being Facebook “friends” with a judge is sufficient on its own to warrant a disqualification.  See Domville.
  • The Fifth District’s dicta suggests it would side with the Third District, but it has issued nothing precedential upon which to rely.  See Chace.
  • Neither the First nor Second Districts have spoken on the issue.

Rules Governing Electronic Appendices and Records Amended to Ease Readability

THE NEWS

Effective Sunday, October 1, 2017, the Florida Supreme Court’s amendments to the appellate rules go into effect.  The amendments are largely designed to update the rules to comport with the realities of producing and easily reading electronic appendices and records.

THE TRAP FOR THE UNWARY PRACTITIONER

Rule 9.220 is amended, adding new requirements for an appendix.  Now, an appendix must:

  • contain a coversheet that meets specific requirements for content;
  • contain a certificate of service;
  • generally be filed as a separate, single PDF file;
  • be properly indexed and consecutively paginated, with the cover sheet being page 1 and the page numbers matching the PDF reader display;
  • “be bookmarked, consistently with the index, such that each bookmark states the date, name of the document which it references, and directs to the first page of that document;”
  • have bookmarks “viewable in a separate window.”

Further, no condensed transcripts are permitted in an appendix without leave of court.  The rule also changes the format for paper appendices, when so authorized.

The Fourth District has warned that it will strike any appendix that does not comply with the amended rules when they go into effect on October 1, 2017.

The Fourth District has already issued an email to all 4th DCA eDCA Filers, stating “Effective October 1, 2017, electronic appendices which do not comply with the amended Rule 9.220 will be stricken.”  So be ready and be compliant!

THE SUBSTANTIVE AMENDMENTS SUMMARIZED

9.020 – Adds a definition for “E-Filing System Docket.”

9.120 – Details the format and contents of the documents to be transmitted from the district courts to the supreme court in situations where a party is seeking discretionary review

9.141 – Removes the clerk’s exception that allowed it to avoid having to repaginate or reindex a record from a previously prepared record into a record for a collateral or postconviction criminal case.

9.200 – The record shall now be submitted as a PDF document, uploaded to the e-filing system docket, and available for download to attorneys and parties who have registered for access to the system.  The appellate court may direct the lower clerk to submit a replacement record when an original record is found to be noncompliant with the technical requirements of rule 9.200(d).

9.220 – See above.

Rules 9.160 and  9.180 contain only minor changes in terms to reflect that their respective documents are “transmitted” rather than “sent” or “filed.”

BONUS TIP FOR TRIAL LAWYERS


The fact that the new rules forbid condensed transcripts in an Appendix should send a strong signal to trial lawyers not to file them with trial courts in general. Appellate judges do a lot of reading, and citing to a condensed transcript makes it that much harder for them to find what you are talking about. They just don’t track well or lend themselves to good notetaking on an iPad or other electronic screen. And since it is all being e-filed, there is much less of an issue with killing trees. If you are filing a transcript with the trial court, file the full transcript. The appellate judges will be a lot happier when reviewing your record. And that just makes it easier for everyone to focus on the merits rather than searching for the right record cite.

THE LONG AND SHORT OF IT

Florida State Courts have come a long way since the supreme court started this e-filing journey in 2013.  There have been a few hiccups, especially with the appellate courts, but the appellate rules are really starting to come into their own.

That said, with any new rule amendment comes new opportunities for errors to be made.  If you have a case pending or about to be pending before a Florida appellate court, give DPW Legal a call so we can help you avoid any of the pitfalls.