Appellate Decision Making: NM Court of Appeals

Appellate Decision Making: NM Court of Appeals

The goal of this class is to offer a “behind-the-scenes” look into the appellate court, which, in turn, will offer insight into how to practice before the trial and appellate courts. Students will act as judges on the N.M. Court of Appeals and work in panels of three to resolve actual cases before the Court. Students will gain an understanding of how judges approach issues, decide cases, and write opinions. This will include the way in which judges limit issues, decide cases narrowly, try to get to the critical and decisive issue, and struggle with cases that can rationally be decided either way.

In addition, students will complete this course with:

  • An awareness of the importance of careful trial practice (e.g., preservation of error; preservation of argument; identification of critical issues; development of facts, issues, and arguments; offers of proof).
  • An understanding of appellate briefing (e.g., quality product; identification of issues; lack of development of facts, issues, or arguments; identification of the standard of review; raising preservation issues; following rules; avoiding obvious mistakes; good writing skills; brevity; editing by colleagues).
  • An understanding of the importance of collegiality and the processes of panel discussions, collaborative decision-making, and opinion writing.

Course Content: Class time will include training on the concepts underlying appellate review generally and the challenges appellate judges wrestle with daily, as well as the specific processes involved in the administration of the New Mexico Court of Appeals. Guest speakers will be invited to discuss appellate practice, judicial selection/elections, differences between the Court of Appeals and Supreme Court, and other topics.

Each panel of three students will receive three cases (including briefs, excerpts of the record proper, and transcripts of proceedings) to resolve. We will hand out all case materials and assign panels and primary authorship to students on the first day of class. During the semester, each student will draft an opinion to circulate to the other two participants on their panel. Each participant will also draft a “participation memorandum” that makes substantive and technical suggestions with respect to the circulating proposed opinion. At some point, the panel members will discuss whether any participant will be writing separately in a dissent or special concurrence. A portion of class time will be devoted to discussing common challenges encountered at each step of the opinion drafting process and allowing students to receive guidance from and share their experiences and challenges directly with the professors. Students will be graded on their primary opinion and the opinions they join (or, alternatively, their special concurrence or dissent) as well as smaller assignments and class participation.

Location: The class will meet in the library on the third floor of the N.M. Court of Appeals. The building is secured, so it is important that you arrive with enough time to gain access to the third floor.

Min/Max Students: This course requires a minimum of nine (9) and a maximum of twelve (12) students.