The following is an overview of the Texas appellate law as well as the Fifth Circuit appellate law. Every step of an appeals process can involve numerous and complex result texas day
issues or they can be resolved rather simply. The following overview is intended to be simply that, an overview.
In Texas courts a decision by a district judge can be appealed to the Court of Appeals and then to the Texas Supreme Court. If a case is in federal court, a decision by the federal district court can be appealed to the 5th Circuit and then the United States Supreme Court.
All cases begin in a trial court, before they ever reach an appellate court. The trial judge has the ability to dismiss the case on the pleadings early in the litigation as well as dismissing it after a summary judgment motion well into the litigation. The case has the potential of being tried before a judge or a jury and a final judgment could be entered after a full trial. And in some cases, the trial judge will enter a judgment that is different than the jury’s verdict. But at some point, the proceedings in the trial court will come to an end. And at that point, a party unhappy with the outcome, typically the losing side, but sometimes even the winning side, has the opportunity to appeal.
An appeal is placed in motion with the filing of the notice of appeal in the trial court. The party appealing, which is referred to as the appellant, must also designate an appellate record. The appellate record consists of materials from the trial court that the appellant would like to present to the appellate court and use in appeal.
Appellate Panel and Oral Argument
An appellate panel decides appeals. The Texas Court of Appeal and the Fifth Circuit decides cases in three-judge panels. These judges are chosen randomly from the pool of available appellate judges on the courts. In appeals to state supreme courts and the U.S. Supreme Court, the entire court usually hears the appeal. State supreme courts typically have seven justices, and the U.S. Supreme Court has nine justices.
Once the briefing is completed, the appellate court will hear oral argument. The time between the close of briefing and oral argument varies tremendously between different courts. The Texas Courts of Appeal typically will set oral argument a few months after the close of briefing; the Fifth Circuit often takes well over a year to set oral argument. The Fifth Circuit, however, often decides cases without oral argument.
The oral argument in the Texas Court of Appeal is at most 30 minutes and is usually about 5 – 15 minutes. The Fifth Circuit usually sets oral argument at 10 minutes, but sometimes 20 minutes. By the time of oral argument, the judges on most appellate courts will have read the briefs, had at least one of their research attorneys or clerks prepare a bench memorandum discussing the issues, and often discussed it among themselves.
The lawyers at oral argument usually focus on just the most important aspects of their case, and the judges will frequently ask questions. This is not the time to reargue the entire case.
At the close of oral argument the case is submitted to the appellate court for a decision.