In last month’s blog post, I introduced you to the scathing opinion in In re S.C.. 138 Cal. App.4th 396 (2006). As a reminder, in that case. the county filed a dependency petition on behalf of a minor with Down’s Syndrome, based on the minor’s allegations that she had been sexually molested by her stepfather and her mother’s failure to protect her from continuing abuse. The trial court judge declared the minor dependent and found it would be detrimental to return her to her mother’s custody. The mother appealed.
The first sentence of the opinion was “[t]his is an appeal run amok,” and things just went downhill from there for the appellant’s lawyer. In addition to the summary of errors noted in last month’s blog post, here are some more choice words from the court:
Here, appellant’s counsel devotes only six and one-half pages of her 202–page brief to what she calls a “COMBINED STATEMENT OF FACTS AND HISTORY OF THE CASE.” The statement is a chronological description of events that occurred in the juvenile court. Nowhere in it is there a summary of the significant facts contained in the record. The only reference to the substance of a witness’s testimony is the following argumentative assertion by counsel about an expert called as a witness by the minor’s attorney: “[T]he sole purpose minor’s counsel could reasonably have in endeavoring to introduce this testimony in these proceedings, was to allow Dr. Miller to pontificate about CSAAS [the Child Sexual Abuse Accommodation Syndrome], and to tell the Judge what to find true.”
In the contention portions of the brief, appellant’s counsel does recite some of the facts. However, they are only those facts that are favorable to her client, thus violating another established rule of appellate practice. An appellant must fairly set forth all the significant facts, not just those beneficial to the appellant. (citation omitted).
Without any assistance from appellant’s counsel, we summarize the significant facts in the light most favorable to the judgment
* * *
Under heading 1 of her opening brief, appellant’s counsel claims the Sacramento County Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) improperly detained the minor for more than 48 hours before filing a juvenile dependency petition. (Citation omitted.) She even alleges that “[t]humbing their noses” at the law, and with “clear intent to obfuscate,” DHHS workers engaged in “a blatant attempt to conceal this violation” by misrepresenting to the juvenile court when the minor was detained.
Responding to this attack on its integrity, DHHS asserts that appellant’s counsel misrepresents the facts and that, in any event, the claim of error was never raised in the juvenile court.
In her argument on appeal, appellant’s counsel—who was her client’s counsel at trial—makes no mention of ever tendering the objection in the juvenile court. Moreover, she does not even raise the issue of prejudice to her client. Consequently, we need not consider the matter any further.
* * *
In complaining about a delay that was for appellant’s benefit and which she caused, appellant’s counsel is trifling with the courts.
* * *
The juvenile court’s judgment is presumed to be correct, and it is appellant’s burden to affirmatively show error. (Citation omitted) To demonstrate error, appellant must present meaningful legal analysis supported by citations to authority and citations to facts in the record that support the claim of error. (citations omitted When a point is asserted without argument and authority for the proposition, “it is deemed to be without foundation and requires no discussion by the reviewing court.” (Citations omitted) Hence, conclusory claims of error will fail.
In addition, appellant’s brief “must” “[s]tate each point under a separate heading or subheading summarizing the point….” (Citations omitted) This is not a mere technical requirement; it is “designed to lighten the labors of the appellate tribunals by requiring the litigants to present their cause systematically and so arranged that those upon whom the duty devolves of ascertaining the rule of law to apply may be advised, as they read, of the exact question under consideration, instead of being compelled to extricate it from the mass.” (Citations omitted)
The contention under heading 2 of appellant’s brief, entitled “THE COURT ERRED IN FAILING TO DISMISS THE PETITIONS, THEREBY VIOLATING MOTHER’S CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS,” runs afoul of the above rules (1) by raising what appear to be five separate complaints that, because of the manner in which they are presented, are painful to read and difficult to understand, and (2) by failing to provide meaningful legal analysis and record citations for complaints raised under this heading.
* * *
Symptomatic of most of her appellate arguments, this contention is heavy on words but light on analysis. Indeed, after over six pages of prefatory text, her “analysis” is but one short paragraph…
* * *
This is no legal analysis at all. It is simply a conclusion, unsupported by any explanation of why the petition’s allegations were not sufficient. Hence, appellant has forfeited the claim of error
* * *
We are mystified as to how appellant’s counsel believes the record citations support the claim of error. The cited pages of the appellate record deal with a variety of matters, some of which seem to have no bearing on the claim of error. For example, pages 78 through 83 of the clerk’s transcript contain the forensic medical report of the minor’s external genitalia.
Since appellant’s counsel has not bothered to explain why these record citations are helpful to her client, we have no obligation to try to figure it out.
I could go on like this for many more paragraphs, but I think you get the idea.
And now, what you’ve all been waiting for: the consequences suffered by the offending attorney: the court ordered that, upon issuance of the remittitur, the Clerk/Administrator of the court was to send a copy of the opinion to the State Bar of California. Ouch!