A Conversation on Appellate Practice

I have the distinct honor of participating in a CLE on Monday, December 11, at 4p, with two excellent jurists: Justice Catherine Connors of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, and Justice William Meade of the Massachusetts Appeals Court. The CLE is being moderated by Dan Winslow of the New England Legal Foundation. Feel free to join us for this conversation – it should be an enlightening, and hopefully enjoyable, way to complete some CLE before the end of the year. More information and a link to register can be found at this link. I hope to see you there!

The Appellate Judges Education Institute

Any good appellate lawyer, and any good appellate judge, is always learning.  One great avenue for professional growth is the Council of Appellate Lawyers, which is the ABA’s unique appellate bench-bar organization.  CAL’s mission is to foster a dialogue among federal and state appellate lawyers and judges.  (Full disclosure: I am privileged to be the Maine representative for CAL.)  CAL is spreading the news regarding what promises to be a fantastic appellate seminar – the annual Appellate Judges Education Institute, which is hosted by the Appellate Judges Conference, an arm of the ABA’s Judicial Division.  The AJEI seminar will be held November 11-14, 2021, at the Hyatt Regency in Austin, Texas.  This Appellate Summit offers four days of advanced-level appellate educational programming, and it is well attended: the most recent Summit sold out and the ABA had to cut off registrations early.  Early-bird registration for the 2021 Summit is now open.  It is a worthwhile investment for appellate practitioners.

Same Blog, New Author

As loyal readers of this blog already know, Cathy Connors – the former author of this blog and my former colleague here at Pierce Atwood – has moved on to bigger and better things: an appointment to Maine’s Supreme Judicial Court. My hat is off to her for this well-deserved achievement.  Her formidable intellect will be a credit to the bench (and her sharp questions doubtless a scourge to any lawyer who is less than fully prepared!). All of us here at Pierce Atwood will of course miss her inimitable talents and presence.

So what does this mean for you, who have benefitted over the years from this blog? Happily, you should expect Maine Appeals to continue, with posts addressing issues of appellate law and practice in Maine and the First Circuit. But there will be a new voice (and likely more than one, as Cathy leaves big shoes to fill).

So allow me to introduce your new blogger: I’m Josh Dunlap, a partner

The Beat Goes On

So, as some of my loyal readers may have heard, I am off to other adventures. After 11+ years of beavering away on this blog, commenting on “interesting” decisions emanating from the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, it looks like I will now be participating in issuing those “interesting” opinions. Let’s hope those black robes are slimming!

It’s been fun working on this blog these many years – at least for me. Some of you might have grown a little weary about my fascination with Rule 80Bs and 80Cs, and I did sometimes have a tendency to blather on as to certain issues that might have aided insomniacs to get a good night’s sleep. But I have been pleasantly surprised by how many appellate jockeys there seem to be in Vacationland – and elsewhere – reading the blog, and apparently equally fascinated with pondering the many different levels of deference, preservation issues, and other matters scintillating to me/us, but perhaps not the

Ringing out 2019

As our last entry this year before heading off for the holidays, let’s take a look at a recent First Circuit decision in a Maine criminal case with a rare holding that the trial court abused its discretion in an evidentiary ruling, and the error wasn’t harmless. US v. Kilmartin, No. 18-1513 (Dec. 6, 2019). Judge Selya wrote the decision, with Judges Barron and Boudin on the panel. Jamesa Drake represented the defendant on appeal.

As described in the opinion, the defendant’s crimes would land him in the lowest circles of Hell in Dante’s Inferno. He falsely posed as a goldsmith to obtain cyanide, created a Gmail account, and searched out vulnerable people, agreeing to sell them the poison, but really sending them Epsom salts. When one victim tried to kill himself with the substance and failed, the defendant sent him a parcel with the real thing, and he died of suicide. The causes of action were

Judge Grady – Ave Atque Vale

The judge I clerked for, John Grady (ND Ill) died this week. I’ve mentioned him in this blog before (From Ulane to Hively, Woman on a wall). He was a great guy, in many ways.

 In 2015, when he retired from the bench, his former clerks put together a book of letters we wrote to say thanks to him. Here’s what I said: 

It is almost 30 years from when I finished clerking for you – why is it I feel like retiring soon, and you are just doing this now? You must be made of sterner stuff.

I don’t keep my law school or undergraduate diplomas on my office wall, but I have hung with pride the certificate for rendering service as your law clerk.

Thank you for getting me on the right foot at the beginning of my career. You

How much is that college degree worth? Maybe not so much.

Perusing recent opinions, we came upon a bankruptcy case in the First Circuit of some interest, In re: Palladino 17-1334.

Steven and Lori Palladino sent their child, Nicole, to Sacred Heart University, a private Roman Catholic university in Connecticut, whose values, according to its web site, include pursuit of truth, promotion of the common good, and recognition of the dignity and worth of every being. The school “embraces a vision for social justice and educates students in mind, body and spirit to prepare them personally and professionally to make a difference in the global community.” (Sacred Heart University Mission Statement)

Unfortunately, Steven and Lori were also running a multimillion dollar Ponzi scheme at the time. They were convicted of fraud  and the SEC obtained a $9.7 million civil judgment against them. They filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, and the trustee sought to claw back $64,000+ in tuition they paid to Sacred Heart for Nicole’s education over a


We’re back!

Oral argument

On to a presentation on oral argument from our friend Mark Fleming at WilmerHale – how can practitioners optimize their performances so judges will want arguments?

First, the moot. One point Mark made was the usefulness of having someone there to take notes, since if you are being mooted, you may not be in a position to remember specific takeaways. Another good suggestion was to stop the moot when you’re giving a really bad answer, and to work out the good answer then and there, because otherwise the bad answer might get wired into your brain. The Q&A that followed included a discussion as to how we make mooting less expensive. In keeping with a recent blog entry, the availability of law school programs was supported. Even if a moot is not in the cards, you can probably convince a lawyer buddy to just read the briefs and jot down questions for you.



I have just returned from a meeting of the American Academy of Appellate Lawyers in my old stomping grounds, Chicago. It was particularly engaging in terms of subject matter (as well as giving me the opportunity to eat a REAL pizza again). Here’s part one of my take-aways.

Storied justice

The first session was about appellate brief writing as storytelling, with the speakers two lawyers who write bestselling fiction in their spare time – Ronald Balson (in private practice, writing historical fiction) and David Ellis (a justice in the intermediate state court of appeals, who writes thrillers with James Patterson). Apparently, they don’t sleep. (Justice Ellis says he gets up and writes from 3:30 am until 7:30 am. Yikes.)

I’ve always thought that the rules for fiction and legal writing overlapped greatly (insert here joke about judges often thinking briefs are fiction). Obviously, there are differences – first and foremost, we must stick to the facts

Talk fast?

Yes, it’s been a while – the combination of summer doldrums on the decision-issuing front and busy-ness and vacation frolicking on the part of yours truly. But the appellate courts are all back in session now with the kick off on the first Monday in October by the Supreme Court. So let’s get back to it.

The Supremes have a new rule this year (which, because they are the big poohbahs, they can, of course, ignore if they want). The Justices are now supposed to give parties uninterrupted time in oral argument before descending upon them like a chatty pack of wolves (chatty except for Justice Thomas, of course) . Although the allotted time for a Supreme Court argument is twice as long as a Law Court argument, the Supreme Court only protects an opening of two minutes, compared to the Law Court’s three minute rule. (Well, there are two more judges on the U.S. Supreme Court, and maybe we talk slower than