Law Questions (I know...)

Before anyone starts: my appellate brief was filed in September. My current questions are absolutely not, from any angle, requests for advice, since there is nothing left to be advised about.

I’m just looking to understand a couple of things better if I can, having to do with rulings the judge made during the trial.

Question #1:
The plaintiff stated in declarations signed under penalty of perjury, and replied to (hopelessly leading) questions asked by his attorney, to the effect that he had asked the court to bring in a receiver.

During cross, the following exchange occurred:

Now, just for a bit of clarity, the whole reason I was asking was because he was lying. He did not ask the court for a receiver. Nor did his attorney. He asked the court to give him the business, and the court brought in a “referee” instead, who turned out to be a receiver. But he and his attorney kept making the claim that they specifically asked for the receiver and had to and that I should be made to pay the bill.

So here’s what I really don’t understand. The requests the Plaintiff did make, even though they were not for a receiver, were in fact made by the Plaintiff in declarations signed UPOP (Under Penalty of Perjury). He alluded to having done so by the statement he had made right then and there.
All I was asking him to do was own his statement unequivocally.

By what rule was it improper for me to ask him that? He can make declarations UPOP, make them again in sworn testimony, and it’s improper for me to ask him about them?

WTF? #2:

So my second question is: Seriously?

You have had trouble with this for a long time, and the fact that you think your position is unassailably straightforward (as indicated by the WTF? and similar language) indicates that you continue to struggle. You have not provided sufficient material to form the basis of any formal legal opinion. I am not your lawyer, this is not legal advice. Get advice from someone licensed in your jurisdiction.

As to your WTF #1, there are such things as questions of mixed fact and law. For example, in most cases it will be entirely unremarkable to ask a witness if they are married to their spouse. That is because in most cases the question of the existence of the marriage is not controversial and is treated as a question of fact.

However, imagine a case where the accused is charged with bigamy and his defence is that the marriage in question was invalid. In that case, asking the witness if they were married to the accused invites a conclusion of law. In such a case, the witness may not give that conclusion in evidence. Instead, the witness gives evidence of the primary facts that lead to that conclusion (the details of the ceremony, what the other party to the ceremony said about it, what the celebrant said and did, what papers were signed, etc).

You have not given enough information in your OP to allow any conclusion to be drawn about whether the character of your opponent’s application (which you say was not for the appointment of a receiver) was legally uncontroversial or not.

Moreover, it is possible that the judge anticipated some pointless bickering amounting to no more than competing lay opinions about the legal effect of possibly complex documents that was peripheral to the issue to be decided. She stepped in. It does not seem that you set out a clear basis for your question that would disabuse her of that notion.

It is not clear whether the question about whether or not the witness asked for a receiver or asked for the business would invite debate about whether a necessary or common intermediate procedural step in gaining the business was the appointment of a receiver. I am not a Californian lawyer, but I can imagine that it is.

Nor is it apparent that even establishing the witness’s inaccuracy on this issue established a lie, or that establishing a lie on this issue would take your case very far at all. It seems the issue is whether the continued mortgage repayments you made post-January 2006 were made at your peril. Trawling for purported inconsistencies in documents undoubtedly created by lawyers might be thought unlikely to take you very far.

I am not inviting you to set out all the documents involved here. This is one of those instinctive decisions that judges make, but can readily unmake if they are persuaded that there is some substance to the point being advanced. Unfortunately, you said nothing to persuade her to your point of view, or to explain clearly what your purpose was in asking the question.
In WTF #2, you may have confused two issues. There is a difference between passively not giving permission for something to occur, and actively refusing permission for something to occur. The witness said that he did not give express permission for the mortgage to be paid forever. However, he also said that he never told you expressly to stop paying the mortgage; rather he told you in January 2006 that he wanted his equity in the house and the business. The implication is that a prudent person would have moved to protect their position then rather than continue to pay the mortgage. There is no necessary inconsistency here.

You have tried to transform those propositions into an inconsistency, to the effect that he simultaneously said he did and did not actively withdraw permission to pay the mortgage. You were assuming something he had not said (that not giving permission for payment to continue forever meant that at some point he must have actively have told you he refused permission for payment to continue). Hence, the objection for argument. Everything seems to have descended into questions of competing interpretations of what the witness said, not what the witness actually said.

Counsel is, of course, perfectly entitled to raise inconsistencies in testimony with a witness, or assertions that a witness has lied. But it has to be done properly. There are techniques by which this is done. Whether the judge intervened prematurely in each of these cases is no doubt close to the heart of your appeal. Whether you succeed will be revealed in time. But you ought not to proceed on the assumption that the interventions by the judge will be treated as WTF? and Seriously? moments (as you characterise them) by the appellate court.

Last time your saga was on the boards, my memory is that you expected your appeal to be heard in early 2009. Do you have a rough date for oral argument?

Well, I dont’ just “say” it. It wasn’t. It was clear, plain English words lacking ambiguity of any sort and repeated in two different documents. Purportedly written by the Plaintiff himself (and knowing him as I do in this particular instance I know it’s true; his lawyer writes very differently, even when he’s trying to write like the Plaintiff.)

Well, check your doubt meter. It is certainly true that the Plaintiff (and much more so, his attorney) lied about nearly everything, and on a personal level, that is the most galling thing about all of it. But from a legal perspective, is at the bottom of the list of issues with my appeal. In fact, the lies themselves really aren’t that much of an issue at all - much more of an issue is the fact that the attorney’s lies were wholly different than the Plaintiff’s actual testimony and evidence, making the judge’s findings completely erroneous: they have nothing to do with the actual evidence the judge heard and saw from the Plaintiff, forget me altogether.

But even if you take every single thing the Plaintiff and his attorney said as the Gospel straight from God himself, it wouldn’t change the real issues of my appeal in the slightest way, because the #1 Issue of my appeal is pure interpretation of statute, and the Plaintiff’s lies bear not at all. The #2 issue happens to be the one issue that the Plaintiff told the truth about even when his lawyer was desperately trying to make him lie, and the truth leads to an issue of abuse of discretion in applying the law to the facts.

I highly doubt the appellate court will treat them as anything, since I didn’t even point them out, nor anything similar. I wasn’t going to get bogged down obsessing over something like that in the most critical document I’ve ever written in my life…to what end? “She didn’t let me impeach him!” So? I impeached the hell out of him in documents, he impeached the hell out of himself. So? I had and have much bigger fish to fry than that in the real world. It is only in my private world that I allow myself to dwell in the endless "WTF?"s of this nightmare.

Not yet.

I have been hanging out in the court when my particular panel is hearing argument in anticipation, and it’s been very heartening. The presiding justice is a real mensch, tough but fair and best of all: he pays attention.

Incidentally… if I prevail in my appeal on the primary issue, the receiver’s appointment is automatically void, since a proper interpretation of the law would have led to my buying out my ex’s member interest in our LLC. AND… the issue of the receiver’s compensation being dumped on me was one of the few areas in which the judge didn’t roll over for the Plaintiff anyway.

Like I said…just my personal irritation and desire to understand what her legal thinking was in the moment.

Without getting to much into it, it seems to me the content of the question was not improper, but the form was, and it seems you made no attempt to rephrase it in such a way to avoid asking the witness for a legal conclusion, you just gave up/moved on. The judge actually says twice it was the form of the question which is not proper.

Okay. How could I have phrased it differently?

Try asking a lawyer.
Closing thread.