There are three levels to the California state court system, the state Trial Court, the California Court of Appeal, and the California Supreme Court. Hearings in the Trial Court involve one judge. Hearings before the Court of Appeal involve a panel of three justices. Hearings before the Supreme Court involve a panel of seven justices. Every litigant has a right to a hearing before the Court of Appeal. Every litigant does not have a right to a hearing before the California Supreme Court.
An appeal is a process by which the trial court's ruling is reviewed by the appellate court. This occurs when the litigant who is unhappy with the trial court's judgment follows certain procedural requirements to ask the Court of Appeal to reach down to the the Trial Court judgment and determine whether or not it is correct, in whole or in part. This is done according to a Standard of Review.
The appeals process involves the filing of briefs. The person seeking review is called the appellant and is responsible for filing the Opening Brief. The opposing side is called the Respondent and files the Respondent's Brief. The appellant has the opportunity to file the last brief, called a Reply Brief. In addition, the entire record of the proceedings and evidence from the trial court will be delivered to the Court of Appeal.
The Appellate Court will set a date for Oral Argument unless both the Appellant and Respondent waive the right to appear and argue the appeal. Arguments are made to the panel of justices. Attendance by the Parties is not necessary and no testimony is taken during an appellate argument. The argument is a conversation only between the attorneys and the panel of justices.
The matter is "submitted" when Oral Argument is completed. The Appellate Court issues a written opinion within ninety days of Oral Argument. The written opinion usually is not published beyond the parties and counsel in the particular case and is applicable only to that case.
The written opinion may be certified for publication if the Court determines that the case is important, advances the development of the law, or is needed to provide guidance to other courts on similar matters. Publication means that the opinion will be published in the official reporters and the legal casebooks to be relied upon by other lawyers and judges in other cases. This is unusual and indicates that some important aspect of legal interpretation has been addressed either for the first time or in clarification of an evolving area of law.
The Appellant or Respondent may ask the California Supreme Court to review the opinion from the Court of Appeal if either is unhappy with the appellate opinion. A Petition is filed asking the Supreme Court to "grant review" which requires an explanation as to why review should be granted. There is no right to have the Supreme Court "grant review" and the Supreme Court rarely grants the Petition. The opinion from the Court of Appeal will "stand" and become the law of the case for which it was rendered if unpublished. The opinion from the Court of Appeal will "stand" and become the law for the underlying case and other similar matters if the opinion is published.
The appellate process begins anew if the Supreme Court grants the Petition for Review. Each side will file briefs and Oral Argument will be scheduled for counsel after all briefs have been filed. Oral Argument will be scheduled to take place before the seven California Supreme Court justices. The Supreme Court will issue a written opinion that will be binding on the subject case and on all current and future cases involving related, same, or similar questions of law.
This is intended to be a summary description and should not be relied upon as legal advice. More information may be obtained by consulting an attorney providing these services at HFLP.