There are several options for a party to consider if he or she disagrees with the outcome of the case. First, there may be some motions that can be filed after the trial is over, or after the court’s order is entered, asking the judge to reconsider the rulings in the case. Reasons that a judge might throw out the decision and order a new trial might include: lack of evidence to support the verdict; misapplication of the law to the facts of the case; or vitally important new evidence that has arisen that could not have been discovered before the trial.
If these motions are unsuccessful in getting the trial judge to reverse the decision, then a party should consider appealing the decision to an appellate court. An appeal is very different from the trial of the case. At the trial level, the main focus is on the facts of the case and the presentation of those facts in open court through witnesses and evidence. On appeal, the facts have already been determined. A record exists of what facts were presented at the trial level and no new facts may be introduced at the appellate level. The focus on appeal is the application of the law to the facts and circumstances of the particular case. Arguments on appeal are made in writing, called “briefs.” Sometimes, a short presentation may be made in court, which is called an “oral argument.” An appeals judge will read the written transcript of the trial and review the written briefs to evaluate whether the trial judge or jury erred in their decision. An appeal is decided in the solitude of the appellate court’s chambers.
The skills required of an attorney in an appeal are very different from those required of an attorney at trial. An appellate attorney must be a persuasive writer, persistent researcher, and logical thinker.
Time is of the essence if you wish to challenge the decision of a trial judge or jury. There is only a limited time period within which to challenge a trial judge or jury’s decisions (usually 30 days).
Michelle May O’Neil, president of O’Neil Attorneys and a Certified Family Law Specialist by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, is nationally recognized as a leader in family law. She focuses on child-custody disputes, complex marital-property litigation, and family-law appeals. May also acts as a mediator for other attorneys in resolving family-law disputes.