Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Maynard v. Brandon (Cal. Supreme Ct. - July 11, 2005)

We all know that the California Supreme Court basically finishes drafting most of its opinions prior to oral argument. One bad thing about that practice, of course, is that it means that oral argument is essentially irrelevant, since the outcome is largely predetermined at that point. Another potentially bad thing about this practice -- as this case amply demonstrates -- is that it means that the Court is unlikely to dismiss a case as moot, even if it is. After all, the Court has already written the opinion. Why should a little thing like the fact that the case is moot and the parties don't care one whit about the outcome deter the Court from publishing it?

The question at issue here was a relatively narrow one: whether CCP 473(b) can be utilized to relieve a party from a failure to file a timely request for trial de novo after a mandatory attorney fee arbitration award. Sure, this happens sometimes, but it's a fairly rare problem. But the California Supreme Court nonetheless thinks that the issue is worth resolving. Fair enough.

However, four weeks before oral argument, the parties settle. They then notify the Court and request that the appeal be dismissed. But the Court denies the motion. Which means that, at oral argument, no one who cares about the outcome is actually participating in the case. Great oral argument, eh? But Justice Moreno (and the rest of the Justices) elect to decide the case anyway, stating (in a brief footnote) that they do so because the case "raises issues of continuing public importance."

Hogwash. This is not a critical or high-profile issue. Virtually no one cares about the result, and even the parties don't care at this point. The Court decides the case because it already wrote the opinion and doesn't want to flush it down the toilet. Let's not pretend otherwise.

Now, maybe that's a good practice, and maybe it's not. But the Court should at least be honest about what it's doing, rather than making a lame effort to claim that this was an important case that just had to be decided even after it became utterly moot. 'Cause it didn't.