Appellate Insights

Sep 15, 2020 Laurie J. Hepler
Secret Weapons

California appellate courts publish only about 15% of their civil decisions as citable precedent.  Lurking in the other 85% are often valuable clues about how the court may view your case.  How to find them?

  • First, geography.  There may be scores of unpublished decisions on (or near) the points you care about.  Use Westlaw’s “Jurisdiction” selector to drill down to your district of the Court of Appeal.
    • If that yields only a handful of decisions, read all that are signed by at least two of the current justices (ideally three)—from your division, if in the First, Second or Fourth Districts.
    • But if the list is long, narrow it further by searching within results for “Division __” (using your assigned number) and the “Judge” selector with current justices’ names.
  • Remember, some decisions are unpublished because they turn on rare factual or procedural quirks.  But most are garden-variety cases that may shed a different light on your case than the published case law.

►  The practical message:  While you can never cite unpublished decisions, you can use the intel they provide to shape your briefs and oral argument.