December 11, 2012
Typically, finding one’s way to the courthouse is not the most challenging part of presenting oral argument before the California Supreme Court. That said, even this mundane aspect of argument does require a lawyer’s full attention (and unforeseeable mishaps do happen).
In an article in Tuesday’s Daily Journal [subscription required], Emily Green reminds us why that is so. She describes how, last week, the Court heard argument in Los Angeles in Bourhis v. Lord, S199887. Well, sort of. Counsel for the plaintiff and appellant never showed up at the argument. Instead, he presented himself at the Court’s headquarters in San Francisco, mistakenly assuming the Court would be sitting there. Green describes how, after being informed of the situation, the justices decided to proceed, allowing counsel for the defendant and respondent to argue unopposed, and then declared the case submitted.
Green notes that, in the past, the Court has found attorneys in contempt for intentionally failing to appear at argument, though it has made allowances for lawyers who accidentally mix up their argument’s location. Hearing this story, it is worth remembering that the Court, while based in the City by the Bay, does indeed travel. The Court regularly hears argument in Los Angeles, with arguments also taking place in Sacramento and elsewhere up and down the state. When in doubt, check the Court’s Oral Argument Calendar, check the online docket (which, in Bourhis, showed the argument location as “in Los Angeles”) and, if necessary, “call the Clerk.” You can also come here and check our monthly summaries of the Court’s upcoming argument calendar.
Green quotes the attorney in Bourhis—a seasoned appellate advocate— as saying he was “mortif[ied] to make such an inexcusable blunder.” To his credit, he did the right thing by promptly submitting a letter to the Court apologizing for his error and offering to answer any questions that were raised at argument and not addressed in the briefs.