Written by attorney Vanessa Kirker-Wright

California Family Law Appeals -- Why the Designation of Record and Clerk's Transcript is Important

In California, a civil appeal from a ruling or Judgment at the Superior Court level is initiated by filing a "Notice of Appeal." But there are deadlines and obligations that arise from the filing and service of the Notice. If you neglect the first few procedural hurdles, your appeal can be doomed from the outset. One of the most important aspects of an appeal is the record on appeal.

The Justices at the Court of Appeal do not know anything about your case. The only information they will ever get, aside from the briefs, is the information sent to them from the Superior Court case file. In general, that means that the "Clerk's Transcript" and the "Reporter's Transcript" hold the sum total of the raw data that the Court reviews on appeal. And an appellant has only ten days from the date the Notice of Appeal is filed to "Designate the Record." In some cases the "record" can be several volumes of pleadings, and include several days, if not weeks, of trial transcripts. It is important that ALL of the information necessary to the challenge of an order or judgment is available to the Court for review. Thus, a thorough review of the superior court file is essential -- and it can take up to a week to go through an entire file.

Failure to properly designate the record is fatal to an appeal. In one recent case, a father challenged the trial court's order that reduced his contact with his children to supervised visitation. The Court of Appeal never reached the substance of the controversy because father failed to provide an adequate record. Simply put, the Court could not tell whether there had been an injustice done because father (who was self-represented on appeal) did not provide the Court enough information. It may be that father would have lost his challenge regardless, but it is a shame that he never even received a substantive review.

It is a very simple, albeit time-consuming, matter to make certain that the Court has enough information to permit a thoughtful review of the trial cour'ts ruling. But there is no substitution for a complete record. If you want the California Court of Appeal to provide a substantive review of a trial court ruling, you must be certain to provide a complete record.

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