How Appellate Lawyers Can Help Trial Lawyers

By: Wesley W. Horton

Our firm recently won a reversal of an almost $12,000,000 judgment in a sexual abuse case. The case is Doe v. Boy Scouts of America Corp., 323 Conn. 303, and it provides an illustration of how appellate lawyers can help cases while they are still in the trial court.

We were retained to assist the defendant’s trial lawyer in preparing the Boy Scout case for trial and to sit second chair at trial. Our primary role was to make sure that any potential appellate issues were properly raised and preserved before and during the trial. So we filed an appearance and reviewed and addressed all sorts of issues concerning the pleadings, the evidence and the charge to the jury. This left the trial lawyers free to concentrate on the business of trying the case, preparing the witnesses and handling the day-to-day brush fires of a trial.

As it turned out, the charge to the jury was the key to the reversal. Here is what happened. We prepared the requests to charge. While many of the requests were boilerplate, we knew there had been a recent sexual abuse case decided by the Supreme Court, Doe v. Saint Francis Hospital and Medical Center, 309 Conn. 146, that in our opinion established the defendant’s common-law duty in this case. So we spent a great deal of time crafting the relevant requests in the precise language of that case. The plaintiff’s lawyers objected to our requests and the trial court agreed with them. We then duly took exception and away we went on appeal when the jury found for the plaintiff.

The Supreme Court took the appeal away from the Appellate Court and held that, because the requests to charge properly stated the law from the Saint Francis case, a new trial had to be ordered.

In the course of a trial, there are so many issues to address, so many “what about” questions to answer. Understandably, sometimes it’s hard to focus on the day-to-day needs of the trial and on preserving issues in case of an appeal. Having appellate counsel in from the start of trial alleviates those concerns, while also allowing the trial lawyer to focus on the trial and its many nuances.