Appellate Practice

Posner criticizes 'verbosity' in appeals briefs in decision upholding closed voir dire

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Judge Richard Posner. Image courtesy of the University of Chicago.

It didn’t take much more than seven pages for Judge Richard Posner of the Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to explain why he was upholding the convictions of two Wisconsin defendants.

The Jan. 5 opinion spilled over into the eighth page because of a final paragraph in which Posner scolded the appellate lawyers for “verbosity” in their briefs.

The appeals court ruled that the Sixth Amendment right to a public trial was not violated when a Wisconsin judge excluded spectators from jury selection without objection from defense lawyers.

The defense lawyers “forfeited their clients’ right to an audience by failing to object to the judge’s ruling excluding the audience in whole or part,” Posner wrote. “So the Wisconsin Supreme Court determined, and we are obliged to defer to that determination” because it wasn’t contrary to clearly established law.

Posner then contrasted the length of his opinion with the length of the briefs.

“We do wish to comment briefly on the length of the parties’ briefs,” Posner wrote. “They total 250 pages, of which 31 pages consist of the district judge’s opinion (one opinion for the two cases). The other 219 pages are the parties’ arguments. There is no justification for such verbosity. These two consolidated cases are simple and straightforward. Our opinion is only seven pages long; and while such compression is not to be expected of the parties, they should have needed, and used, no more than 100 pages at the most to present their claims fully.”

The court ruled in the case of Nancy Pinno, convicted of helping her son dispose of the body of his murdered girlfriend, and in the case of Travis Seaton, convicted of reckless homicide for punching a person who fell and later died.

Hat tip to @ZoeTillman.

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