Appellate Courts


Dan Walters

By Dan Walters
July 27, 2015

  • Most appellate court decisions are not published
  • They cannot be cited by parties in other cases
  • The result is uneven judicial policy around the state

The Sacramento region’s state appeals court declared three decades ago that when a corporation hires lobbyists to pass a bill, it loses its claim of privacy in a libel action.

I was particularly interested because it upheld a trial court judge’s decision to toss out a libel case filed against me by a chain of for-profit colleges, stemming from a 1983 column about the corporation’s efforts to be exempted from state accreditation standards.

While the appellate decision was gratifying, it was, unfortunately, confined just to my case because it was not “published,” meaning it could not be cited in other libel cases.

The vast majority of California appellate court decisions are not published, but the practice varies widely and there’s an ongoing debate within the legal community over whether there should be more uniformity.

Moreover, when appellate court decisions are published, losing parties often petition the state Supreme Court to depublish them, thereby seeking to limit their effects to just one case.

Last week, the Supreme Court refused to depublish a very important appellate court ruling that local water agencies could not battle drought by arbitrarily raising rates to coerce customers into reducing water use.

The case, involving the city of San Juan Capistrano, was a test of Proposition 218, passed in 1996, which requires governmental fees to be based on the cost of providing services, rather than to raise revenues or serve other purposes.

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