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Beware harsh court filing deadlines

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Court filing deadlines often can be harsh and inflexible, including for filing criminal and civil notices of appeal.

It is best to meet court deadlines well ahead of time to avoid cold sweats when the court is closed due to inclement weather on the last day to file an appeal notice, over whether a court will agree to extend a deadline, and over damage to a client when the deadline is not extended.

What should a lawyer do if s/he has only been hired for the trial and not for an appeal, and where the client calls the lawyer one hour before the deadline to file an appeal notice? What about when, in addition, the client has not provided the court’s appeal notice filing fee? 

At minimum, it is a good idea to get the client, shortly after trial, a detailed letter about the client’s appeal rights, and a fully completed notice of appeal (with instructions for filing and completing it) that leaves a signature line for the client, with a confirmation (where appropriate) that providing the appeal notice form does not mean one way or the other whether the lawyer is advising appealing.

Today, the D.C. Circuit confirmed — as do many courts over time — the landmines of missing appeal notice deadlines, even, in this instance, where the case was sealed and thus was without easy case status updates to the parties. In re Sealed Case (Bowles), ___ F.3d ___ (D.C. Cir., Oct. 22, 2010).