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Civil Appeal versus Civil Writ: What is the Difference?

Do you know the difference between a civil appeal and a civil writ? Don’t worry! Most people do not know the answer. However, you likely are more familiar with appeals, so this blog will focus on civil writs while pointing out differences from the appeals process. But, if you have lost at trial in a lower court, it is essential to discuss these two options with your appellate attorney.

What is a Civil Writ?

A “writ” is an order from a higher court that orders the lower court to do something. A civil writ provides the procedure for the appellate court’s review of the trial court’s rulings which are not immediately appealable. In other words, a writ petition is a proceeding that allows a higher court to consider trial court rulings in your case prior to final judgment, if the trial court ruling is not specifically made appealable by statute.

In contrast, most appeals are taken from the final judgment in the trial court. Some interlocutory rulings are appealable if specified by statute. For example, in family law cases, the appellate court may give a party permission to file an appeal from a trial court ruling. Other examples of appealable interlocutory rulings include orders assessing sanctions of more than $5,000 and orders granting injunctive relief.

Review of a Writ is Discretionary

A writ proceeding is commenced by filing a petition for writ in the Court of Appeal. It is entirely within the appellate court’s discretion whether to consider writ petitions. In fact, a trial court’s ruling can be manifestly incorrect, and the appellate court doesn’t need to grant a writ petition. If the writ petition is denied, the litigant seeking review is usually required to wait until the entire case has concluded in the trial court and file an appeal. A civil appeal can be filed as a matter of right, so long as the Notice of Appeal is timely filed.

Nearly all civil writ petitions are denied immediately. If a writ petition is denied, the court usually issues a summary order of one sentence. As a result, the litigant seeking review is not provided a reason for the denial.

Denial of a civil writ petition does not indicate that the court turned it down on the merits. Appellate courts are hesitant to be actively involved in piecemeal review of the lower court’s proceedings. The court do not want to make it simple for a litigant to skip ahead to the appellate level. The Court of Appeal will act only if a party’s legal rights will be irreparably harmed.

Most writ petitions are denied, even if the legal arguments in the case have merit because they did not meet the criteria for subject matter, or the circumstances of the lawsuit were unsuitable, or the appellate court did not consider the matter urgent enough. When an appellate court grants review of a writ petition, the writ petition takes precedence over other pending matters. Therefore, the Court of Appeal must consider the matter of great legal importance not just to the parties themselves, but also to the judicial system and the State of California as a whole.

How to Maximize Your Chances of Obtaining Writ Relief

    Working with experienced appellate attorneys is crucial to succeeding with a writ petition. Evans Kingsbury LLP has presented several writ petitions, and our track record speaks for itself. Below are general criteria provided by the California Supreme Court for deciding when the appellate court should deal with a writ on the merits:
  • • The issue presented by the writ presents a significant constitutional issue or is of widespread interest.
  • • The petitioner was deprived of the opportunity to present a substantial part of the cause of action by the lower court.
  • • The writ involves conflicting trial court interpretations of the law.
  • • The order of the lower court is clearly erroneous as a matter of law, and it substantially prejudiced the petitioner’s case.
  • • The litigant seeking the writ does not have a direct appeal by which to attain relief.
  • • The petitioner will be prejudiced in a way that cannot be corrected on appeal.

What is a Civil Appeal?

Similar to the writ process, a civil appeal is not a second trial. The appellate court does not consider evidence. The entire appeal is primarily conducted on the pleadings and the transcripts of trial testimony and argument. It is the process used to correct a prejudicial, legal error made by the lower court. To learn more about the civil appeals process, be sure to read our next blog titled “The Civil Appeals Process (& how it is different from the trial process).”

Hire an Experienced Appellate Attorney

The key to maximizing your changes on appeal is to hire the right representation. Make sure you hire an experienced appellate attorney. These cases can be extremely complicated. It’s essential to have someone on your side who understands the complexities and what it takes to win an appeal.

Attorneys Noreen Evans and Deirdre Kingsbury understand the complexities of appellate law and how to write and present a persuasive appellate brief. At Evans Kingsbury LLP we are appellate lawyers with decades of experience who can take your case to the next level. Call us today at (707) 596-6090 or fill out our easy contact form to discuss your case.

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