Quatela Chimeri, PLLC

What to do when the judge makes a mistake

It's finally done. The trial is over and you feel sure the judge heard your case, listened to all relevant testimony and examined every exhibit. You are sure he will get the details right, and are eager to get the final decree so that you can finally move on with your life.

But then you get a call from your attorney and all is not right. Your lawyer tells you that the judge made a mistake and there is only one way to remedy the situation: Go back to court. Just when you thought it was over, you are looking at a trip to the Appellate Court.

What now?

We're all human. Many of us can miss details due to stress, overwork, or simple error. And judges are no exception. Sometimes they, like us, do not hear everything that is presented before them.

And sometimes the judge just gets it wrong--making a decision that seems so contradictory, so out of bounds, that the only way to salvage the problem is to appeal to a higher court that can review the trial transcript, consider the evidence and return the case to the trial court to correct the error.

How easy is that?

Generally speaking, courts give trial judges wide discretion in making decisions. After all, the judge is able to see and hear things appellate courts cannot: Body language and vocal tone. These two things can greatly affect the credibility of a witness and appeals courts are loathe to modify a decision of the trial court without cause.

But there are certain situations that a court of appeals must examine: Was child support calculated incorrectly based on the financial evidence presented? If there is a clear mathematical error, the appeals court will generally remand the case.

Was there a lack of finding? Although judges are given wide discretion in making decisions, they must explain their reasons for coming to the conclusions they reach. It is not simply enough to state Party X gets Y property. These explanations are called "Findings of Fact" and without complete and logical findings, the appellate court often remands cases back to the trial court.

These are just some of the reasons a case might be sent back to the lower court. Others include egregious errors (for example, awarding custody to a parent who has shown a history of abuse.)


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