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This Is No Orange Appeal

Eventually, the gavel will bang one last time on this Davis/Lang/Boeheim/Fine case

The law prefers finality. Specifically, the finality of a court ruling. But, the law also prefers due process. So in that spirit, the law allows an aggrieved party to, in most cases, file an appeal of a trial court decision. Such is the case in Bobby Davis and Mike Lang against Jim Boeheim and Syracuse University. As none of us can forget, Davis and Lang filed a defamation lawsuit against Boeheim & SU for certain things the coach said in interviews and press conferences in the wake of the revelation of allegations against Bernie Fine.

That suit was originally filed in Manhattan. But a motion to change venue was filed by the defendants -- who won that motion -- and the case was moved to Onondaga County. This allowed a local court with a local judge to hear the case between local litigants. Prior to reaching trial, or even the discovery phase of the case, Onondaga County Supreme Court Justice Brian DeJoseph had an opportunity to rule on the defendants' motion to dismiss the case, arguing that the case should be ended right then and there because the lawsuit does not allege a cause of action upon which relief can be granted. In other words, "you ain't got no case."

On May 11, 2012, DeJoseph granted the motion to dismiss the suit. The Court wisely made reference to a recent appeal decided by the same court that would hear an appeal of this decision. And yet, Davis & Lang decided to appeal.

Today, oral arguments on that appeal were heard by the appeals court. The Appellate Division, Fourth Judicial Department, is based in Rochester, NY and is the mid-level appeals court for cases originating in an area of the state covering Corning and to the west, north to Buffalo, and east to Rochester, Syracuse, the Mohawk Valley, and the North Country.

Oral arguments are not the type of thing you see on TV or in the movies. There's a panel of appeals judges who sit at the bench at the front of the court room, and there is a podium where the attorneys stand to argue -- one at a time -- for 15 minutes each. Depending on the judges, the attorneys may get cut off to answer specific questions of the judges. Prior to oral arguments, the attorneys would file briefs, summarizing the procedural positions of the case in the lower court, and arguing, based on law, why the lower court messed up. So assuming the judges have read these briefs (or had their law clerks give them the condensed versions), the judges generally know what the case is about and what legal questions are at issue.

I quick look around the internet didn't produce copies of the appellate briefs or the recordings from today's oral arguments, so I have no way of knowing for sure what was argued. The Davis/Lang team surely argued that DeJoseph should not have dismissed the case and the matter should be sent back to his court to proceed to trial; The Boeheim/SU team surely argued that DeJoseph decided correct, has a solid legal backing, and this should be the end of it.

While there's no specific indication of when the appeals court may announce its decision, the court's website last listed its next scheduled decision day to be September 27.

Once the appeal is decided, the losing party does have the option to ask for permission to appeal to the Court of Appeals -- the highest court in New York. But it's not an automatic right -- permission must be given by one of the judges hearing this appeal, or from the Court of Appeals itself. Relatively few cases make it to the Court of Appeals, so chances are the ruling of the Fourth Department will likely spell the end of this case unless it is remanded back to Onondaga Supreme Court to go to trial.

But this case will be over, eventually. I promise!

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