What Happens at a Preargument Conference in a Connecticut Family Law Appeal?

This Week’s Blog by Sarah E. Murray.

What is a Preargument Conference?

In most appeals of civil cases in Connecticut, including family law and divorce cases, a Preargument Conference is required prior to the appeal progressing to the briefing and oral argument stages. The Preargument Conference is a confidential settlement opportunity that takes place with an experienced judge who will meet with counsel for both parties and attempt to help the parties reach a settlement in lieu of continuing with the appeal. Because an appeal can be a long, expensive process that usually follows an already extensive period of litigation, the Preargument Conference is an opportunity to avoid continuing litigation in favor of the finality of a settlement.

The Preargument Conference can also provide an opportunity to narrow the issues presented for appeal if the case cannot be globally settled. In discussing the pending appellate issues with the judge at the Preargument Conference, he or she can provide helpful insight into the likelihood of success on appeal. If it is appropriate for the case to be transferred to the Connecticut Supreme Court, the Preargument Conference judge has the authority to recommend that as well.

When is the Preargument Conference Scheduled?

In most family law cases, the Appellate Court will schedule the case for a Preargument Conference prior to briefs being due; so, if the case settles, the conference avoids the parties having to incur significant legal fees for the research and drafting of the brief. Within a few months of an appeal being filed, counsel for the parties will typically receive a notice or letter notifying them of the assigned time and place for the Preargument Conference.

Where does a Preargument Conference Take Place?

The Preargument Conference usually takes place at a different courthouse from the courthouse where your case was tried. On the day of the Preargument Conference, the assigned judge meets with counsel in chambers. It is rare, though not unheard of, for the judge to meet with the parties.

Do I Have to Attend the Preargument Conference?

The short answer to this question is: Yes. According to Connecticut Practice Book Section 63-10, which governs Preargument Conferences: “Unless other arrangements have been approved in advance by the conference judge, parties shall be present at the conference site and available for consultation.” The primary reason that parties must be present for Preargument Conferences is so that they can actively participate in any settlement negotiations and authorize their counsel to enter into a settlement of the case. If a case settles during a Preargument Conference, the Preargument Conference judge has the authority to enter an agreement into the record that day, and the parties must be present in Court in such an event.

Who Attends the Preargument Conference?

Parties and their appellate counsel must attend the Preargument Conference as a rule (see above). At Broder & Orland LLC, we find it is useful for trial counsel, if different from appellate counsel, to attend as well, as he or she can sometimes provide helpful input regarding the case and potential avenues for settlement. If there are any other professionals or advisors, financial or otherwise, who can aid in settling the case, it may be helpful for them to attend or be available by telephone to discuss any settlement offers.

What Should I Do to Prepare for a Preargument Conference?

It is helpful to meet or speak with your trial and appellate counsel prior to a Preargument Conference to discuss any settlement offer that you authorize to be made at or before the conference, as well as the strengths and weaknesses of both sides’ cases. If you are the appellant (i.e., the person taking the appeal), you should decide before the Preargument Conference what, if any, settlement you would consider in order to withdraw your appeal. As with any settlement negotiation, you should determine your “best case” scenario as well as your bottom line.

If you are the appellee (i.e., the person defending against the appeal), you may question why, as the person who is not appealing the final judgment in your case, you should consider settling. There are many reasons why an appellee could or should consider settling the case, such as: 1) having the finality of a settled judgment; 2) avoiding the time, expense, and uncertainty of further litigation; and 3) avoiding a reversal of the judgment in your case if that is a real possibility. The appellee should consider in advance of a Preargument Conference any concessions he or she would be willing to make in order for the appeal to be withdrawn.

What Happens to the Appeal if the Case is Settled at the Preargument Conference?

Any global settlement at the Preargument Conference should include a statement that the appeal will be withdrawn with prejudice upon acceptance of the settlement agreement by the trial court.

What Happens after the Preargument Conference if the Case Does Not Settle?

Even if you do not settle the case at the Preargument Conference, your case can still be settled at any time before the appeal is decided by the Appellate Court. If the case is not settled that the Preargument Conference, the appellant must begin preparation of his or her brief, as the deadline for submission usually falls within approximately 45 days of the Preargument Conference. The Preargument Conference judge does have the authority to extend the time for the filing of the appellant’s brief in the event that the appellate counsel needs more time or in the event that the parties request additional time to attempt to settle the case.

Broder and Orland LLC provides appellate representation in addition to litigating family and divorce cases at the trial court level. If you are contemplating an appeal, contact Sarah E. Murray, Esq., Chair of the firm’s Center for Family Law Appeals.