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February 2013

Plain English jury instructions for Louisiana: Your chance to comment

Both trial and appellate lawyers should be interested in this item. The Louisiana Supreme Court Committee to Study Plain Civil Jury Instructions has drafted proposed opening instructions for all cases, proposed interim instructions on selected issues, and proposed closing instructions for most cases. The proposed instructions will available on the Supreme Court’s web site until March 15, 2013. Between now and then, the committee is accepting comments. You may send your comments to Tereze Matta by e-mail (, by fax (504-310-2587), or by snail-mail (Louisiana Supreme Court, 400 Royal Street, Suite 1190, New Orleans, LA 70130).

Why is this project so important? Because several studies have shown that about half the time, jurors don’t understand the instructions. The committee’s work shows its awareness of this problem and a worthwhile effort to overcome it, through instructions written in plain English. Please do your part: take the time to read the proposed instruction and send your comments to Tereze.

The most significant decision on Louisiana appellate procedure

Recently for a marketing piece, I was asked to answer the question, “What is an important case relevant to your practice area and why?” The answer I came up with is Gonzales v. Xerox Corp., 320 So. 2d 163 (La. 1975). At the risk of over-simplifying, Gonzales holds that, when an appellate court reverses a trial court’s judgment because of a legal error affecting the verdict, the appellate court ordinarily should not remand the case to the trial court for a new trial, but instead should determine the facts for itself and render the appropriate judgment. In these instances, the appellate court becomes the trier of fact.

Gonzales highlights the uniqueness of Louisiana civil appellate procedure. This uniqueness stems from La. Const. art. V § 10(B), which vests the courts of appeal with jurisdiction over both law and facts in civil cases, and from La. Code Civ. P. art. 2164, which empowers appellate courts not merely to review the trial court’s judgment, but to render judgment themselves. Gonzales is an application of these principles. And because a trial court’s legal error may lead to the appellate court’s having to decide the facts for itself, Gonzales highlights the importance of selling your side’s version of the facts to the appellate court.

That is why I think that, in the area of Louisiana civil appellate practice, Gonzales is one of the most important decisions on the books. Do you agree? What do you think is the most important case in this area? Comments are open.