Ever since I wrote my past blog on correcting judicial errors, I have gotten a lot of questions from readers and interested clientele alike about how judicial errors can be addressed and amended. When it comes down to it, there are essentially three types of judicial error:1) Clerical, 2) Legal and 3) Matters of Law.
Clerical errors encompass the indisputable or incontrovertible mistakes that have been made; these can include but are not limited to computation errors or other matters where both parties are in agreement. These errors can be correct by the court on its own initiative or when called to the attention of the court by either party. Usually, they can be corrected with something as simple as a letter but if the adverse party contests that an error exists it may require a motion. Computation errors can be corrected at any time, so there is generally no specific time frame in which an application needs to be made; however, it is best to make the application as soon as the error is discovered to avoid claims of estoppel.
Errors of the law or mixed errors of law and fact pertain to situations where the court either misinterprets legal precedents in the former or misapplied the precedents to the facts in the latter. Legal errors may be corrected through an application to the court within 20 days of the receipt the court’s order if it is a final decision, or if the decision is not final anytime prior to the final decision. If the decision is final, one also has the option to appeal the court’s decision to the Appellate Division rather than take the matter back to the court. The decision to bring a motion for reconsideration rather than an appeal is a tactical decision, best discussed with your lawyer.
Factual errors are the most common types of Judicial Error. They also happen to be the most difficult to correct. If the court made factual findings based on a motion without testimony there are limitations on what findings a court can make when the facts are controverted. Interim fact-finding by the court is limited to facts that are not controverted. To contest a fact one must present alternative facts or proof to the not simply a general denial. To contest a fact one must o present objective alternative facts or assert even if true the facts are insufficient to warrant the relief sought. If the parties present opposing facts, the court is duty-bound to order a hearing, before making a final decision if the facts are material to the outcome. On interim matters such as supporting pending litigation, the court will often make findings based on the record without a hearing recognizing that if new or alternative facts are proven the order may be adjusted.
Final findings of law or fact may be corrected either by an application to the trial judge or by an appeal. The motion to the trial judge as outlined above must be made within 20 days of the judgment. An appeal must be filed within 45 days of the judgment. The Appellant Court is not bound by the trial court’s decision regarding the legal interpretation of a trial court and can overrule the court if an error is found. In this regard, it is said that the appellant court has original jurisdiction.
A trial court’s fact-finding will not be overturned unless there is a clear error. If the law has been misapplied to the facts that is essentially an error of law within the ability of the higher court to correct, without deference to the trial court’s findings.
I hope this primer can be of some assistance. My office has been involved in many of the most important Appellant and Supreme Court decisions in family law. I find appellant practice intellectually challenging and rewarding. If you think your case merits a second look give us a call.