Dallas Criminal Appeal Lawyer Offers Lessons From the Tom Brady Appeal

The decision on the Brady appeal offers important lessons to anyone who is a criminal defendant, explains John Helms Dallas criminal appeal lawyer.

On April 25, 2016, by a 2-1 decision, the United Stated Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reversed the trial judge’s ruling in Tom Brady’s “Deflategate” case and reinstated the four-game suspension imposed by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, reports Dallas criminal appeal lawyer John Helms.  A lot of people probably think that a decision about the penalty to an NFL quarterback for being involved in deflating footballs used in a playoff game would have nothing to do with them.  The appeal offers important lessons, though, for anyone who is a criminal defendant or a party in a civil lawsuit–in short, anyone who might consider filing an appeal of a trial court judgment.

The lesson is this:  An appeal is not an opportunity to get a “second opinion” about what happened in the trial court.  An appeals court generally does not substitute its own judgment for the trial judge’s.  Instead, in simple terms, an appeals court asks whether the trial judge correctly applied the law and acted reasonably, even if the appeals court might disagree with the trial judge’s decision.

In this case, the “trial judge” was NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. The collective bargaining agreement (“CBA”), between the NFL and the NFL Players Association allows disagreements about player discipline to be decided by an arbitrator, which can be the Commissioner. The CBA gives the arbitrator broad discretion to make a final decision on player discipline, with very few limitations.

Commissioner Goodell appointed himself arbitrator, as he was perfectly entitled to do. Commissioner Goodell conducted an arbitration according to the CBA. He received evidence from both sides and decided to suspend Tom Brady for four games. He issued an opinion explaining his reasoning.

Brady asked a federal judge to overturn Goodell’s decision, which the judge did. He wrote that the procedure Goodell followed was unfair to Brady in certain respects. He also suggested that the penalty was too harsh. The court of appeals, however, ruled that the judge had faulted Goodell for things that the CBA did not require of an arbitrator. The court of appeals also said that whether or not they agreed with Goodell’s decision to suspend Brady for four games was not the issue. The issue, very simply, was whether he followed the CBA and acted within a broad range of reasonableness.

The Brady appeal illustrates why arguments on appeal are very different from arguments to a trial judge. On appeal, you cannot simply try to persuade the appeals court that your side of the dispute is the right one. Instead, you must show an appellate court how the trial judge made an error of law or why the result was beyond something about which reasonable people could disagree. The Brady appeal also shows why it can be significantly more difficult to win on appeal than in the trial court, adds Dallas criminal attorney Helms.

“I learned these lessons early in my career. After law school, I worked for a year for the Chief Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit–the court that handles federal appeals from Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi. I remember one particular appeal in which a very famous lawyer had won a jury verdict of over $40 million. I watched as that lawyer made arguments to the appeals court as if he were arguing his case in the trial court to a jury.  He failed to appreciate the difference between trying to persuade a jury and trying to persuade an appeals court, and at the end of the day, the appeals court threw out the $40 million verdict.”

When you are considering an appeal, always look for a criminal defense lawyer who has appellate skills.  Just because someone is a good trial lawyer does not mean they will be a good appellate lawyer; a lesson I learned almost 25 years ago right out of law school.

If you, a family member or someone you know has been charged with a crime or have been convicted and need help with an appeal in the Dallas area, contact Dallas criminal appeal lawyer John Helms at (214) 666-8010 or fill out the online contact form. You can discuss your case, how the law may apply and your best legal options to protect your rights and freedom.