Like all good initiatives, the proposal to form the San Diego Appellate Inn of Court originated over food and drink. On May 19, 2014, members and leaders of the San Diego County Bar’s Appellate Practice Section (APS) attended a regularly scheduled meeting with representatives of the Fourth District Court of Appeal, Division One, to discuss issues impacting civil appellate practice in San Diego. APS was represented by Immediate Past Chair Rupa Singh, Chair George Schaefer, Vice Chair Victoria Fuller, and longtime member David Niddrie. The Court attendees were Presiding Justice Judith M. McConnell and then Managing Attorney Kimberly Stewart. The scene was a roundtable in the Panda Inn’s private dining room, with all Court personnel paying for themselves, as always.
Over green tea and noodles, the group began discussing the need to continue to elevate the quality of appellate practice in San Diego while also integrating new appellate attorneys, introducing appellate lawyers in all practice areas to each other, and cultivating appellate bench-bar relations. Longtime member David Niddrie offered that, in 2004 or 2005, he and other appellate lawyers had launched the Gerald Brown Appellate Inn of Court to achieve these very goals, but that the Inn disbanded shortly after launch for various reasons. APS members wondered if it was time to try again, and Rupa Singh offered to explore further. Subject to certain concerns she and her colleagues shared—including the prior Inn’s short life—Justice McConnell agreed to support exploring the project further.
In July 2014, APS volunteers formed an Appellate Inn Subcommittee (Subcommittee). Chaired by Rupa Singh, the Subcommittee also included four public appellate lawyers from the Attorney General’s Office— Alastair Agcaoili, Amanda Casillas, Adrian Contreras, and Howard Wayne—and solo civil appellate practitioner David Meyer. Justices Judith Haller and Joan Irion agreed to serve as judicial liaisons to the Subcommittee from the Fourth District Court of Appeal, Division One, and Judges M. Margaret McKeown and John Owens also agreed to serve as judicial liaisons from the Ninth Circuit.
Over the next year and a half, the Subcommittee conducted the following significant research, due diligence, and outreach: (1) soliciting feedback from the local legal community, including federal appellate judges, retired appellate justices, and federal and state court appellate attorneys in all areas of practice;
(2) seeking input from the local law schools and relevant public entities, such as the Superior Court’s Appellate Division, the County Counsel’s Office, the Attorney General’s Office, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and Divisions Two and Three of the Fourth District Court of Appeal; (3) talking to representatives from the local trial Inns of Court (the Wallace, Welsh, Enright, Lopardo and Todd Inns); (4) researching the structural, procedural, financial, programming, operational, and membership requirements of the American Inns of Court national organization; (5) getting practical advice on foundational issues from the four Appellate Inns of Court active across the country (three in Florida and one in Washington D.C.); (6) determining the State Bar’s requirements to become an authorized MCLE provider, including for credentialed appellate specialists; and (7) brainstorming logistics such as number and levels of members, amount and collection of dues, meeting place and time, presentation format and frequency, and other details.
On February 24, 2015, the Appellate Inn Subcommittee presented a summary of its key findings and recommendations, as explained in a detailed memo to the four judicial liaisons—Justices Haller and Irion and Judges McKeown and Owens. The Subcommittee conveyed that appellate attorneys were enthusiastic about an Appellate Inn; that all local trial Inns would welcome an Appellate Inn to provide a missing forum for state and federal appellate judges to discuss substantive issues of appellate law and practice with the appellate bar; and that circumstances were ripe for an Appellate Inn in San Diego. The sole obstacle was that the number of programs required by the American Inns to be chartered seemed unsustainable. Ninth Circuit Judge McKeown proposed a simple, elegant solution: Why not have the Appellate Inn co-sponsor a few programs with APS, including one that she and Justice McConnell headlined annually? The powers that be ultimately ratified this suggestion, which was incorporated into an amended proposal. The judicial liaisons approved the amended proposal, suggesting other ways to keep the Appellate Inn affordable, manageable, and sustainable, including in terms of dues, membership, and time commitment.
In April 2015, an Appellate Inn Working Group was formed to execute on the Subcommittee’s proposal and launch the Appellate Inn in 2016. Again chaired by Rupa Singh, the Working Group included the four judicial liaisons; Fourth District, Division One’s staff attorneys; appellate practitioners in all areas of the law in the public and private sectors; and representatives from prominent legal entities and local law schools. Each prior Subcommittee members led the six committees of the Working Group: (1) Bylaws & Charter; (2) Dues & Budget; (3) MCLE Certification; (4) Membership; (4) Meeting Space & Logistics; and (6) Programs. These committees went to work over the next year.
On July 20, 2016, the Working Group met to discuss and approve the proposals of each of the six committees, and formally authorized launching the San Diego Appellate Inn of Court, only the fifth of its kind nationally, and the first one in the Ninth Circuit or anywhere west of the Mississippi. The Working Group later approved a seven-member founding Executive Committee, which met for the first time on August 8, 2016, to elect each member to a position as follows—President Rupa Singh, Counselor and Vice President Julie Garland, Secretary Kimberly Stewart, Treasurer Erica Cortez, Programs Chair Victoria Fuller, Membership Chair Howard Cohen, and Communications Chair Jon Williams.
After another six months of work—during which the founding Executive Committee submitted governance documents for approval to the American Inns of Court; issued invitations to appellate judges and select appellate attorneys to join as Masters; solicited and reviewed membership applications for Barristers and Associates; filed for MCLE accreditation with the State Bar; developed teams, raised funds, and collected dues; and hired an Executive Director—the San Diego Appellate Inn of Court launched its 2016-2017 year with 80 members. Thanks to the collaborative relationship between the federal and state appellate bench, and particularly the leadership of Judge McKeown and Justice McConnell, Justice Haller, and Justice Irion, the Appellate Inn has represented the state and federal appellate bar and bench from the start.
The San Diego Appellate Inn held its first membership meeting on December 9, 2016, co-hosting a Holiday Luncheon with the APS that featured a conversation with Presiding Justices Manuel A. Ramirez and Kathleen E. O’Leary from the California Court of Appeal, Fourth District, Divisions Two and Three, respectively. Since then, the San Diego Appellate Inn has grown to nearly 100 members, and its six teams continue to present dynamic programs on topics ranging from ethical considerations for appellate lawyers to effective storytelling in legal briefs. Naturally, all gatherings continue to occur over food and drink.
The San Diego Appellate Inn of Court is indebted to its judicial liaisons from the Ninth Circuit and the Court of Appeal for the Fourth District, Division One, plus the members of the 2014 Subcommittee; the 2015 Working Group; and the 2016-2018 founding Executive Committee for their efforts in launching the Inn.