Moral: On Appeal, Submit a Transcript

Trial transcripts are expensive. I haven’t priced them lately, but back when I was keeping up with such things, you could burn $1,000 easily on a transcript for a multi-day trial. So we can all forgive Matthew Robinson and his lawyer for trying to get by on his appeal without paying for the court reporter and transcript.

But if you read his case, Robinson v. Arnold, Case No. 2160238 (Ala. Civ. App. June 23, 2017), you quickly learn how that might get you into trouble. Arnold filed a petition seeking an order protecting her from abuse by Robinson (commonly called “Protection from Abuse” and abbreviated “PFA”).

Following a hearing at which both parties appeared and apparently presented evidence, the trial court entered the PFA order. Robinson filed a postjudgment motion. Without setting or conducting a hearing, the trial court denied Robinson’s postjudgment motion. Robinson appealed. He noted in his appeal that there was no transcript of the hearing. Instead, he submitted his own affidavit describing what had transpired. The appeals court rejected his affidavit on the grounds that it failed to comply with Ala. R. App. P. 10(d) and 10(f). These two provisions taken together allow a statement similar to the one Robinson submitted but require ample opportunity for the opposing party to offer objections or proposed amendments.

The first holding of the appeals court offered comfort to Robinson. The court stated that, in general, a party seeking a hearing on a postjudgment is entitled to one, so the trial court’s proceeding without a hearing was error. But that did not necessarily mean the judgment from the trial court was due to be reversed.

The appeals court endorsed the dissent from an earlier case, Gibert v. Gibert, 709 So.2d 1257 (Ala. Civ. App. 1998), to hold as follows: “When an appellant fails to provide a transcript or a statement of the evidence, this court presumes that the omitted evidence fully supports the determination of the trial court. In this context, we must presume that the transcript would reveal that the trial court afforded Robinson due process [and otherwise complied with applicable judicial standards] and that the evidence fully sustains its judgment so that Robinson was not harmed by the failure of the trial court to conduct a hearing on his postjudgment motion.”

There’s no way of knowing whether the result here would have been different had Robinson submitted that transcript, or even if he had simply complied with the Alabama Rules of Appellate Procedure and correctly submitted a factual summary. All we can know is that his failure to do either of these things allowed the appeals court to avoid having to decide whether the trial court’s error made any difference.

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