“Magistrates” hear most cases in Knox County Juvenile Court. The Juvenile Court Judge, Tim Irwin, appoints these Magistrates. If you do not agree with a decision of the Magistrate, you have two options for an appeal.
First, you can file a Request for Re-Hearing. This is a one-page pleading where you ask Judge Irwin to re-hear the case from the beginning. You must file this Request within five days of the Magistrate making the decision. Usually, the Judge will grant your Request, but he is not required to re-hear if he reviews the file and decides that he is likely to agree with the Magistrate no matter what.
The benefit of filing a Request for Rehearing is that it is generally a quicker and less expensive process to get a new hearing. The negative is that it has been suggested by some attorneys that Judge Irwin tends to “rubber stamp” the decisions of his Magistrates.
Your second option is to file an Appeal to Fourth Circuit Court for Knox County within thirty days of the Magistrate’s decision. You can also appeal Judge Irwin’s decision if you had a hearing directly before him. To file this Appeal is also a simple one-page document, but it’s generally more work, more money, and a longer process. Judge McMillan in Fourth Circuit “gives priority” to appeals from Juvenile Court. Per statute, he is supposed to have the case heard within forty-five days. Don’t count on it. Fourth Circuit’s docket is so backed up that you are lucky to have your case heard in ninety days – and it’s not that the Court is not trying its best to have these cases heard. It’s just another example of the court system being impossibly overworked.
Once you get there, you’ll have all the procedural safeguards and powers of any other family law case, and you get fresh eyes looking at your specific circumstances. It’s called a “trial de novo” and it means “a whole new trial.”
Appeals from Circuit or Chancery Court
If you do not like what the Fourth Circuit or Chancery Court decides in your family law case, you can file an Appeal to the Tennessee Court of Appeals. This type of appeal differs from Juvenile Appeals in that you do not get a whole new trial. Instead, the Court of Appeals examines the record from the trial court. This record contains a transcript of everything that was said at the trial and certified copies of all documents your lawyer filed including all exhibits.
Depending on what you say the problem is, the Court of Appeals will answer the following questions:
- Did the trial court abuse its discretion? This question applies to decisions about the trial court’s process. For example, should that document have been admitted as evidence? Should that witness have been allowed to testify? Trial Courts are allowed a lot of discretion in how they run their courtrooms, and the Court of Appeals usually leaves these decisions alone. Appeals based on an abuse of discretion standard are hard to win.
- Was the trial court’s decision against the weight of the evidence. Here again, the Court of Appeals tends to defer to the trial court’s assessment of the evidence. For instance, the Court has repeatedly held that trial judges are in a better position to say whether a particular witness is lying or not. These appeals are also hard to win.
- Did the trial court apply the law correctly? These are the easiest appeals to win. The Court of Appeals will examine, “de novo,” all applications of the law by the trial judge. The Court of Appeals does not generally defer to the trial judge’s opinion on how the law works.
Appeals are expensive – usually $10,000 to $15,000, by the time you pay to have the transcript typed, the record prepared and to have your lawyer write a brief and prepare for oral argument. If you are thinking about an appeal, you need to trust your lawyer to advise you whether there’s a good chance of winning and to be a very good legal researcher and writer.
Appeals typically take a year and a half to two years to finish. For that reason, you also need legal advice about whether your appeal is the best path forward, or whether your time and money might be better spent on filing a new claim for custody in a year or so. Your appeal can only deal with the circumstances that existed on the day you filed it. Children’s needs and circumstances always change, and by the time your appeal is ready to hear, your children may be in an entirely different circumstance.
Appeals are complicated. That’s what lawyers are for. We’re happy to walk this path with you, so give us a call at (865) 637-6550 for a consultation if you are considering an appeal.