The Supreme Court of North Carolina released eight opinions last week, five of which were issued per curiam. However, one of the written decisions applied one of the “extraordinary writs” that are relatively infrequent in appellate practice.
In Dickson v. Rucho, several individual voters and lobbying groups sought to challenge the constitutionality of North Carolina’s most recent redistricting plan. As part of that suit, the plaintiffs sought documents from the defendants, who were (largely) members of the General Assembly. The defendants objected to the requests on the basis of attorney-client privilege, legislative privilege, and the work-product doctrine.
The matter came before a three-judge panel, which already made the procedural posture a bit unique as the appeal from the panel went directly to the Supreme Court. The panel found that the attorney-client privilege had been waived by statute. The defendants sought a stay of discovery until the appellate process concluded, but the panel only issued a temporary stay. Thus, the defendants asked the Supreme Court for a stay and filed a petition for writ of supersedeas. The Supreme Court granted the stay and the petition and expedited the hearing of the appeal. Ultimately, the Court concluded that members of the General Assembly had not waived the attorney-client privilege.
The interesting facet of the case from an appellate perspective is the use of the writ of supersedeas. Article V of the North Carolina Rules of Appellate Procedure allows for three “extraordinary” writs: certiorari, mandamus, and supersedeas. Far from being arcane Latin terms, these writs can be useful tools in the belts of skillful appellate practitioners. The writ of certiorari allows appellate review when it would otherwise be unavailable. The writ of mandamus allows an appellate court to direct a lower judge or official to take a certain action. And, as in Dickson, the writ of supersedeas allows for a stay when it would otherwise be unavailable. Those involved in the appellate process should remember the availability of these tools.