Howard Bashman (of How Appealing) has a new article in The Legal Intelligencer:

Recently, however, in cases where I am representing the party that won in the trial court, I have observed experienced appellate opposing counsel who will designate the contents of the appendix or reproduced record on appeal in a far more "adversarial" manner than I would have done had I been in their position. What I mean is that the designation they are serving will include only the parts of the record that benefit their client’s position, while excluding (at least until I counterdesignate them in response) those parts of the record that favor my client’s position and the trial court’s ruling.

Because other experienced appellate advocates are now frequently engaging in a more "adversarial" method of appendix designation than I am, I cannot help but wonder whether this "adversarial" method ever succeeds. In other words, if counsel for appellee is inexperienced or inattentive, presumably the "adversarial" method of appendix designation could ultimately result in an appellate appendix that was bereft of the evidence and other material on which the party that won in the trial court would wish to rely in arguing for affirmance of the trial court’s ruling.

Howard has a good argument against the practice and why it’s unlikely to succeed. Assuming the court doesn’t recognize what’s happening and punish the offending party for it, let’s consider the question from the perspective of game theory.

The more information available to a court about a case, the more informed and thus more sound the court’s analysis will be. Conversely, the less a court knows about a case, the less informed and thus less sound its opinion will be.

I agree with Howard: limiting the appellate record makes it harder for the appellate court to closely and carefully review the case, which increases the risk to both parties of the appellate court unintentionally rendering an ill-informed opinion unjustified by the actual facts.

If a party believes they have a strong case and that they will prevail on appeal, that additional risk is a bad thing. Hence their desire for as complete a record as possible.

But if a party believes they have a weak case that’s likely to lose at appeal, however, then they have an incentive to make the record incomplete, and thereby increase the likelihood of the appellate court issuing an erroneous or ill-informed opinion.

Though the losers at the trial level probably have this incentive more often than the winners, the winners can have it as well — if the party that won at trial thinks their victory is unlikely to survive appeal, then they, too, have an incentive to make the record incoherent and incomplete, thereby frustrating review. Indeed, the winning party might have more of an incentive to mess up the record, if they believe, as many lawyers do, that appellate courts generally defer to trial courts, even where the standard of review is de novo.

Perhaps not the most upstanding of tactics, but not necessarily a foolish one.