You know the old phrase from algebra, “show your work,” well that is the message to the trial courts. Regretably, trial courts often rule on disputed issues with nothing more than a summary decision and without articulating their reasoning. Obviously, some of this is due the sheer volume of work that trial courts perform, but some of it is also due to habit and being lazy.
The trouble with such summary rulings is that it makes an appeal very difficult. This was noticed some time ago by the Supreme Court in Hawkins v. Allstate Ins. Co., 152 Ariz. 490, 495 n.3, 733 P.2d 1073, 1078 n.3 (1987), where the Court stated (albeit in a footnote) that “[w]e urge trial judges to articulate their reasoning so appellate courts can determine on appeal whether the ruling was erroneous.” Since then, the practice has not changed much.
Recently, Division Two raised the issue again — and this time brought it up from “footnote status” and into the text of the opinion. In the case, Airfreight Express, Ltd. v. Evergreen Air Center, Division Two decision cites Hawkins and reiterates that “[t]he trial court granted the motion . . . but did not explain the reason for its ruling, a practice we discourage.” Then, to make sure it gets heard, the Court of Appeals went on to overturn the trial court’s rulings.
In any event, the message is an important one because appeals are only as good as the record — “garbage in, garbage out” — so making trial courts spell out their reasoning makes for sound and efficient justice as well as smoother appeals.
[UPDATE: Ironically, a few days later, Division One handed down a decision Girouard v. Skyline in which the court stated that, “[f]or the benefit of reviewing courts, trial courts should explain a [evidentiary] decision on the record.” So that is twice in the same week — they mean it!]