Most state appellate courts face an increasing volume of appealed cases. As a result, significant delays in finalizing an appeal may develop. In some cases, it can take more than two years between entry of the final judgment in the trial court and a final decision in the appellate court. This article discusses procedures that are being adopted by state appellate courts to reduce the backlog of cases and speed up the appeal process.
Fast Tracking of Cases
One method to speed up the processing of appellate cases is to adopt an expedited procedure for certain types of cases. Several states, including New Hampshire, New York, and Ohio, have implemented expedited docketing procedures for certain cases. For example, the New Hampshire Supreme Court implemented a three-judge expedited docket for certain cases. A three-justice panel, instead of all five justices, hears certain cases that are scheduled for oral argument. Decisions of the three-justice panel must be unanimous.
Some appellate courts have adopted an expedited briefing schedule, which requires briefs to be filed within a shorter time period. Briefs are legal memoranda submitted by the litigants that include the litigants’ arguments and cite legal principles in support of their positions.
Oral Argument in Lieu of Written Briefs
Appellate courts in Vermont and Rhode Island have attempted to speed up the appeal process by scheduling oral arguments in place of full written briefs.
Submission on Briefs Alone
Some appellate courts, including courts in Oklahoma, Oregon, and Pennsylvania, are limiting the number of oral arguments they will hear. Cases are decided on the basis of the briefs that are submitted by the litigants.
Use of Settlement Conferences before Oral Argument
Some appellate courts, such as the Connecticut Supreme Court and the Nevada Supreme Court, require mandatory settlement conferences prior to oral argument.
Distributing Draft Decisions before Oral Argument
Several courts, such as the intermediate appellate courts in New Mexico, Arizona, and California, have implemented tentative opinion programs. The justices review the briefs and record in the case and distribute a tentative ruling prior to oral argument. Some litigants have decided to waive oral argument after reading the tentative opinion, and the number of oral arguments heard by the courts has declined. In cases in which oral argument has not been waived, the courts have concluded that the attorneys’ presentations were more focused and effective because of the tentative opinion.
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