Report of the Appeals Court: FY2007
Created in 1972, the Appeals Court is a court of general appellate jurisdiction. Most appeals from the several divisions of the Trial Court are entered initially in the Appeals Court; some are then transferred to the Supreme Judicial Court, but a large majority will be decided by the Appeals Court. Like most intermediate appellate courts, it usually sits in panels of three. The composition of the panels changes each month.
In addition to its "panel" jurisdiction, the Appeals Court also runs a continuous single justice session, with a separate docket. The single justice may review interlocutory orders and orders for injunctive relief issued by certain departments of the Trial Court, as well as requests for review of summary process appeal bonds, certain attorney's fee awards, motions for stay of civil proceedings or criminal sentences pending appeal, and motions to review impoundment orders. Each associate justice sits as single justice for a month at a time.
There were several judicial retirements during Fiscal 2007. Chief Justice Christopher Armstrong, the last of the original judges appointed to the Court in 1972, reached mandatory retirement age in July 2006. Associate Justice Susan Beck retired in October; Associate Justice Kenneth Laurence retired in April 2007; and Associate Justice Mel Greenberg retired in May. Among them, those four judges had 78 years of experience on the appellate bench.
In October 2006, Governor Romney appointed Associate Justice Phillip Rapoza as the Court's fifth Chief Justice; Justice Rapoza had served on the Court for eight years as an associate justice. Later in 2006 the Governor appointed William Meade and Mitchell Sikora as associate justices. The Court also had the services during Fiscal 2007 of four recall justices: Frederick Brown, Raya Dreben, and Kent Smith all continued their service, and former Chief Justice Christopher Armstrong was recalled after his July 2006 retirement.
During Fiscal 2007 a total of 1,984 appeals were entered in the Appeals Court. That figure represents an increase of 2.5% from Fiscal 2006 (1,936 entries). The increase was mostly on the civil side; civil entries increased from 1,072 in Fiscal 2006 to 1,106 in Fiscal 2007. Criminal appeals rose from 864 in Fiscal 2006 to 878 in Fiscal 2007. The proportion of criminal business thus declined slightly, from 44.6% to 44.3% of the total caseload. A detailed analysis of the sources of the Appeals Court's caseload may be found in the accompanying table.
On the civil side, a substantial majority of the cases (657) came from the Superior Court. The Probate and Family Court supplied 157 civil cases, and the District and Boston Municipal Courts 43 civil matters. The remainder of the civil caseload came from other departments of the Trial Court (62 from the Land Court, 23 from the Housing Court, and 74 from the Juvenile Court), the Appeals Court's single justice session (36 cases), the Industrial Accident Review Board (33), the Appellate Tax Board (15), and the Labor Relations Commission (6).
On the criminal side, 452 cases came from the Superior Court, and 384 from the District and Boston Municipal Courts. The remainder of the court's criminal cases were from the Juvenile Court (25 cases) and the single justice session (17 cases).
Through various mechanisms, substantial numbers of cases are either transferred to the Supreme Judicial Court or are disposed of before decision by the Appeals Court. During Fiscal Year 2007, 80 cases were transferred to the Supreme Judicial Court for direct appellate review (see G. L. c. 211A, section 10). Another 504 appeals were settled, dismissed or withdrawn (voluntarily or by action of the court if the appellant failed to file its brief), leaving a "net" caseload of 1,400 appeals for the fiscal year. The "net" caseload for Fiscal 2006 was 1,386 cases.
The Appeals Court issued 1,351 decisions during Fiscal 2007. Of the total decisions, 278 (20.6%) were by published opinion, and 1,073 (79.4%) were by summary disposition (see Appeals Court Rule 1:28). The Appeals Court decided 726 civil matters and 625 criminal matters. It affirmed the lower court decision in 1,091 cases, or 80.8% of the total (564 civils, 527 criminals). It reversed the lower court in 172 cases, or 12.7% of the total (113 civils, 59 criminals), and it reached some other result (e.g., partial affirmance, substantial modification, dismissal of appeal) in the remaining 88 cases, or 6.5% of the total (49 civils, 39 criminals).
On the single justice docket, during Fiscal 2007 there were 647 cases entered in the Appeals Court, a decrease of 7.2% from Fiscal 2006, when 697 matters were entered.
Appeals Court Initiatives
As in Fiscal 2006, the Appeals Court was able to meet the appellate court guideline for the scheduling of cases, and exceeded the guideline in criminal cases. By the end of the court year in June 2007, all cases which had been briefed by February 1, 2007, had been argued or had been submitted to panels for decision without oral argument. In addition, most criminal cases which had been briefed by March 1, 2007, were argued or submitted to panels.
Department of Social Services Cases
During recent years there has been a dramatic increase in appeals involving care and protection of children, termination of parental rights, and related cases (virtually all are brought by the Department of Social Services). During Fiscal Year 2007 seventy-nine such appeals were filed. As detailed in previous annual reports, DSS cases are expedited during all phases of the appellate process, under the supervision of Associate Justice Charlotte Anne Perretta. Upon the completion of briefing, a DSS case is promptly scheduled for oral argument. The median time interval for a DSS case, measured from entry in the Appeals Court until issuance of the decision, was approximately 185 days for cases entered during Fiscal 2007.
Sessions in Other Locations
The court held most of its sittings in the two courtrooms on the third floor of the John Adams Courthouse in Boston. It also conducted nine sessions at other locations. Sittings were held at five of the Commonwealth's law schools -- Western New England (two sessions), Southern New England, Boston University, Suffolk and New England -- enabling law students to observe appellate proceedings firsthand. After the sessions the justices met with the students, explaining the court's operating procedures and answering questions about the appellate process. In addition, three-judge panels sat at Trial Court facilities in Pittsfield, Worcester and New Bedford.
Appeals Court Facilities
The Appeals Court continues to thrive with the fine resources available in the wonderfully restored John Adams Courthouse. The building provides an efficient and productive environment for the work of the appellate courts and the Social Law Library. It has also become a popular destination as a downtown Boston landmark. A steady stream of visitors from elementary school children to distinguished representatives of foreign governments and judicial systems continues to underscore the importance of this elegant and historic building. Attorneys with business at the court on a given morning may find themselves in the company of students in the Judicial Youth Corps or a delegation of visiting judges from western Siberia. In addition to serving its primary role, the facility now hosts functions for organizations within the court system, legal community, and beyond. It has established a distinct and valuable presence as a public resource in the State. Yet despite these considerable riches the courthouse has not been trouble free and the Appeals Court faces space limitations.
Although security card readers at many of the secure doors have required replacement, and problems with the heating and cooling systems remain a concern in a few areas, the most persistent facilities challenge for the Appeals Court is a limited capacity to accommodate new personnel. The building renovation design was set prior to the court's expansion by eleven judges. From the first day of occupancy allocated space was at near capacity, and when summer interns arrive the court now finds itself at full capacity with every office and workstation occupied.
Finally, continuing gratitude is due the Court Facilities Department for their skilled and prompt attention to the maintenance needs of the building.
The appellate courts are taking steps to replace or upgrade aging network and desk top software and hardware while continuing to explore new ways of using technology to help the courts operate more efficiently.
During the course of the year new computers were provided to Appeals Court law clerks to enable them to better utilize legal research and other court technology resources. A program was begun to replace aging computer monitors with new flat screens providing a sharper picture and smaller footprint on the desk.
In the fall of 2006 the courts' IT committee met to formulate a plan for future development of the courts' technology resources. It was decided to ask the National Center for State Courts to conduct a review of the adequacy and functionality of the current systems and make recommendations for future direction.
In February, 2007, Jim McMillan, Director of the Court Technology Laboratory for the National Center was engaged to provide the review and assessment. A comprehensive report was prepared by the National Center and presented to the appellate courts in May of 2007. The report calls for a new software foundation and unified operating system to support a new case management and document management system. The integrated systems would improve security, simplify support, and prepare for an eventual migration to a fully electronic court record.