The Appeals Court, established in 1972, is a court of general appellate jurisdiction. Most appeals from the several departments of the Trial Court are entered initially in the Appeals Court; some are then transferred directly to the Supreme Judicial Court, but the Appeals Court decides a majority.
The Appeals Court receives cases from all of the Trial Court departments and from three State agencies - the Appellate Tax Board, the Department of Industrial Accidents and the Commonwealth Employment Relations Board. The Appeals Court considers all types of civil cases and all types of criminal cases except first degree murder appeals, which go directly to the Supreme Judicial Court.
Following a decision by the Appeals Court, some cases are appealed to the Supreme Judicial Court. The Supreme Judicial Court agrees to hear a small number of such cases. The vast majority of appeals are decided only by one of the two courts.
The Appeals Court has a Chief Justice and twenty-four associate justices. Like most intermediate appellate courts, the Appeals Court almost always sits in panels of three justices. The composition of the panels changes regularly, so that each justice has the opportunity to sit with every other justice. Following oral argument, the three justices on a panel will write a decision, known as an opinion, for the court. In the small number of instances in which the justices disagree, there may be more than one opinion; then, two justices would constitute the majority, and the other justice, the minority.
The Court holds sessions in Boston during every month from September through June, and considers approximately 1500 cases each year. Several times each year, the Court conducts sittings outside of Boston.
The Appeals Court additionally runs a continuous single justice session, with a separate docket. The Single Justice may review interlocutory orders and orders of injunctive relief issued by certain Trial Court Departments, as well as requests for review of summary process appeals bonds, certain attorneys' fee awards, motions for stays of civil proceedings or criminal sentences pending appeal, and motions to review impoundment orders. Each associate justice sits as a single justice for a month at a time.
A Brief History
The Appeals Court, the Commonwealth's intermediate appellate court, was created to alleviate the burden of ever-increasing appeals on the Supreme Judicial Court.
The Massachusetts Judicial Council, created by the legislature in 1924, initially proposed creating an intermediate appeals court in 1927, but the proposal was not acted upon. The Judicial Council's second proposal, made in 1967, was received more favorably. The Council reported that the interests of justice would be better served if the court of last resort (the Supreme Judicial Court) were given the time to decide cases of major importance, and that more time should be allotted to the Supreme Judicial Court to consider improvements to procedures, rules and judicial administration. The Supreme Judicial Court's appellate caseload had greatly expanded through the late 1950s and 1960s. Expansion was fueled in part by a huge increase in criminal appeals; in 1958, the Supreme Judicial Court had adopted a rule mandating the appointment of counsel for indigent defendants in all felony cases in the Superior Court.4 Within several years, defendants' rights were further expanded by such landmark United States Supreme Court decisions as Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U.S. 335 (1963), and Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966)
Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Joseph Tauro, with considerable support and assistance from SJC Clerk John E. Powers, leaders of the Legislative and Executive Branches, and the state's bar associations, succeeded in getting an intermediate appellate court established in 1972. Chief Justice Tauro hailed its creation as "the most significant development in the organization of our judicial system since the establishment of the Superior Court in 1859." The legislature enacted the enabling statute in August 1972; the first chief justice, Allan Hale, and the first five associate justices were appointed by Governor Francis Sargent in October; the court held its first sessions in November and issued its first decisions in December.
Appellate caseloads continued to increase after the Appeals Court's creation. In 1973 the two appellate courts disposed of about 600 cases; by the end of the 1990s, that total had mushroomed to 2600 cases. To keep pace, the Appeals Court has expanded three times: from six to ten judges in 1978; from ten to fourteen in 1990; and from fourteen to its current complement of twenty-five in 2001. A staff of about 90 other persons is employed by the Appeals Court; they work as staff attorneys, law clerks, judicial secretaries, court officers, and in the Appeals Court Clerk's Office.
Chief Justice Phillip Rapoza
Appointed Chief Justice in 2006 by Governor Mitt Romney.
Associate Justice 1998 - 2006
The Honorable Phillip Rapoza is the Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Appeals Court. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree in history, magna cum laude, from Yale College and a Doctor of Law degree from Cornell Law School. He has also received several honorary law degrees. Prior to serving on the bench, he was an assistant district attorney in Suffolk and Bristol counties and later he was a partner in law firms in Fall River and New Bedford. He was appointed to the bench in 1992 and served as a trial judge on the Fall River District Court and the Massachusetts Superior Court. In 1998, he was appointed to the Massachusetts Appeals Court and in 2006 he was named Chief Justice of the court. He is a member of the US Council of Chief Judges of State Courts of Appeal and is a Life Fellow of the Massachusetts Bar Foundation. In recognition of his judicial service and his contributions to the legal profession, in 2011 Chief Justice Rapoza received the prestigious President's Award from the Massachusetts Bar Association. To learn more about Chief Justice Rapoza, click here .