Early Proposals to Create Intermediate Appeals 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 (SJC) 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. 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).

Efforts of SJC Chief Justice Joseph Tauro

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 and took office on October 6, 1972. Offices were made available on the fifteenth floor of the Suffolk County Courthouse, in an area that had previously served as the jury pool, and a courtroom on the tenth floor was assigned to the new court.  The Appeals Court held its first sittings in November and issued its first decisions in December of that year.

In 1974 the Massachusetts courts adopted new rules of civil and appellate procedure. That modernization led to a sharp increase in the caseload of the Appeals Court. By 1978 it was clear that additional judicial resources were needed. The Legislature enlarged the size of the court from six justices to ten, and also gave the court authority to recall retired appellate justices for service. The appellate caseload continued to grow during the 1980s, which led to a further expansion of the court in 1990, from ten statutory justices to fourteen.

Court Expansion and Milestones

The abolition of the trial de novo system for criminal cases in the District and Boston Municipal Courts spawned a further increase in appellate caseloads during the 1990s. By 1998 the Appeals Court's gross annual caseload approached 2400 appeals, almost five times as many as had been entered in 1973, the first full year of its existence; civil business had tripled, while criminal business had multiplied almost ninefold. Even after several changes in operating procedures, it had become impossible for the fourteen-judge court to keep pace with its caseload; delays in scheduling cases and issuing decisions grew to unacceptable levels. Again, the Legislature responded. In 2000, it created eleven new judgeships for the Appeals Court which became effective the following year. The third expansion of the Appeals Court brought its complement of judges up to twenty-five. By 2003 the Appeals Court had reduced its backlog substantially. The interval between completion of briefing and oral argument in civil cases, which had been as long as twenty-two months in 2000, was now five to seven months; in criminal cases, what had been an interval of fourteen months was reduced to approximately four months. In 2003 the Appeals Court relocated its offices to temporary quarters at Three Center Plaza and held sessions at the Brooke Courthouse. In January 2005 the court moved into its present location at the newly renovated John Adams Courthouse (formerly known as the Old Suffolk County Courthouse, adjacent to the Court's original home) in Boston's Pemberton Square. Today, the Appeals Court employs a staff of about 90 persons in addition to the twenty-five justices. They work as staff attorneys, law clerks, judicial secretaries, court officers, and in the Appeals Court Clerk's Office.