Some Thoughts About the Appeals Court
by Mark V. Green
Voice of the Judiciary
A few months past my first anniversary as Chief Justice of the Appeals Court, I am pleased to have been invited to offer a few reflections about the Court, and my initial experience as Chief.
I am fortunate to have taken on my new duties at a time of great transition at the Court. A number of long term senior managers and other employees have recently retired. In addition, half of the Justices on the Court have been appointed within the last 3 1/2 years. With those changes in personnel, along with the adoption of new technology, have come both the need and the opportunity to reexamine many of our operations, and in many ways to reimagine the Court itself. More directly and immediately, the changes have provided me with the opportunity to assemble a terrific senior management team with the hiring of our new Court Administrator Gina DeRossi and the promotion of Mary Bowe to the position of Chief Staff Attorney, who join our Clerk Joe Stanton, our Law Clerk Manager Maggi Farrell and my incomparable assistant Monique Duarte.
We are very pleased with the success of our movement to a digital platform. By rule, all nonimpounded and non pro se briefs and other materials are now filed electronically, and we take in no paper at all in those cases (which comprise well over 90% of our filings). The Justices have for several years – even before e-filing began – worked with case materials largely without resort to hard copy, preparing for, and participating at, oral argument with iPads. Justices circulate draft opinions to the other members of the panel – and in the case of published opinions, to the entire court – for review by email, and the entire editorial process thereafter is fully electronic. Besides saving trees, the digital platform offers more convenient access to the information, and saves time as the content is transferred from the Clerk’s Office to the Justices, and then among panel members and support staff as opinions are processed toward release; by contrast, when I arrived as part of the Court’s expansion in 2001 all opinions were circulated in hard copy by interoffice mail, and all comments returned in the same matter, often taking days or week for communication of comments that now are often completed in an afternoon.
The increase in convenience and efficiency has translated to an acceleration of our speed. We are reaching cases for argument, and deciding them after argument, as quickly as ever in the Court’s history. Most cases are argued between four and four and a half months after they are briefed and ready; by way of comparison, when I joined the Court, it took fourteen months to reach criminal cases after they were briefed and ready, and twenty-two months to reach civil cases. And over the past twelve months, the median time for release of a decision after argument was fifty-four days. On a somewhat related note, I am also pleased to report that we are hearing argument in an increasing share of our cases – more than 75% now, compared to around 60% just eight or nine years ago, and around 50% in the more distant past. Breaking with tradition, we held panel hearing sessions in July 2018, to positive response, and hope to repeat that pilot program this coming summer.
We are also able to make more information easily available to our stakeholders. Except for impounded cases, our hearing lists and docket sheets are available on our website, as are briefs in cases scheduled for argument. Since January, audio recordings of oral arguments are also now made available on the website within a few days. We recently compiled a manual of our internal operating procedures, and expect to make it available on our website in the near future.
We are expanding our outreach in other ways as well. We regularly conduct panel hearings away from the John Adams Courthouse, at various law schools and other venues in all corners of the Commonwealth. Thanks to the sponsorship of the Flaschner Judicial Institute, and jointly with the Supreme Judicial Court, we held a terrific bench-bar conference in December, and we are currently assessing what we learned from our bar colleagues, and how best to respond to their suggestions. And we are working to improve the frequency and content of our communication with the bar and the public, through the Listserv maintained by Clerk Stanton and the quarterly Review produced by Court Administrator DeRossi.
I previously mentioned the significant number of newly appointed Justices on the Court. They have brought energy, intellect and fresh perspective to an already strong Court. I consider among my most important responsibilities as Chief the duty to instill in our new arrivals a sense of the culture and traditions of the Court. And in that regard, it is a particular priority to preserve and enhance the Court’s culture of collegiality, mutual respect and effective communication, while pursuing the highest level of excellence in our decisional work that we can attain. So far, at least, and with the assistance of my other more seasoned colleagues (and, of course, the talent and dedication of the new recruits), it seems to be working. I am also indebted to many of those who welcomed me when I arrived on the Court, and in particular former Chief Justice Armstrong and Justices Brown, Dreben and Kass, who each came back last spring for a series of “Lunches with the Legends.”
In a little more than three years, on October 6, 2022, the Appeals Court will mark its 50th anniversary. Compared to the Supreme Judicial Court (which celebrated its 325th last year), the Superior Court (which celebrated its 150th a few years before that), or even the Land Court (which is coming up on its 125th in a few years), we are still young. And, as I have mentioned, we are in an exciting time of transition and opportunity. I consider it a unique privilege to be entrusted with stewardship of the Court at this exciting time.
The Honorable Mark V. Green was appointed Chief Justice of the Appeals Court by Governor Charles D. Baker on December 6, 2017, having served on the Court as an Associate Justice since his appointment by Governor Jane M. Swift on November 1, 2001. He holds a bachelor of arts degree in philosophy from Cornell University, with distinction in all subjects, and is a 1982 cum laude graduate of Harvard Law School.