Date October 19, 2001 Contact: Laura Kiernan
Court Information Officer
271-2646 x359




CONCORD—New Hampshire Supreme Court Justice James E. Duggan told a legislative commission today that the Supreme Court would help develop a system to give litigants the right to an appeal, but he said it couldn’t be done without a significant increase in legal staff, office space, storage and equipment.

"We are willing to construct another system provided adequate resources are provided to do the work. That is the only obstacle we see," Duggan told the Appellate System Reform Commission.

Under the current system the court screens and reviews all appeals that are filed and decides whether they will be heard by the full court, which issues a formal written opinion, or by a panel of three justices, which issues an informal written decision.

In the first nine months of this year, each justice (unless they were disqualified from a case) screened and reviewed 655 cases, which means reading the notice of appeal, which sets out the legal issues in detail without a limit on the pages submitted, replies from the other side in a case and any appendices. Of those cases screened by the justices, 264 cases were accepted for full appellate review.

During that same nine months, the Supreme Court disposed of 703 cases, 146 by formal written opinions and 106 by informal written decisions and orders.

Meanwhile, the pace of new cases coming into the court has remained about the same. This year 573 new appeals were filed between January and September of this year, compared to 619 for the same period in the year 2000. A total of 836 new cases were filed in the year 2000.

As lawmakers have noted, the court’s caseload has expanded steadily over the past 30 years, from about 100 cases annually in the early 1970s to a high of about 900 in 1997. While the number of new filings has expanded over the past 30 years, reflecting the growth in the state’s population, the increased number of judges, marital masters, lawyers, and laws passed by the legislature, the number of Supreme Court justices---five---has remained the same.

Duggan, who spent many years appearing before the Supreme Court as the chief appellate lawyer for the state’s public defender, told the commission he believes the current system "meets the needs of the citizens of New Hampshire." Speaking now as a member of the court, Duggan told the commission that, as he sees it, all cases, civil and criminal, are effectively reviewed in full, by all five justices, during the screening process. That review is then followed by a conference during which the justices say whether they think a case should be accepted, declined or summarily affirmed.

Nevertheless, Duggan said, if the commission believes that the policy should be changed to one in which each case is fully briefed by both sides and the transcript and exhibits from the lower court reviewed, the Supreme Court would focus effort on coming up with a system of full appellate review. But he stressed it would be impossible to carry out without additional resources.