|Date: January 24, 2002||
Court Information Officer
CONCORD The New Hampshire Supreme Court heard over 300 oral arguments in 2001 and issued an unprecedented 376 written decisions, according to recently compiled case processing statistics. The court disposed of a record 1,014 cases during the calendar year, reducing the courts pending caseload to 514, its lowest level in 10 years.
The caseload statistics reflect a concerted effort to reduce the backlog and improve the courts efficiency while maintaining a commitment to rigorous and thorough decision-making. Speaking on behalf of all the justices, Chief Justice David A. Brock thanked the entire court staff for the extraordinary contribution they made to this achievement during the past 12 months.
The justices issued 223 written decisions for publication in New Hampshire Reports, the official compilation of opinions rendered by the court each term. They issued another 153 unpublished written decisions that explain the courts holding but do not have the precedential value of published opinions because they generally involve application of settled law to the facts of a particular case. The balance of the 1,014 cases was disposed of through various court orders.
"Citizens whose cases come before the Supreme Court can be confident that the justices and the staff will continue to devote enormous energy to the fair and efficient administration of justice." Brock said. "We have moved forward with determination in 2001 and we intend to remain on that path," he added.
The justices have decided all cases that were heard through October 2001, issuing either written decisions or court orders. In the past, litigants have waited a year or more for a decision after their case was heard at oral argument. Performance standards adopted by the court in July call for decisions to be made within 180 days of oral argument. The courts 2002 schedule has been set to continue meeting that goal.
Under the current appellate system, each of the five justices screens individually all appeals filed with the court. They then meet in conference to decide which cases will be accepted for further briefing and argument. A case must be accepted unless the justices decide unanimously it does not warrant further review.
In 2001, the justices accepted 359 cases for full appellate review, a 31 percent increase over the previous year. They declined 348 appeals as not warranting further review and summarily affirmed 60 trial court decisions. There were a total of 766 new cases filed in 2001 compared to 834 in 2000, a decrease of eight percent.
In December 2000, the court initiated a three-judge expedited case procedure, referred to as the "3JX docket" which was designed to help reduce the time period between oral argument and decision. The justices read all the briefs filed in 3JX cases and meet in conference to discuss a decision, as they do in all accepted cases. Decisions of the three-justice panel must be unanimous and a written decision is issued in each case, usually within two to three weeks of argument. In 2001, ninety-seven cases were decided by three justice panels following argument on the 3JX docket.
The Supreme Court this month also launched a new computerized case management system. Court Clerk Eileen Fox said the new system would improve the efficiency of record keeping and enhance the courts ability to track the progress of cases as they move through the system.
The case management system is also the first, preliminary step toward electronic case filings which in the future, would improve public access to Supreme Court records, Fox said.