Date: October 31, 2003

CONTACT:

Laura Kiernan
Court Information Officer
(603) 271-2646 ext. 359

NEWS ADVISORY

SUPREME COURT ANNOUNCES EXPANSION OF APPELLATE REVIEW

WILL BEGIN JANUARY 1, 2004

CONCORD---The New Hampshire Supreme Court announced today that it will implement an expanded appellate review process on January 1, 2004, and begin accepting all direct appeals from the state’s trial courts for the first time since 1979.

The justices had announced plans to expand appellate review last January and had planned to begin new procedures in September. Implementation was postponed, however, while the court assessed the impact of the FY 2004-05 Judicial Branch budget.

"After taking a careful look at our existing staff levels, and the significant improvements we have already made in our case processing system, we believe we can move forward successfully," Chief Justice David A. Brock said, speaking for the full court. Staff reassignments and technical changes in court rules will facilitate the new process without additional staff. After six months, the court will review the impact of the expanded appellate system on the staff workload at the Supreme Court.

Under the current system, the justices screen all requests for appellate review and, based on specific criteria, accept about 40 percent of all appeals. Under the new system, the court will accept virtually all cases from the district, probate and superior courts, and review them following full briefing and submission of a transcript of the lower court proceedings.

Although the actual number of appeals filed may increase, the number of oral arguments and formal opinions may remain close to the same because, after full review by the court, cases can be disposed of by brief written orders.

The court’s expanded review pertains only to direct appeals brought under Supreme Court Rule 7, which covers lower court decisions on the merits of a case. Other appeals not covered by Rule 7, such as appeals from rulings by state agencies, will not be affected by the change in procedure. A decision to decline these appeals must be unanimous.

New Hampshire’s current system of discretionary appellate review has been the subject of discussion and study since it was implemented 24 years ago. The most extensive examination was offered in a report prepared by a New Hampshire Bar Association committee following a 1999 conference on New Hampshire’s appellate system.

The legislature in 2001 created an "Appellate System Reform Commission" to continue study of issues related to the state’s appellate caseload. That Commission concluded in its final report that citizens who come to the justice system "should have a right to secure at least one level of appellate review."

Under the new procedures, once the Supreme Court is notified of an appeal, the court will order the parties to procure a transcript of the lower court proceedings, if necessary. Once the transcript is received, parties on each side may file written briefs setting forth the legal arguments on appeal. The Supreme Court will then decide whether the case should be scheduled for oral argument or decided on the briefs alone. The final decision of the court will be issued either in a brief order, an order with some explanation, or a full written opinion.

The Supreme Court disposed of 939 cases in 2002, reducing the court’s pending caseload to 388 cases, the lowest level since 1989, according to court statistics. There were 813 new cases filed in 2002, compared to 766 in 2001.

In 2002, the court accepted 316 cases for full appellate review or 39 percent of the new cases filed. The justices issued 176 full written opinions in 2002 and another 98 orders with brief explanations of the court’s holding were issued following oral argument before a three-judge panel. The balance of the 939 cases was decided by various court orders.