Supreme Court speeds handling of cases

first_img Bar 49.3% All Cases 72.2% Death Penalty* 754 Supreme Court: Timeliness of Case Processing By Type of Case, 1990-1999 Discretion- ary 130 Other Mandatory 84.2% Other Mandatory 8 Discretion- ary 88 Supreme Court speeds handling of cases Senior Editor By most measures, the Florida Supreme Court is handling more cases and working more efficiently than it was a decade ago, according to statistics from the State Courts Administrator’s Office.In a report prepared for a legislative commission examining the court’s workload, the administrator’s office found that the court handled significantly more cases in 1999 than it did in 1990, but the typical time it took the court to act declined slightly. Many, if not most, of the additional cases were taken at the court’s discretion.The report, released November 7, was done for the Supreme Court Workload Study Commission. The commission was created by the legislature earlier this year to examine the high court’s workload after a bill to add two justices to the court appeared unlikely to pass.The commission is required to report to the legislature early next year.According to the report, filings from all sources rose from 1,918 in 1990 to 2,745 in 1999, and averaged 2,211 for the period.But during that same period, filings for cases where the court has mandatory jurisdiction went from 209 in 1990 to 117 in 1999, and averaged 152 for the decade. About half of those involved direct or collateral death penalty appeals, which have been estimated to take up a third or more of the court’s time.Cases where the court granted discretionary review, such as statutory construction, direct conflict cases, cases certified as of great public importance and the like, rose from 909 in 1990 to 1,215 in 1999, with a 10-year average of 1,007.Another substantial rise came in petitions where the court has original jurisdiction, mostly habeas corpus, mandamus and prohibition writs. Those went from 361 in 1990 to 860 in 1999, with an average of 531 for the period. Other types of original jurisdiction cases — primarily Florida Bar grievance filings, but also including cases from the Florida Board of Bar Examiners and the Judicial Qualifications Commission — also rose for the period with Bar complaints going up about 30 percent.Case dispositions for the decade went from 1,847 in 1990 to 2,407 in 1999, and averaged 2,169 for the period.While the number of cases were going up, the court appeared to handle most of them quickly. In 1990, the median time for disposing of a case was 113 days. That declined to 70 days by 1999 (the median time means half of all cases took less time and half took longer). During the same period, the number of cases disposed within 180 days of filing went from 66 percent in 1990 to 75.8 percent in 1999.And the number of cases disposed of within a year of filing went from 86.9 percent to 88.5 percent, and averaged 85.8 percent for the decade.But not all cases were quickly handled. The study found that the longest type to dispose of were death penalty appeals which took a median time of 720 days — or nearly two years — from filing to disposition. Only 14.5 percent of the death penalty cases were disposed within 180 days, and only 19.4 percent were handled within 365 days. Those figures covered the period from 1990 to 1999.A more detailed analysis of the death appeals showed the typical direct appeal took 996 days, or about two years and nine months, to handle from filing to disposition. The typical collateral appeal took 552 days.The average direct appeal required 671 days from filing until the record and all briefs were filed, then 64 days until oral argument, followed by 271 days until the court issued a decision. On collateral appeals, it takes 488 days from filing until the record is complete and briefs filed, followed by 57 days until oral argument and then 181 days to issue the opinion.The report noted the court has taken several steps to address the time necessary to process capital appeals, including setting up an automated case management and tracking system, getting quarterly reports from circuit courts to trace all their pending postconviction cases, setting standards for judges who hear capital cases, having a special committee continue to examine ways to improve the system and requiring chief judges in every circuit to develop and submit a plan by January 1 to improve procedures for a timely production of court records.The report concluded that the Supreme Court has realized a substantial increase in filings, particularly since 1996, but has also kept up with the higher workload. Most statistics showing that some cases were delayed had to do with large numbers of filings dealing with similar issues, and the court has taken steps to identify lead cases and resolve those quickly.“By other statistical measures, the court has been able to keep up with the pace of litigation,” the report said. “Both median and average number of days from filing to disposition for the aggregate caseload have declined over the past 10 years. The median and average age of pending cases has remained relatively constant over the years.”The court has been able to keep pace because of the creation of the central research staff and the addition of a third clerk for each justice, the report said. It added that a case management system helping the court was “substantially upgraded” last year.“The court’s request for additional personnel for the central staff and clerk’s office, included in the 2001 budget request, should, if funded, permit the court to maintain effective control of its workload,” the report said.Appendices in the report examined the court’s internal operating procedures, disposition of cases and also compared appeals in Florida with other states, including the 10 largest states.One statistic showed that including all appeals to intermediate and supreme courts, Florida had more appeals per capita than any of the other 10 largest states, with 162 appeals per 100,000 people. Pennsylvania was second with 144, then Ohio with 129. California had the largest absolute number of intermediate and final appeals, with 33,707, followed by Florida with 24,138, Texas was third with 23,302, and New York had 18,698.In terms of filings per justice, Florida was well down the list, based on 1998 figures. California had 1,237 per justice, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, which handles all criminal but no civil appeals, had 1,099 and New York had 688. Florida ranked eighth with 357.The report also looked at opinions written per justice, where Florida ranked fourth with 49 in 1998. The Texas criminal court led the way with 72, followed by Georgia with 56 and Ohio with 54.The report also has a history of the court, with some interesting facts. For example, when Florida became a state in 1845, its first Supreme Court was the state’s four — count `em, four — circuit judges sitting as a group reviewing each other’s decisions. An 1851 amendment to the constitution created a three-justice Supreme Court. The number was increased to six in 1902, reduced to five in 1911, returned to six in 1923 and increased to seven in 1940.Justices were originally chosen by the legislature, although that was later changed to a vote of the people. Since 1976, it has been by merit selection and retention. The Supreme Court was the only appellate court in Florida until 1957, when, in response to workload concerns, the district courts of appeal were created.The Supreme Court Library, created in 1845, is the oldest, continually operated state-supported library in Florida. Its catalog system is available to the public via the Internet, and the library is open to the public from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. Court personnel can use it at anytime.The Supreme Court Workload Study Commission was scheduled to meet November 17, as this News went to press. It was expected to take additional testimony on the court’s workload, including perhaps hearing from the Washington State Supreme Court, which has nine members. The commission will also meet early in December.The workload report is available on the court’s website at www.flcourts.org. Click on the Press Page option on the left-hand side menu, and then select Supreme Court Press Information. Other Originals 93% Other Originals 73 Percentage of Cases Disposed within 365 Days of Filing, 1990-1999 Percentage of Cases Disposed within 180 Days of Filing, 1990-1999 Other Originals 133 Other Mandatory 75 Death Penalty* 720 Petitions 87.1% Bar 230 Bar 183 * Includes all mandatory death penalty cases. Does not include original writ petitions. Death Penalty* 14.5% December 1, 2000 Gary Blankenship Senior Editor Regular News Other Originals 74.4% Discretion- ary 77.6% Petitions 101 Median Number of Days from Filing to Disposition All Cases 87.8% Average Number of Days from Filing to Disposition All Cases 85 Petitions 95.7% All Cases 162 Discretion- ary 91.1% Petitions 52 Bar 80.7% Supreme Court speeds handling of cases Other Mandatory 93.1% Death Penalty* 19.4% last_img