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VBA Provides Input On Court Of Appeals Jurisdiction And Organization

Tuesday, August 18, 2020   (0 Comments)
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The Virginia Bar Association has submitted its views on the jurisdiction and organization of the Court of Appeals of Virginia to the Judicial Council.

This is in response to an invitation for input from the bar for the Judicial Council's study, ordered by Senate Joint Resolution 47. The General Assembly in the 2020 regular session passed SJR47 to, among other things,

  1. Make recommendations on implementing an appeal of right in all cases decided by and appealed from the circuit courts to the Court of Appeals, with further review by the Supreme Court available thereafter on a petition (certiorari) basis;
  2. Make recommendations on organizing the Court of Appeals into four geographic circuits, approximately encompassing central Virginia, eastern Virginia, Northern Virginia, and western and southwestern Virginia; including how many additional judges would be necessary to effectuate such a system; and
  3. Make recommendations on a proposed implementation schedule.

The consensus view of the VBA supports the expansion of jurisdiction to provide one appeal of right in all cases as "an important improvement in our justice system." The curators of the responses from VBA sections and members, L. Steven Emmert and Robert E. Scully Jr., found some difference of opinion on certain aspects of the proposal.

"The experience of other states - specifically, of all 49 others states - proves that a one-appeal-of-right system is as workable as it is desirable," VBA President Alison M. McKee wrote. "Some of our members expressed concern over added delays and costs associated with a two-tiered system. But the majority of our respondents found this concern to be minimal, outweighed by the value of having a reasoned decision in every appeal."

In civil litigation, the association strongly backed the right to one of-right appeal. The need for change was less acute in criminal appeals.

McKee's letter noted additional observations from the VBA membership, including that a change would require additional judges and staff and be "an empty change, and potentially counterproductive, if that court is inadequately staffed," and that the VBA generally supports regional courts but is opposed to purely resident judges within regions."We believe that all judges of the court should continue to sit in panels statewide," she wrote.

The letter also noted substantial support for one means of reducing the cost of appeals - dispensing with the mandatory printed appendix in favor of a searchable digital record.

Overall, VBA members "strongly perceive that the proposal will benefit the commonwealth's benches and bar by providing far more procedural and substantive guidance in the form of published, citable opinions," the letter states.

Read the Letter

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