Some Highlights from the 2013 Court Statistics Report

Would you like to know how busy Court of Appeal justices are? Maybe you’re curious instead about the odds of getting that writ petition you’re considering heard on the merits. Those curious about court statistics have a friend in the Judicial Council of California, which publishes annual statistical reports and has release its 2013 Court Statustics Report: Statewide Caseload Trends 2002–2003 through 2011–2012 (available as a PDF and in an MP3 audio format). The report covers data through the close of fiscal year 2012. (All references to years are to fiscal years.)

I finally got a chance to look at it over the weekend, and here are a few of the things I found interesting from my first pass through the report:

Number of contested appeals per authorized justice (statewide): 209. That is the lowest number of contested appeals since 2005, but there has not been a lot of variation over the years, with that number peaking at 225 in 2008. Keep in mind that is a statewide number. Your local justices may be much busier or have much less on their plates. The “per justice” calculations are based on 21,894 contested matter, of which well over one third are original (writ) proceedings. It will be interesting to see how that number changes for 2013, with the bottleneck created in the trail courts because so many departments have closed up shop due to budget cuts.

Juvenile and criminal cases continue to make up the vast bulk of all appeals. Of the 13,498 appeal filings in 2012, almost two-thirds of appeals came from criminal cases (more than 40% of all appeals) and juvenile dependency cases (just over 20% of all appeals).

Civil appeal reversal rates continue to hover below 20%. In 2012, 18% of civil appeals obtained a reversal of the trial court judgment. Potential appellants need to keep in mind that the standard of review applicable to a case, and the strength of any particular case, can change those odds significantly. Another 9% of civil appeals that were affirmed with some modification, but some of those modifications might be pretty meaningless to appellants.

Your civil appeal might not take as long as you think. Weary litigants can be reluctant to appeal because, in addition to the abstract 1-in-5 odds of prevailing, they see the appeal as more time spent in court and they just “want the damn thing to be over.” They find living with the judgment preferable to prolonging the case, and sometime will file an appeal only in the hope that it will generate some leverage for settling on terms more favorable than those imposed by the judgment. There are a few things wrong with that mindset, which deserve their own post, but when thinking of the appeal as “additional litigation,” you (the appellant)  should keep in mind that 90% of appeals statewide result in a written opinion within 15 months of the date the notice of appeal is filed. The Third District (in Sacramento) seems to be the slowpoke, resolving 90% of their appeals in around 18 months, while congratulations seem to be in order for the First District (if you value prompt resolution), which was the only multi-division district to have every one of its divisions beat the statewide average, and Division 5 of which had the lowest time to opinion in the state: about twelve and one-half months (382 days).

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