The Expedited Appeals Process for the District of Columbia Court of Appeals

By Tavares, Bonny L. | Journal of Appellate Practice and Process, Spring 2002 | Go to article overview

The Expedited Appeals Process for the District of Columbia Court of Appeals


Tavares, Bonny L., Journal of Appellate Practice and Process


This Article describes the expedited appeals process for the District of Columbia Court of Appeals. To put the expedited process in context, Part I provides background information on the jurisdiction and structure of the court, and Part II describes the "regular" appeals process. Part III details the steps involved in the expedited appeals process, and Part IV summarizes certain categories of appeals that must be expedited pursuant to a statute. Finally, Part V presents appellate court caseload statistics for the District of Columbia and compares them to other appellate court systems in the nation.

I. THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA COURT OF APPEALS' JURISDICTION AND ITS JUDGES

The District of Columbia Court of Appeals, which was established by Congress in 1970, is the court of last resort for District of Columbia litigants. The jurisdiction of the court of appeals includes reviewing all final orders and judgments and certain interlocutory orders of the trial court, which is the Superior Court of the District of Columbia; reviewing decisions emanating from District of Columbia government administrative agencies, boards and commissions; and answering questions of law certified by the Supreme Court of the United States, a court of appeals of the United States, or the highest appellate court of any state. (1)

The members of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals are a chief judge and eight associate judges. In addition, the court is assisted by several senior judges, i.e., retired judges who have been recommended and approved for service to the court. Three "elbow" clerks work for the chief judge; the associate judges have two law clerks each; and the senior judges share four law clerks.

II. "REGULAR" APPEALS PROCESS

All appeals (2) before the District of Columbia Court of Appeals are appeals "as of right," with the exception of appeals of small claims cases and certain criminal cases where the penalty imposed is a fine of less than fifty dollars for an offense punishable by imprisonment of one year or less, or by a fine of not more than one thousand dollars, or both. (3) An application for allowance of appeal must be filed with the court of appeals for the latter two categories of cases. The application will only be granted when the case presents a novel question or where there was apparent error below. (4) For all other cases (civil or criminal), a notice of appeal must be filed with the clerk of the trial court within thirty days after entry of judgment or order is taken, unless a different time is specified by the provisions of the District of Columbia Code. (5)

The chief judge randomly designates judges to serve on one of three hearing divisions: Regular Calendar Division, Summary Calendar Division, and Motions Division. (6) All docketed cases are screened by the clerk of the court or the chief deputy clerk of the court after the appeal or petition is filed, and again after the filing of the brief of appellee or respondent. (7) When screening has been completed, the case is placed on a regular, summary I or summary II calendar. (8) Any division to which a calendared case has been assigned may direct that a case that has been placed on the summary I or summary II calendar be reassigned to the regular calendar. (9)

A. Regular Calendar

After it has been screened, the case is placed on the regular calendar if it satisfies any of the following criteria: (1) It raises an issue of first impression; (2) it raises a substantial issue as to the constitutionality of a statute; (3) the appeal may alter, modify or significantly clarify a rule of law previously decided; (4) the appeal criticizes or questions an existing rule of law; (5) the appeal seeks reversal of the underlying decision; (6) it seeks to apply an established rule of law to a novel fact situation; or (7) the issues appear to be multiple or complex. (10) In addition, any case that does not meet the criteria for either summary calendar is placed on the regular calendar. …

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