Interesting news from Richmond: House Joint Resolution 111, sponsored by Delegate Sal Iaquinto (R-Virginia Beach–pictured), would direct the Judicial Council of Virginia to study the jurisdictional capacity of the Court of Appeals. HT: Peter Vieth at Virginia Lawyer’s Weekly.

In particular, Joint Resolution 111 would tell the Judicial Council to review the respective capacities of the Supreme Court of Virginia and the Court of Appeals, and consider whether the quality of appellate review would be served by expanding the intermediate court’s capacity.

The Resolution calls for the Judicial Council to complete its meetings for the first year on November 30, 2012, and its meetings for the second year on November 30, 2013. For each year, it would publish an executive summary and report of its findings.

Joint Resolution 111 has been referred to the Committee on Rules.

(I don’t know what that means.)

In fact, I don’t pretend to understand any of  the mechanics or politics behind this at all–but I am certainly in favor of expanding the jurisdiction of the Court of Appeals for several reasons:

  • It would help with the development of the law in a broad array of areas. It’s just not possible for the Supreme Court to hear enough cases each a year to fully flesh out the law. That leads to gaps in the law and uncertainty. As an overall matter of policy, Virginia tends to be business-friendly. But uncertainty is bad for business and expensive; it makes people have to employ the legal equivalent of belts-and-suspenders to protect their interests.
  • It would be fairer to litigants. The recitals to Delegate Iaquinto’s Resolution state that “the caseload of the Supreme Court of Virginia continues  to preclude it from granting petitions for appeals in many cases in which appellate review is sought.” I don’t know if that’s right or wrong, but I do know that only about 1 in 5 civil petitions for appeal are granted. That means that about 80% of people who want appeals don’t get them.* Giving everybody 1 appeal of right  would let them feel like they’ve gotten a fair shake, and offer them recourse when trial judges get things wrong. (That’s not meant as a shot at trial judges–somebody has to make the decisions, and questions with clear answers tend not to get litigated. See bullet point 1, above.)
  • It would force trial judges to be more careful. I’ve never been a trial judge, but I can’t help but think that the looming prospect of an appeal of right would help focus my efforts on resolving the legal questions at hand. And I’ve practiced in many jurisdictions around the Commonwealth, where I’ve seen . . . things. In places. Which lead me to favor appeals of right for civil litigants. Let’s leave it at that.

In short, I like the sound of this. I’ll try to keep you posted on Joint Resolution 111.

* Don’t think that I missed the counterargument that many of those petitions don’t deserve to be granted. If that’s true, then those appeals would be easily disposed as appeals of right. The Fourth Circuit, for example, hears appeals of right but brooks no foolishness from appellants.