Waiting for an Appellate Opinion?

One thing that I get asked a lot by our injury clients and by lawyers who don’t regularly handle appeals is “How long will it take before an opinion is issued?” Any appellate lawyers who are reading this know that the only answer to that question is “I don’t know.”

Sometimes opinions are issued quickly, sometimes not. In Maryland’s state appellate courts, the fastest I have gotten an opinion was about 90 days after oral argument. The longest it has taken was nearly 14 months after oral argument. As far as I know, there aren’t any Maryland rules or statutes governing how quickly our appellate courts must resolve cases.

There are two things that have me thinking about this.The first is that I argued an appeal in the Court of Special Appeals on March 9, and I am eagerly awaiting the opinion. Every morning when I come into the office, I check the Maryland Judiciary website to see if the opinion has been released. Not having the opinion by now doesn’t really surprise me, since the Court of Special Appeals is a very busy court. In 2010 (the most recent year statistics are available) <ahref=”http://www.courts.state.md.us/publications/annualreport/reports/2010/annualreport.pdf”> it received 1,980 new case filings and resolved 2,140 cases. Considering that the court had 13 judges, including the Chief Judge, that’s a staggering amount of work- 164 cases per judge! I think part of the reason our intermediate appellate court is so busy is that there is a right to an appeal in just about every criminal case, and most people who are convicted tend to exercise that right regardless of the likelihood of success.

The second thing was an article in the Daily Record about a Court of Appeals opinion that came out in the last few days indefinitely suspending a Maryland attorney. The article pointed out that the Court of Appeals’ opinion was released more than four years after the court heard argument in the case. Oral argument took place on June 9, 2008. The opinion was released on June 22, 2012. The reason for the delay wasn’t addressed in the opinion. The Court of Appeals is a busy court too, but I can’t imagine a four-year delay is just because of a busy caseload. I have to think that somebody must have messed up somehow.

I still don’t know how long an appeal is supposed to take- I’m just happy that none of mine have taken four years! From now on when I get asked how long it will take to get an opinion on appeal, I will answer that I expect it to take somewhere between 90 days and four years. Surely that will be an acceptable answer. Right?