300,000 and Counting. . . --Michigan Court of Appeals reaches milestone, logs 300,000 case since it began in 1965

By John Minnis

Legal News

The Michigan Court of Appeals filed a landmark case last week -- not in a legal sense but in the fact that it was the 300,00th case filed since the court was founded 45 years ago.

''This milestone is a reminder of the importance the Michigan Court of Appeals plays in the Michigan judicial system,'' said Chief Judge William B. Murphy. ''Importantly, behind these numbers are individuals, families and governmental and business interests that turn to our judicial system for peaceful resolution of disputes. I am grateful to the judges and staff, past and present, who have served the public with integrity, competence and dedication.''

The Michigan Court of Appeals was created by the state Constitution of 1963 and began operating in 1965. The court's first nine judges were T. John Lesinski, John W. Fitzgerald, Robert B. Burns, John H. Gillis, Donald E. Holbrook, Thomas Giles Kavanagh, Louis D. McGregor, Timothy C. Quinn and John D. Watts. Ronald L. Dzierbicki was court clerk.

The size of the bench was expanded to 12 judges in 1969, 18 judges in 1974, 24 judges in 1988 and 28 judges in 1993. Filings increased dramatically from 1,235 in 1965 to a high of 13,352 in 1992. Since then, the court's filings have averaged more than 8,000 cases annually.

There were originally three Michigan Court of Appeals offices in Lansing, Detroit and Grand Rapids. A fourth office in Southfield opened in 1994 and was relocated to Troy in 2004.

According to a brief history of the court, located on its website, coa.courts.mi.gov, the Michigan Court of Appeals has distinguished itself as an innovative institution since its inception. The court's central staff of research attorneys was the first of its kind in the United States. Its mainframe docket system was a national prototype when it was implemented in 1978 and was in use until July 1999. It was replaced by a client-server, browser-based system that will allow the court to take advantage of electronic filing and other technological advances during the next decade.

In the beginnig, all filings were processed through the court's Lansing office. New files were distributed among the outlying district offices only after jurisdiction was confirmed in mandatory cases or leave was granted in discretionary matters. In 1998, the process was decentralized, and the district offices are now capable of processing all cases.

The Court of Appeals' mandate -- ''To secure the just, speedy, and economical determination of every action and to avoid the consequences of error that does not affect the substantial rights of the parties'' -- continues to drive its evolution as a key element of the Michigan justice system.

As the ''court of last resort'' in most cases, the Court of Appeals serves an important role for Michigan litigants. Although the Michigan Supreme Court receives over 2,000 appeals each year, most from Court of Appeals decisions, in the majority of the cases the Supreme Court declines to take the case on appeal and leaves the judgment of the Court of Appeals stand.

While most parties are represented by attorneys on appeal, a fair number (14 percent) of the cases is filed in pro per by parties who represent themselves throughout the appellate process without the assistance of an attorney.

One of the highest-volume appellate courts in the country, the Michigan Court of Appeals has an annual clearance rate of at least 100 percent, meaning the court it decides as many appeals as are filed in any given year.

About 90 percent of the court's cases are decided within 18 months of filing. And despite budget cuts and staff reductions common to all governmental units in recent years, the court has maintained high closure rates by implementing cost-effective processes and technologies, such as e-filing. E-filing also benefits the parties to an appeal by allowing them to file documents electronically, rather than having to travel to one of the Court's four district offices.

Current Michigan Court of Appeals judges are Richard A. Bandstra, Jane M. Beckering, Stephen L. Borrello, Mark J. Cavanagh, Pat M. Donofrio, E. Thomas Fitzgerald, Elizabeth L. Gleicher, Joel P. Hoekstra, Karen Fort Hood, Kathleen Jansen, Kirsten F. Kelly, Michael J. Kelly, Jane E. Markey, Patrick M. Meter, Murphy, Christopher M. Murray, Peter D. O'Connell, Donald S. Owens, Henry William Saad, David H. Sawyer, Deborah A. Servitto, Douglas B. Shapiro, Cynthia Diane Stephens, Michael J. Talbot, William C. Whitbeck, Kurtis T. Wilder, Brian K. Zahra.

''A Matter of Right -- A History of the Michigan Court of Appeals,'' by Charles E. Harmon, a 102-page book that covers the full history of the court from its inception in the early 1960s through to the first days of the 21st Century, including dozens of photographs, is available for purchase by sending a check or money order, made payable to the State of Michigan (enclose the name of the publication as well as the quantity) and mail to:

Michigan Court of Appeals

Finance Department

Michigan Hall of Justice

P.O. Box 30022

Lansing, MI 48909-7522

Pricing for single copies is $35. Five to nine copies are $30 each, and 10 or more copies cost $28 each. Published: Mon, Sep 13, 2010

Published: Mon, Sep 27, 2010


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