The Court of Special Appeals celebrates being 50 years young

By Michael Wein

As highlighted in a media release on the Maryland Judiciary web site, Maryland’s intermediate appellate court, the Court of Special Appeals, is having a fiftieth anniversary celebration today. This is meant to coincide, exactly, with the first day, January 6, 1967, that the original five Court of Special Appeals judges were sworn to the newly created constitutional position (including the first Chief Judge of that Court, Robert C. Murphy, who went on to be Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals 5 years later, and after whom the appellate courts’ building is now named).

In addition to the ceremony celebrating the milestone, attended by various state and federal officials, the Court of Special Appeals are the highlight of this month’s edition, of the Maryland Bar Journal. A special online edition, has articles written by active and retired judges of that court, going through the history of the Court of Special Appeals, tips for effective brief writing and oral arguments, discussions on legal cases from the judge and court clerk perspective, as well as a fascinating look at the role of the Court in adjudicating a wide ranging of criminal appeal cases. It’s definitely worth a look, for anyone regularly or infrequently planning to argue an appeal there.

As noted by the Court of Appeals, in the Walston v. Sun Cab Co., 267 Md. 569 (1973), discussing the legislative history, the Court of  Special Appeals didn’t suddenly open itdoors and start hearing all appeals. It was a gradual evolution, which took a number of years to develop, starting with criminal, and expanding in 1970 to include civil cases, and continuing through the present day. It was also created somewhat out of necessity when the number of criminal appeals were starting to overwhelm and make it so that Maryland’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, could no longer function effectively, without another court sharing the burden.  As Walston noted,

The [MSBA’s] Committee’s basic premise was that “a litigant is entitled to at least one appeal as a matter of right in each case and where this appeal was to the Court of Special Appeals, a petition for a writ of certiorari could be filed to the Court of Appeals by the litigant adversely affected whether it be the accused or the State.” (Emphasis supplied.)

Thus, after other solutions were discussed and discarded, a compromise was reached as recommended by the Maryland State Bar Association, and approval sought and granted to amend the Maryland Constitution with the Maryland voters. What came out was something quite similar to what existed and evolved on the federal level since 1891 with the United States Supreme Court and the intermediate appellate United States Courts of Appeal. Thus, the Court of Special Appeals, in Maryland, helped maintain the due process and equal protection premise of appeals (every litigant was entitled to one), while at the same time, through its creation, was able to help the Maryland Court of Appeals, to evolve as well, into a certiorari-based appellate court, capable of still respecting the centuries- long history of Maryland’s highest court.


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