NOTES ON THE CLOSE OF 2019
(Posted December 31, 2019) The year 2019 is in the books – at least as far as the appellate courts are concerned; the rest of you still have a few hours left in which to misbehave – and it’s time to take a quick look back. I’ll follow this up a bit more expansively in a couple of weeks when I mark yet another milestone on this site.
Supreme Court final numbers
The justices of the Supreme Court of Virginia handed down 77 published opinions and published orders this year, to go with 31 unpublished orders. The court entertained oral argument in 106 merits appeals, up slightly from the 100 arguments in 2018.
I’ve reported recently on the rate at which the “big guy” in litigation wins against his smaller adversary. I’ve defined the terms before, and have noted that there is at least a small amount of judgment involved, so I won’t repeat that; instead, we’ll go straight to the bottom line. The year ends with another strong showing by Goliath. At year’s end, I count 39 wins for Goliaths in published rulings against just 11 wins for our Davids, for a final D-GI of 22/78. That is, the little guy won 22% of such appeals and – well, let’s be positive and say “took home the silver medal” 78% of the time. Goliath did a little better this year than last year, when the D-GI was 31/69. That 78% figure is also the approximate aggregate D-GI over the past four years.
Court of Appeals of Virginia opinions
The CAV issued 86 published opinions this year, a significant increase from last year’s 66. Perhaps this is the growth industry for the appellate bar. Business has been down in the Supreme Court for a number of years now, though there was a slight uptick in new filings in the latter court this year.
CAV criminal reversals
Two years ago I recounted a fun anecdote from my bar-exam prep course, where the professor teaching us criminal procedure encouraged us to regard that in close calls, a tie always goes to the Commonwealth. He explained that that’s because “This is Vir-gi-ni-a. The defendant is guilty.” The CAV’s disposition of criminal appeals bore that out in 2019. The court handed down 55 published opinions in criminal appeals, and the criminal appellant secured a reversal only seven times. Seven! While that represents a success rate of a meager 12.7%, keep in mind that even that figure is, in a very real sense, inflated. That’s because those 55 opinions don’t reflect the enormous number of appeals where the court refuses a petition for appeal. The effective reversal rate for all appeals is tiny, though I won’t have an exact figure until I get the court’s annual stats report in the spring.