STILL DRUMMING OUR FINGERTIPS …
(Posted August 24, 2023) Thursdays in August have lost their razzmatazz. Another putative opinion day in the Supreme Court of Virginia has come and gone without any announced decisions – not even a summary unpub. The most recent opinion from the court arrived five weeks ago, on July 20; the last unpublished order was June 1.
We do, at least, have the September argument docket. There are five appeals on it, and the justices will convene Wednesday and Thursday, September 13-14, to receive oral arguments. I decided to conduct a quick check of the five to see what I could discern. Here’s what I found:
There are no purely civil appeals on the docket. All five cases are criminal or habeas. This is one of the consequences of CAV expansion; the civil cases are taking their time in getting through the lower appellate court before starting the writ process upstairs. In two of these five, the Commonwealth is the appellant, reflecting rare appellants’ victories in the Court of Appeals.
The “freshest” of these is Anderson v. Director, a habeas appeal that has, in relative terms, rocketed through the SCV’s system. The petitioner filed his petition on March 10 of this year; the Director replied three weeks later; and the court granted the writ on April 17, a scant 38 days after the appeal started.
In contrast, the petition arrived at Ninth and Franklin on November 23, 2021 – that’s not a typo; it’s almost two years ago – in Schmuhl v. Director, another habeas proceeding, and the justices granted a writ almost 14 months later, in January of this year. The Director didn’t file a brief in opp, but it still took the court over a year to decide to grant the petition.
Omitting Anderson as the lightning outlier, the other four appeals were awarded between last December and February. That gives us a range of roughly eight months between writ grant and merits argument. That’s useful if you’re wondering when the court will hear your appeal. Keep in mind that yours might be a tad quicker than that, because of the unique three-month gap in the court’s calendar between the June and September sessions. For other sessions, the best rule of thumb is probably around seven months, plus or minus one.
Again omitting the two outliers discussed above, I noticed a pleasant trend among the others: a quick turnaround at the petition stage. The court granted writs in those three cases about four months, on average, after the petition first hit the clerk’s office. I attribute that to fast work by the pros in Lori Lord’s office. She’s the Chief Staff Attorney, and her lawyers have the task of preparing appeals for review by the justices – analyzing the briefs, the records, the caselaw, and the issues, and preparing a bench memorandum for the use of the writ panels. It probably doesn’t hurt that filings are way-way down from 2021 (and before) levels; that suppresses the aggregate amount of work they have to get through. But the staff attorneys are, as usual, doing a great job for the court.