Georgia Court of Appeals
Founding of the court
The genesis of the Court of Appeals began with a report by the State Bar of Georgia in 1895, suggesting that the Georgia State Legislature create a new intermediate appellate court to relieve the Georgia Supreme Court of some of its rapidly growing caseload. The Legislature declined to create a new appellate court, choosing instead to increase the size of the Supreme Court from three judges to five, then later to six. In 1902, Georgia Supreme Court justice Andrew J. Cobb gave a presentation to the State Bar addressing a number of proposals to alleviate the Supreme Court's workload, including the creation of an intermediate court of appeals.
Finally, in 1906, the Legislature approved an amendment to the Georgia state constitution to create a three-judge court of appeals, to be placed on the ballot for approval by the citizens. The measure was approved by voters on October 3, 1906.
The first election of judges took place on November 6, 1906. Arthur G. Powell, Richard Russell, Sr., and Benjamin H. Hill (the son of former U.S. Senator Benjamin Harvey Hill) were the first judges elected to the court. Hill was the first chief judge of the court; he received the position largely due to age and seniority (over Russell's objections). The first Clerk of Court was Logan Bleckley Jr., the son of former Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Logan Edwin Bleckley. One of the first stenographers of the court was Marian Bloodworth, whose appointment was consented to by the three judges despite a provision of the Georgia Civil Code forbidding women from holding civil office.
Until 1916, the Court of Appeals effectively functioned as a second court of last resort for the state of Georgia, there being no provision for appeal from its judgments. This posed two problems for the state: first, despite the constitutional requirement that the Supreme Court's decisions constituted binding precedent over the court of appeals, conflicts began arising between the rulings of the two courts; secondly, the workloads of both courts continued to increase steadily. The Legislature remedied these problems by approving a constitutional amendment to enlarge the subject matter jurisdiction of the Court of Appeals and limit that of the Supreme Court. The Legislature also approved a statute to create an additional three-judge division of the Court of Appeals, providing that all appeals of criminal cases be heard in one division, and the remaining civil cases be divided up so as to equalize their work.
Growth of the court
The Legislature increased the size of the court to seven judges in 1960, and then to nine judges in three divisions in 1961. The requirement for all criminal cases to be heard in one division was repealed in 1967. In 1996, Governor Zell Miller submitted a bill to increase the court's size to thirteen judges. The bill failed, but the Legislature did approve another act to add a tenth judge.
The court grew again in 1999 when Governor Roy Barnes signed a bill which increased the number of judges to twelve. The court now has 15 members, who serve in five divisions. As of 2008[update], a total of seventy-six judges have served on the court, with fifteen serving on both the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court of Georgia.
The court's appellate jurisdiction is rather limited in comparison with many other state appellate courts. It may hear appeals in all cases which do not involve:
- Questions of the constitutionality of statutes
- Land title disputes
- The construction of wills
- Election contests
- Habeas corpus
- Extraordinary remedies
- Divorce and alimony
- Cases in which original appellate jurisdiction lies with the superior courts
Georgia statute specifies two categories of appeal. Some cases may be appealed as a matter of right, and some cases may only be appealed if the Court of Appeals accepts the appeal ("discretionary review"). Applications for discretionary review will only be granted if reversible error appears to exist, or if establishment of a precedent is desirable. (Court of Appeals Rule 31(a).
In addition, certain rulings made by the trial court may be appealable even if the case is still going on. These interlocutory appeals can only proceed if trial court judge agrees to allow an appeal, and if the Court of Appeals agrees to accept the case.
Despite the court's limited jurisdiction, it is still one of the busiest state appellate courts in the nation. In 2001, 2,544 direct appeal decisions were issued by the Court of Appeals, over three fourths of which were final. Of the remaining cases in which appeal was sought in the Georgia Supreme Court, the Supreme Court granted certiorari in less than 10%.
More than half of the court's decisions are published in the South Eastern Reporter. Over the past several years, the Court has published an average of 1,461 opinions per year.
The 1996 statute which increased the number of judges to ten also changed the process by which cases would be decided in the event of a dissent. Before 1996, cases in which there was a dissent in one division were decided en banc (by the whole court). After this law was passed, cases involving a dissent are determined by seven judges, including the assigned division, the next division in succession, and a seventh judge. The Georgia Court of Appeals is unique in that it does not issue 2–1 panel rulings.
If all three judges on a panel concur in the ruling, then the ruling becomes binding precedent on all courts in Georgia except the Supreme Court. If one of the three judges concurs (agrees with the result but not the reasoning), the ruling becomes "physical precedent only" – that is, it disposes of the case in front of it but is not binding authority. Physical-precedent-only cases may be cited as persuasive authority, but are not binding.
The position of Chief Judge is rotated among the 15 sitting judges, generally for a two-year term and upon the basis of seniority of tenure on the Court. By statutory authorization, the Chief Judge appoints a Presiding Judge for each of the five divisions. The Presiding Judges remain as the heads of the divisions for the full two-year term of the Chief Judge. The other Judges are assigned to the five panels on an annual basis.
As of 2017, the judges on the Court are:
- Sara L. Doyle (Chief Judge)
- Gary Blaylock Andrews (Presiding Judge)
- Anne Elizabeth Barnes (Presiding Judge)
- M. Yvette Miller (Presiding Judge)
- John J. Ellington (Presiding Judge)
- Stephen Louis A. Dillard (Vice Chief and Presiding Judge)
- Christopher J. McFadden
- William "Billy" Ray II
- Elizabeth L. Branch
- Carla Wong McMillian
- Brian M. Rickman
- Amanda H. Mercier
- Clyde L. Reese
- Tilman E. "Tripp" Self III
- Charlie Bethel
- Court of Appeals of Georgia official website. Retrieved 2017-04-06.