The state Supreme Court has amended its internal operating procedures, perhaps most notably expanding the amount of time justices have to circulate an allocatur report to their colleagues from 60 to 90 days.
Several other changes also appeared to focus largely on court administration, including a new, eight-item set of guidelines for oral argument, one that appellate lawyers may recognize as a codification of Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille's informal "no-piling-it-on" rule.
Those rules are nothing new to attorneys. Those interviewed said the provisions came as a "handout" of sorts when their cases were approaching argument. Now, the information is readily available through the new procedures, which are on the court's website and are set to go into effect next month, according to a news release from the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts.
The court, according to the new procedures, does not have a fixed amount of time for each argument; most arguments end when Chief Justice Castille says he thinks the court has gotten the point of both sides' positions. The internal operating procedures note that no issues are waived by counsel's choice to not address them at oral argument, as long as those issues have been briefed.
Amici curiae may request permission to present oral argument, but a majority of the court must grant that request (after the chief justice circulates a recommendation), and the procedures direct the high court to do so only in "extraordinary circumstances."
The court also added language giving itself more time to decide multiple-issue cases, in which it gave the justice assigned to the case 120 days to circulate a proposed majority opinion. The justice assigned capital direct appeals has 150 days to circulate a proposed majority and 180 days for first capital Post-Conviction Relief Act appeals.
"With the volume and complexity of cases that come before us, it seems prudent to review how we do business to ensure we can continue to effectively serve the commonwealth's citizens as well as manage our own internal processes," Chief Justice Castille said in the news release. "These revisions promise to increase the overall efficiency with which the court conducts its business by better organizing and defining standardized practices."
Appellate attorneys welcomed the changes with a common expression of hope: that the high court strictly follows them.
All attorneys interviewed said the changes are welcome as long as they are a realistic depiction of the court's projected output as opposed to a lofty set of goals the court might fall short of fulfilling.