The Court of Appeals, the highest tribunal in the State of Maryland, was created by the Constitution of 1776. The Court sat in various locations throughout the State in the early years of its existence but has resided in Annapolis since 1851. The Court is composed of seven judges. Until 1994, there was one from each of the first five Appellate Judicial Circuits and two from the Sixth Appellate Judicial Circuit (Baltimore City), but a Constitutional amendment realigned the circuits to create seven circuits with one judge from each.
Members of the Court are initially appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Senate. Subsequently, they run for office on their records, unopposed. If voters reject a judge's retention in office or there is a tie vote, the office becomes vacant and must be filled by a new appointment. Otherwise, the incumbent judge remains in office for a 10-year term. The Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals is designated by the Governor and is the constitutional administrative head of the Maryland judicial system.
Since 1975, the Court of Appeals has heard cases almost exclusively by way of certiorari, a discretionary review process. As a result, the Court's formerly excessive workload has been reduced to a more manageable level, thus allowing the Court to devote more time to the most important and far-reaching issues.
A party generally may file a petition for certiorari for review of any case or proceeding pending in, or decided by, the Court of Special Appeals upon appeal from a circuit court, an orphans' court or the Maryland Tax Court. The Court of Appeals grants those petitions it feels are desirable and in the public interest. The Court also may review cases on writ of certiorari issued on the Court's own motion.
Certiorari also may be granted in cases that have been appealed to a circuit court from the District Court or from the Motor Vehicle Administration, after the initial appeal has been heard in the circuit court, in order to obtain uniformity of decisions or where special circumstances make certiorari desirable and in the public interest.
Additionally, the Court of Appeals has exclusive jurisdiction over such diverse areas as death penalty cases, legislative redistricting, removal of certain officers, and certification of questions of law.
The Court is empowered to adopt rules of judicial administration, practice, and procedure which have the force of law. It also admits persons to the practice of law, on recommendation of the State Board of Law Examiners, and conducts disciplinary proceedings involving members of the bench and bar.
The Court considers certiorari petitions on a prescheduled basis throughout all twelve months of the year. Well in advance of the court's certiorari conferences, each judge is provided with the petitions to be considered, together with the opinions of the lower court, which are sought to be reviewed. Under the court's internal operating procedures, each judge, rather than their law clerks, reviews each petition. At "cert" conferences, the chief judge inquires of each judge, in reverse order of seniority, as to those petitions then under consideration that the judge would vote to grant, together with supporting reasons for that determination. Each petition is thereby thoroughly considered. A petition, to be granted, must garner the vote of at least three judges; otherwise, it is denied. If a petition for writ of certiorari is granted the matter will be placed on the regular docket; briefs and record extracts will be required, and oral argument will be set.
The court does not sit in panels; all seven judges sit on each case unless there is a disqualification in which event a judge from another court, or a retired appellate judge, may be specially assigned to sit in the place of the disqualified judge. In no case may the court sit with less than five judges.
The judges of the Court of Appeals of Maryland assemble on the 4th floor of the Courts of Appeal Building before 10:00 a.m. A few minutes before that time the judges don their red robes with white stocks in the robing room and line up in the conference room in prescribed order to enter the courtroom.
Promptly at 10:00 a.m. the Chief Judge pushes the buzzer, and the court crier with a rap of the gavel announces, "All rise, please," while the judges enter and take their places, standing in front of their chairs. As the judges and spectators stand, the court crier continues:
Oyez! Oyez! Oyez! All persons having any business with the Honorable Court of Appeals of Maryland draw near and give your attention. The court is now in session. God save the State and this Honorable Court.
The judges and all others sit down and the court crier places the gavel before the chief judge.
The judges are seated with the chief judge in the center, the other judges being seated according to seniority; the most senior sitting on the chief judge's immediate right, and the next senior on his left, then back to his right and so on.
The chief judge will call the first case on the docket for that day for argument. Counsel in the cases are allowed thirty minutes argument per side. When the red light on the rostrum flashes on, it signals the end of counsel's allotted time. Counsel can expect questions from the judges as they have already read and studied the briefs prior to the session. All arguments in the court are recorded so that the judges may avail themselves of the arguments when they are writing the opinions. When the cases docketed for that day are completed, the judges will retire to the conference room for discussion and a tentative vote on each case. In reverse order of seniority, the chief judge voting last, the judges state their individual views with respect to each issue presented to the court for decision. Once a conclusion has been reached by a majority of the Court, assignment of the majority opinion is made by the chief judge, if in the majority, and otherwise by the senior judge among the majority. If a dissent is to be filed, the dissenting judges (if more than one) decide among themselves on one of their number to prepare the dissent; preparation of the dissent must be afforded priority over the preparation of majority opinions assigned to the dissenting judge.
Once the opinion of the court has been drafted, it is circulated to each judge for review and study. If a dissenting opinion is to be filed, no action is taken on the proposed majority opinion until the dissenting opinion has been circulated. After a predetermined period of time has passed for the judges to study the proposed majority and dissenting opinions, the court holds a "case" conference (at least once monthly) and considers all proposed opinions then scheduled for final disposition. At this conference, the chief judge inquires of the court's senior associate judge as to that judge's vote on the case. The voting order then descends in order of seniority to the court's most junior judge; the chief judge is last to be heard.
Discussion of the majority and dissenting opinions is usually intense and lively. The court's opinion is the product of considerable toil and concerted effort on the part of each judge. When a dissenting opinion ultimately captures a majority of the court, a new majority opinion must be prepared and cycled through the foregoing procedure before finally being adopted and filed.
Motions for reconsideration or reargument, though frequently filed, are seldom granted. Where merit is found in the motion, the court may grant reargument or it may modify the opinion and mandate in response to the action sought by the motion.
The clerk of the Court of Appeals of Maryland is appointed by and holds office at the pleasure of the court in accordance with the Maryland Constitution, Article IV, Section 17, and takes and subscribes the oath of office before the Governor. The chief deputy, deputy clerks and other employees of the office of the clerk are appointed by the clerk with the approval of the court.
The clerk of the court is responsible for all the official records of the court and all documents relating to cases filed in his or her office. Some of the main duties of the clerk are the docketing of cases, filing of motions and briefs received from counsel, scheduling of cases for argument, filing opinions when released by the court, and issuing mandates in the cases in accordance with the rules.
The clerk also administers the oath, prescribed in Maryland Code, Bus. Occ. & Prof. § 10-212, to all persons admitted to the Bar of Maryland, and issues certificates evidencing their admission. A Test Book signed by all attorneys admitted in Maryland is maintained by the office, as is a master card file containing these names.
In order to accomplish these duties, the Office of the Clerk of the Court of Appeals is divided into three sections:
- Admissions to the Bar, Rules of court, personnel and fiscal matters;
- Regular docket and attorney grievance cases; and
- Petition for writ of certiorari docket and related matters.