The caseload of the Law Court, not unlike the trial courts, has expanded significantly over the last twenty years. Unfortunately, as with those frogs, the heat has been turned up so gradually that no dramatic effort to leave the pan has occurred. In 1977, the year I began law school, there were 326 total filings in the Law Court. The workload of the Law Court at that time was thought by the Legislature to be significant, and a seventh justice was finally added to the six-person court. The Law Court issued 164 signed opinions that year. Ten years later, in 1987, the number of filings had risen to 565. By 1997, the filings were up to 724 annually. In the several years before that, the filings topped 1,000 a year (probably due to the temporary influx of workers' compensation cases). There were 778 filings in fiscal year 1998. The Law Court issued 259 signed opinions and 159 memorandum decisions. In twenty years, the number of cases receiving appellate review by the court has increased by 138%. Since 1977, no justices have been added, very little staff has been added and, I suggest, the complexity of the cases has increased. Still the frogs of the court make no attempt to escape the pan or even turn down the heat. Why? I believe it has been a matter of priorities. During the same time that the Law Court has slowly been buried under the advancing avalanche, the trial courts have been completely inundated. Family matters and personal protection proceedings deserve and have received large amounts of the system's resources. The Maine Superior Court has been required to handle increasing numbers of complex dispositive motions within a workload that has not let up. The statistics indicate that Maine has fewer trial judges per capita than most other states. Consequently, it is difficult to seek changes for the benefit of the Law Court when the trial courts' needs are so urgent.
Leigh I. Saufley,
Amphibians and Appellate Courts,
Me. L. Rev.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.mainelaw.maine.edu/mlr/vol51/iss1/5