Developments in Georgia appellate jurisdiction

Back in October I wrote about the potential realignment of the Georgia appellate courts’ jurisdiction. In January, the Governor’s Appellate Jurisdiction Review Commission released its report. And yesterday, a bill was introduced in the General Assembly, HB 927, that would enact changes very similar to those proposed by the Commission.

The Commission’s recommendations, and the changes in HB 927, are largely as I predicted in October. Direct appeals in equity cases and cases involving title to land, wills, habeas corpus, extraordinary remedies, divorce, and alimony would start going to the Court of Appeals rather than the Supreme Court. Murder cases (“cases in which a sentence of death was imposed or could be imposed”) would stay in the Supreme Court.

One potentially problematic line in HB 927 is the one giving the Court of Appeals jurisdiction over “[a]ll other cases not reserved to the Supreme Court or conferred on other courts.” (This is in Part III, Section 3-1 of the bill.) I don’t see why that line is necessary, and it would seem to mean that murder cases would go to the Court of Appeals. Murder cases are not specifically reserved to the Supreme Court any more than equity or divorce cases are. The intent can’t be to move murder cases (since if it were, the bill could just list “cases in which a sentence of death was imposed or could be imposed” among the cases transferred to the Court of Appeals).

HB 927 would also expand the Supreme Court from seven justices to nine. The Commission’s report did not specifically address that issue. As I said in October, I have no problem with nine justices on the Supreme Court, but the Court of Appeals needs further expansion (beyond 15 judges) much more than the Court of Appeals does — especially if a bunch of new cases get shifted into the Court of Appeals’ jurisdiction.