In our last couple installments, we looked at some of the problems that can be caused when a “DCA” (district court of appeal) issues a “PCA” (per curiam affirmance) without an opinion. Now let’s look at a committee which was formed to try to find some possible solutions.
After years of hearing litigants and attorneys complain about the use of PCAs by DCAs, in May 2000 the Florida Judicial Management Council’s Committee on Per Curiam Affirmed Decisions (“PCA Committee” hereinafter) issued its “Final Report and Recommendations” (“PCA Report” hereinafter). To the skeptic, if not doomed from the outset, at a minimum it would appear difficult for the PCA Committee to come to much agreement, and thus to effect much, if any, real change, due to its composition.
The PCA Committee was comprised of ten persons. Half of those persons were DCA judges. The other half were attorneys. From a purely numerical standpoint, the judicial side of the issue was thus grossly disproportionally represented. The approximately 75 Florida DCA judges were given the same number of seats on the PCA Committee as were the thousands of appellate lawyers (and litigants) in Florida. (The Appellate Practice Section of the Florida Bar currently has about 1700 members. That number does not necessarily include, however, attorneys who are members of substantive practice area sections, such as criminal law, family law, real property law, etc., who regularly litigate the appeals of their trials. And of course each one of those attorneys, regardless of Section membership, might represent dozens, if not more, actual litigants, in appeals on an annual basis.) Of the five attorneys on the PCA committee, only 1 was in private civil practice. The remainder was comprised of 2 public defenders, a criminal prosecutor, and an assistant attorney general.
Obviously, requiring some sort of mathematical precision as to the composition of the PCA Committee would be unrealistic. There is certainly something to be said for the judiciary being numerically over-represented, since any additional workload necessitated by changing policy on PCAs would be shouldered by such judges and their staffs. That said, the counterargument is equally valid: none of those DCA judges would be losing their money or other rights (civil litigants), or their freedom (criminal defendants), without explanation, if PCA policy remained unchanged.
In our next installment, we’ll look at what the PCA Committee and PCA Report did (and did not) accomplish.