Following up on yesterday's post, here's more from James May's interview with Justice Gordon Maag of the Fifth District of the Illinois Appellate Court, which appeared in the October 2004 issue of the Madison County Bar Association's Bar Rag.
Q. On the Appellate Court, once you hear arguments, what is the procedure for the judges to get together or discuss the case before a decision is rendered?
A. On the Appellate Court, approximately a month before the cases are argued, we receive the files for the cases that are going to be heard the following month. Through a random drawing there is tentatively an authoring judge that is assigned. There is nothing binding or final about that. That is subject to what happens in oral argument.
When we get to Mount Vernon for oral argument, the judges have all read the briefs and are familiar with the case. After it is argued, those of you who have argued an appeal will notice that we will hear arguments in one or two cases, and then we will take a short break for about ten minutes, sometimes longer. Then we will come back and hear one or two more appeals, and then take another break.
What is taking place during that break is we are having a conference on the cases that have just been argued while they are very fresh in our mind. We will discuss the issues and discuss what the judges on the panel believe the correct outcome, correct resolution of the appeal should be.
Sometimes we are unanimous and agree that it should be affirmed or reversed for a particular reason, sometimes we are uncertain, but we have a direction that we think the case might go. Sometimes it just requires more research by everybody involved. But we take a tentative impression vote, and after that impression vote is taken, assuming the person designated as authoring judge is in the majority, that person will go back and write up a proposed decision. If the designated authoring judge is not in the majority, then one of the other two judges will assume responsibility for writing a tentative decision.
Once the proposed disposition is completed, it will be circulated, and the panel will discuss it and comment further on it. And ultimately we end up with a decision that at least two--but usually it's a unanimous decision--that the judges can agree on, and it is sent to Mount Vernon for filing.
So it's a process that takes, oh, usually at least three months minimum to get to the point where the case has been circulated, the proposed disposition has been circulated among all the judges. And that is in a relatively routine case. The more complex the case is, the longer it may take.