The New Mexico Court of Appeals has changed the way it assigns panels and authorships

In an effort to overcome the present backlog of cases, the Court of Appeals has changed the way it is assigning cases to panels, at least for awhile.

In the past, the clerk’s office would assign each judge nine cases on the first of each month. In three of those cases, the judge would be designated as the author, and in the remaining six, he or she would be a panel member (known as a “participant”). But the panels were entirely different. For example, when I was on the Court, on Opinion No. 1, I would be the assigned author, and Judges Hanisee and Vargas would be the participants. On Opinion No. 2, I would be the assigned author, but the participants would be entirely different. And so forth. Of course, there’s always one judge assigned to be the “calendaring” judge, who does not receive the normal caseload.

Beginning on September 1, 2019, however, the Court has started a Division Pilot Project. Under the new system, nine of the judges will be assigned to serve with the same panel for four months. Authorships will no longer be randomly assigned. Instead, the clerk’s office will assign a number of cases to the panel, and the panel will then meet to discuss the cases and divide the work amongst themselves. One of the judges will still be the calendaring judge.

An interesting feature of the system is that the panel assignments will not be entirely random. Instead, each panel will have a presiding judge, who will be one of the four most senior judges (i.e. Chief Judge Zamora, Judge Vanzi, Judge Hanisee and Judge Vargas). In other words, it will be rare for two of the more senior judges to serve on the same panel.

The Court is working very hard, and trying out now ways of processing cases, to overcome the backlog. Only time will tell if this experiment will work.

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