The court conducts hearings in Fresno and, for the convenience of the litigants and attorneys and to help educate the public, occasionally court sessions may be held in outlying counties when sufficient appeals are available from that county to make up one full day’s calendar and when suitable courtroom facilities are available.
The state’s intermediate appellate courts were created by a constitutional amendment adopted November 8, 1904. At that time, there were three districts with courts in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Sacramento. A fourth district was created in 1929, holding sessions at San Bernardino, San Diego and Fresno. In 1961, the Legislature created the Fifth Appellate District composed of counties taken from the third and fourth districts. The Fifth District originally consisted of three justices. In 1975 the Legislature added a fourth justice, in 1979 another justice was added, and in 1981 three additional justices were added. (A sixth district was created in 1981.) A ninth justice was added in 1987 and a tenth judgeship was enacted in 2000.
The Courts of Appeal are California’s intermediate courts of review. Except for death penalty cases, the Courts of Appeal have appellate jurisdiction when trial courts have original jurisdiction and in other causes prescribed by statute. An appeal is filed in the trial court and reviewed in the appellate district where the trial court is located. Appellate review is governed by statute, and final judgments and appealable orders of the trial courts may be appealed to the Courts of Appeal as a matter of right. Appellate courts provide review of trial court decisions in order to rectify erroneous results to the parties and, along with other courts, intermediary appellate courts have original jurisdiction in habeas corpus proceedings and proceedings in which extraordinary relief is requested. Filing of writ petitions in a Court of Appeal also permits review of specific nonfinal lower court decisions, such as change of venue, and review of decisions by an administrative agency, such as the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board.
The Fifth Appellate District covers nine counties located in central California: Fresno, Kern, Kings, Madera, Mariposa, Merced, Stanislaus, Tulare and Tuolumne. The court is located at 2424 Ventura Street in the downtown area of Fresno. The clerk’s office can be reached by telephone at (559) 445-5491. The court conducts hearings in Fresno and, for the convenience of the litigants and attorneys and to help educate the public, occasionally court sessions may be held in outlying counties when sufficient appeals are available from that county to make up one full day’s calendar and when suitable courtroom facilities are available.
THE JUSTICES AND STRUCTURE OF THE COURT
There are 10 Appellate Court Justices at the 5th District, all of whom are appointed by the governor and must be confirmed by a three-person commission before taking the oath of office. They additionally face voter confirmation during retention elections.
Unlike some districts, the Fifth Appellate District is not divided into divisions and normally operates with three panels, three justices sitting on each panel. Each panel handles approximately 18 cases per month. The justices are rotated among the panels each month so that over a period of time each justice will sit an equal number of times with every other justice on the court.
The workload of the justices and staff of the court is divided into the following principal categories:
The appellate process begins with the filing of a "notice of appeal" with the trial court clerk. The trial court clerk forwards a copy of the notice of appeal to the Court of Appeal. The appellate record of proceedings below is prepared and filed in the Court of Appeal. After the record on appeal is filed, briefs are then due from the respective parties. The filing of appellant’s opening brief is followed by the filing of the respondent’s brief, which may be followed by the filing of appellant’s reply brief. Once briefs have been filed, the case is eligible for oral argument. Following oral argument or waiver of oral argument, the court files its decision. Courts of Appeal in this state are required to file written decisions called "opinions" in each "cause" (appeal). The opinion must include a statement of the facts, the legal issues raised by those facts, a discussion of the law that applies to the issues raised, and the court’s reasoning in reaching its conclusions. After the record on appeal and briefs are filed, an experienced attorney screens the case for either "regular" or "routine disposition" handling.
A routine disposition case, an appeal which raises no novel questions of law, is not of wide public interest and can be disposed of by application of settled principles of law to the facts. Draft opinions in routine dispositions are written by an experienced attorney assigned to the court’s central staff or by a justice. All routine dispositions are reviewed and approved by three justices of the court.
Regular appeals are cases not screened for routine disposition treatment, but instead are assigned directly to an individual justice for authorship.
California Rules of Court, rule 8.1105 requires that all opinions of the Supreme Court be published in the Official Reports, but an opinion of a Court of Appeal is published only when it meets the following standards:
1) Establishes a new rule of law, applies an existing rule to a set of facts significantly different from those stated in published opinions, or modifies, or criticizes with reasons given, an existing rule;
2) resolves or creates an apparent conflict in the law;
3) involves a legal issue of continuing public interest; or
4) makes a significant contribution to legal literature by reviewing either the development of a common law rule or the legislative or judicial history of a provision of a Constitution, statute, or other written law.
Processes are available to parties seeking reconsideration or review of the written decision of the Court of Appeal. The court itself may grant a petition for rehearing (or be so directed by the California Supreme Court) within permissible time parameters. Additionally, the Supreme Court may grant a petition for review. Review by the Supreme Court of a decision of a Court of Appeal will be ordered (1) where it appears necessary to secure uniformity of decision or the settlement of important questions of law; (2) where the Court of Appeal was without jurisdiction of the cause; or (3) where, because of disqualification or other reason, the decision of the Court of Appeal lacks the concurrence of the required majority of qualified judges. An order of the Supreme Court denying a petition for review becomes final when it is filed. If review is granted, the Supreme Court may affirm, reverse or modify the appellate court’s decision or may decide one or more issues and transfer the cause to a Court of Appeal for decision of any remaining issues in the case.
Statistics of cases accepted for review by the Supreme Court demonstrate the rarity with which cases are reviewed. In this court since 1995 an average of only 12 cases per year were accepted for review by the Supreme Court.
The appellate process concludes when the decision has been finalized and a remittitur, along with a copy of the court’s decision, is issued to the trial court by the appellate court. A remittitur is a document which certifies the appellate court opinion is now binding on the lower court as a final ruling, i.e., the time for reconsideration or review has expired. The lower court decision may be upheld (affirmed), reversed, affirmed in part and reversed in part (usually involving sentencing errors), or the case may be remanded with directions to the trial court.
Unlike appeals, which can be taken only from certain types of decisions designated by statute or case law, writ petitions can theoretically be taken from any order or decision. These petitions are assigned immediately to legal staff and requests for emergency relief are given prompt attention.
The term "writs" is used to include all of the traditional writs (mandamus, prohibition, certiorari, supersedeas, habeas corpus, coram vobis and coram nobis) and also writs of review (petitions in Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board cases, Agricultural Labor Relations Board matters, Public Employment Relations Board, Alcoholic Beverage Control Board proceedings, and, after July 1998, Public Utilities Commission cases).
Writ petitions are not considered within the definition of "causes," and the constitutional mandate requiring a written opinion does not apply to summary denials. A petition may be denied without further briefing or argument. The court has two writ panels of three justices each, the membership of which is rotated among all the justices from month to month. Writ conferences are held on a weekly basis. When the court decides that the petition may have merit, the case is normally scheduled for oral argument and a written opinion is prepared. A remittitur is not issued when an original petition is summarily denied. A remittitur is issued in any original proceeding in which an alternative writ or order to show cause has been issued, addressed to a lower court or board, or when the court decides on its merits the validity of a decision of a lower court or board, without issuance of an order to show cause or alternative writ.
Non-routine motions, including bail motions and motions to dismiss the appeal, are processed in accordance with the procedure for handling writs. Routine matters, including requests for extension of time to file a brief, are normally disposed of by the presiding justice with the assistance of a writ-and-motion attorney.
PETITIONS FOR REHEARING AND APPLICATIONS FOR PUBLICATION
These are assigned for disposition to the same panel members who participated in the initial opinion.
Upon stipulation of all parties to a civil case pending in the court, or on the court’s own motion, a settlement conference will be held, presided over by a justice of the court. Where complete settlement cannot be reached, partial settlement will be sought. Any justice who participates in a settlement conference will be ineligible to participate in the consideration or disposition of the appeal on its merits.