We all make mistakes. Admitting them is a good first step. But when the state’s highest court makes a mistake, admitting it is not enough.
As The Daily Record’s Steve Lash reported this week, the Maryland Court of Appeals has owned up to 12 mistakes in the last 12 months. That’s how many cases it agreed to hear — and indeed, did hear — before deciding that, really, it should not have heard them.
To put that number in context, the court only agrees to hear about 120 cases in an average year. Out of seven judges on the court, three must agree that it would be “desirable and in the public interest” to decide the case. The judges look for public policy issues, evolving areas of law, cases that will have an impact.
For the few lawyers whose petitions make the grade, the following months are spent in paperwork and preparation, at no small expense, as they ready themselves and their clients for their hour upon Maryland’s ultimate stage of law.
Then, when it is all over but the waiting, imagine getting a 50-word order with a two-word message: Never mind.
Why? What happened? The court does not say.
Were the judges who voted to hear the case misinformed? Did they misjudge its importance? Was there something about this particular litigant or fact pattern that made the court bow out?
The order provides no clue, saying only that the petition was “improvidently granted.”
That creates an information vacuum that can be filled only by trial and error and a new set of hopeful petitioners. That’s a poor use of resources, both private and public.
It is also fundamentally discourteous, which sets the wrong tone for a court that professes concern for civility in the legal profession. In what other realm is it considered civil to back out of a longstanding commitment without comment?
Chalking it up to an improvident act is not sufficient. The public deserves an explanation.