Mem Decs


Here’s an interesting tidbit I learned last week.  When an ordinary decision comes down from SJC, the clerk contacts the parties so they have notice before the decision appears on the Court’s web site.  I found out, however, that the clerk’s office doesn’t do this with memorandum decisions.

Hence, last week, another lawyer in an appeal I was working on was surfing the site and noticed that, unbeknownst to us, our case had been decided (fortunately in our favor).  With memorandum decisions, the site only notes that a decision has been made, and recites "affirmed" or that ilk — you can’t click on decision and get the text.  I suppose the view is that people aren’t as interested in memorandum decisions, and they have limited precedential value, so such decisions are treated differently.  The lawyers will get the decision in the mail soon enough, and it isn’t going to say much in any event, so there’s no need for forewarning or for posting the text on-line.

But to the parties involved, the decision is certainly important, and finding a decision in your case on-line before any notice to you can be startling.  Not being able to read the decision when you do see it on-line is also a little startling.  Snail mail can be just that, too.  When there are intervening holidays, weekends etc., that interim period between a posting and not knowing can stretch out.   

So I guess this means if you know your case is being decided on the briefs, or otherwise might be subject to a memorandum decision, and you want to be aware that of the decision as soon as you can, you need to keep checking that web site and follow up.  In our case, when I saw the entry on the web site, I called Matt Pollack, and he then e-mailed the decision to me, so I could read the one paragraph later that day. Perhaps as the SJC makes communications and filings in general more electronic, it can notify lawyers about memorandum decisions as with its other decisions, eliminating this notice disparity.

Aside from this general SJC policy regarding notice, I’ve noticed just plain individual lack of notice on some cases from the First Circuit — a few cases that have suddenly appeared on line, without notice first having been given to us that they are coming.   

I guess the moral of the story is to just keep checking those court sites.  I try to keep up with all the decisions coming out of the SJC and First Circuit, and to do so in a timely manner.  Here’s another incentive not to let them pile up.