Judges are generally barred from commenting on cases pending before them, and efforts to reach Gantman, Bowes, and Olson for comment were unsuccessful.
Sprague, a former prosecutor who has crafted a decades-long reputation as an indomitable litigator, confirmed that the motion had been filed Wednesday in Harrisburg but referred a reporter to the filing for further information.
"This is an extraordinary filing and a little bit risky," said Mary Levy, a visiting professor at Temple University's law school and an expert on Pennsylvania appellate practice. "These are the people deciding this issue, and you are now essentially putting yourself in an adversarial role with them."
The appeal in question involves a defamation suit filed in 2005 by two former Lackawanna County commissioners against the Scranton Times-Tribune about an article describing their testimony before a state investigating grand jury.
The suit, filed by Sprague for Commissioners Randall A. Castellani and Joseph J. Corcoran, has yet to reach trial and has been through several pretrial appeals to the Superior and Supreme Courts.
Now, more than a year since the Superior Court panel heard oral arguments in the appeal and almost three years after the Supreme Court ordered the Superior Court to take up the appeal, Sprague's motion says, enough is enough:
"This court should remove the three [Superior Court] panel members from deciding this matter, assume plenary jurisdiction, and decide the merits of this appeal on the briefs submitted or with oral argument on the briefs submitted."
Sprague wrote that by taking such an action, the Supreme Court, which oversees the state's judiciary, "will send an unambiguous directive to all commonwealth appellate and trial court judges that delays of this magnitude are unacceptable, bring the entire judiciary into disrepute, and deprive litigants of due process and their constitutional right to have their cases decided without undue delay."
John Timothy Hinton Jr., the lawyer defending the Scranton newspapers in the case, called the motion "a pretty extraordinary application. I've never seen anything like it."
Hinton said he would prepare a reply. He acknowledged that there "has been delay in deciding this matter."
Among lawyers, the time it takes to decide an appeal in Pennsylvania courts has long been a subject of complaint - though not in the form of a public challenge asking the Supreme Court to do something about it.
While appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court are usually decided within a year or less after they are argued, appeals in Pennsylvania courts can take years, even in pretrial criminal appeals, where a person may be in jail, unable to make bail, and awaiting trial.
For example, Jose Alicea, 28, has been in prison since he was 19, awaiting trial in a 2005 fatal shooting in Philadelphia's Olney section.
In 2008, Common Pleas Court Judge Benjamin Lerner ruled in Alicea's favor on a pretrial question involving expert testimony. The District Attorney's Office appealed, and in 2011, a Superior Court panel affirmed Lerner. Prosecutors appealed again, to the state Supreme Court, which decided to review the case in April 2012 and heard oral argument that September. The appeal remains undecided.
Appeals in Pennsylvania go from the trial level - County Courts - to one of two intermediate appellate courts. Civil and almost all criminal appeals land in Superior Court; issues involving state, county, and local laws or government agencies go to Commonwealth Court.
Both those courts usually hear appeals with three-judge panels. Parties dissatisfied with the ruling can then ask the Supreme Court to accept an appeal for review.
Levy said delays in deciding appeals are not unusual, especially for the court in question. "The Superior Court is one of the nation's busiest intermediate appellate courts, 7,500 to 8,000 cases a year," she said.
"Two years is definitely a long time for appeal to be pending, but it's not an extraordinary amount of time," Levy added. "It doesn't strike me as outrageous."