Iowa judge allowed attorneys to ghost write “a couple hundred” orders and opinions

A recently retired Iowa trial judge has admitted that “a couple hundred” of his orders and opinions were ghost-written by the prevailing attorneys. Many of Judge Edward Jacobson’s requests for draft rulings were privately communicated by email.

Trial judges at all levels frequently deal with workload crunch by asking both parties to draft proposed findings and fact and conclusions of law. This is a sensible allocation of labor, since the parties and their attorneys are the most familiar with the underlying facts, and drafting orders is time-intensive. It is commonly understood among litigators that a well-drafted set of proposed findings can provide the bulk of a court’s subsequent order.

But judicial requests for proposed findings should be made on the record, in open court. Ex parte communications of the kind Judge Jacobson apparently engaged in suggest a breach of judicial ethics, or at minimum remarkable irresponsibility.

The state court administrator is investigating the matter, and has ordered that the judge’s emails be preserved for at least seven months.


Berkeley launches Judicial Institute

The University of California, Berkeley has launched a new Judicial Institute to explore the personal and professional issues that judges face. The Institute will be run by the Hon. Jeremy Fogel, U.S. District Judge for the Northern District of California, and for seven years the head of the Federal Judicial Center.

This is an exciting project, and landing Judge Fogel is a major coup. I’ll look forward to following the Institute’s work in the coming months and years.

Federal courts release Annual Report and latest statistics

The Administrative Office of the United States Courts has released its 2017 annual report, which includes a wealth of caseload statistics for the district courts and circuit courts of appeal. It’s a fascinating read for those who like reams of data.

For those who just want the punchline, Law360 gives a good summary:

In the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2017, case filings fell in federal courts of appeal by 16 percent and in district courts by 7 percent, while petitions to U.S. bankruptcy courts fell by 2 percent, bringing the overall number of cases filed in each of those courts to their lowest levels since at least fiscal year 2013, the report shows.

Since 2013, the number of cases filed in federal appellate courts have dropped by 10.5 percent, while the number filed in district courts have fallen 6 percent and federal bankruptcy petitions have declined by 28.5 percent, according to the data, which pointed to a few factors that impacted the year-on-year decline in each of those courts.

In U.S. district courts, the decline from 2016 was driven by a reduction in civil filings. They fell 8 percent from approximately 291,000 to just under 268,000 from one year to the next, while civil filings per authorized judgeship dropped from 431 in 2016 to 396 in 2017, the report said.

New Hampshire judge who doctored own performance evaluation faces charges

Like many states, New Hampshire conducts periodic performance evaluations of its sitting judges. Those evaluations include surveys of attorneys, court staff, and other individuals and agencies who interact with the judge in a professional capacity. (I have written about the importance of these surveys here.)

Unfortunately, Judge Paul Moore apparently did not have confidence in what his outside reviewers would say about his work. So he allegedly submitted dozens of anonymous survey responses himself, using different computers from around his home and workplace, in order to artificially raise his survey scores. Moore admitted the charges last week.

Moore is currently on administrative leave without pay. The state’s Judicial Conduct Committee will take up his case later this month.

McDonald nomination passes Connecticut House

The controversial nomination of Andrew McDonald to the Chief Justice of Connecticut barely passed the state House of Representatives on Monday, by a 75-74 voted. Several Democrats joined Republican opposition to make the vote extremely close.

McDonald had previously received an “unfavorable” report when his nomination led to a 20-20 committee vote. In the leadup to the House debate, outside groups accused Republicans of opposing McDonald because of his sexual orientation. Republicans again fiercely denied that charge in the House. And indeed, most of the debate centered on McDonald’s decision to join a slim 4-3 court majority which struck down the Connecticut death penalty. That decision spared the lives of two men on death row who had been convicted of killing the wife and daughters of state Rep. William Petit. Petit firmly fought against McDonald’s nomination.

The nomination now moves to the state senate, where Republicans hold a slim effective majority.