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Judge Goofs With Ghostwritten Rulings

By William Vogeler, Esq. on June 06, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Judges routinely ask attorneys to submit proposed rulings, but should they?

As officers of the court, attorneys have a duty to help administer justice. But there are limits to what they can do.

One former judge admitted that he asked attorneys to ghostwrite "a couple hundred" rulings. An independent review panel said the judge went too far in at least a dozen cases.

Proposed Rulings

Judge Edward Jacobson served in Plymouth County, Iowa for 16 years. But in a deposition last year, he "shocked Iowa's legal community" when he testified that he asked attorneys by phone or email to write proposed rulings in cases they had together.

After the admission, the Sioux City Journal reported, state court officials reviewed Jacobson's rulings for "any questionable and/or improper practices found." They found 13 cases.

The main problem was how the judge solicited the attorneys' help; he asked without notice to the opposing counsel. The review panel also pointed out other issues with proposed rulings in general.

"The United States Supreme Court itself criticized findings of fact which had been submitted by counsel and adopted verbatim by the trial court," the panel said. The high court "clearly stated its preference for those 'drawn with the insight of a disinterested mind.'"

"Time Constraints"

In his deposition and during the investigation, Jacobson said he didn't think he was doing anything wrong. He said it was a common practice.

When he reached out to attorneys to prepare rulings, he did it after ruling from the bench. "If I was under time constraints, that's usually when it happened," he said.

The independent reviewers recommended a continuing legal education session for judges and attorneys about the issues raised by ghostwritten rulings.

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