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Judicial Oversight: 7th Cir. Literally Lost a Case for 5 Years

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on August 12, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The Seventh Circuit simply forgot about a case, for over five years. In a surprising ruling issued by Judges Easterbrook and Kanne last Thursday, the court admitted that it had misplaced court filings, then forgotten about them for more than five years. The case was lost for so long that one of the three judges originally on the panel, Judge Terence Evans, passed away before it was rediscovered.

The case, involving investment adviser's fees, was on remand from the Supreme Court when it vanished among the clutter. It's rare to see a case languish for so long, but ridiculous delays and oversights in the justice system aren't unheard of, whether they're Seventh Circuit cases, decade's long failures to arrest convicts, or jailing individuals for years without charges.

Blame It on the Intern!

The Supreme Court decided Jones v. Harris Associates in March of 2010. The Court unanimously ruled that mutual fund investment advisors cannot charge exorbitant fees that are well out of proportion with the work done, even if the fund is aware of the fees. The case was remanded to the Seventh Circuit, where lawyers filed statements regarding how the circuit should proceed.

According to the court, those filings were literally "placed in the wrong stack and forgotten." The Seventh Circuit's case tracking system didn't track Supreme Court remands, so no one noticed. (The court's tech problems aren't surprising, given that the circuit's website is one of the worst court websites we've seen.) "The normal process of alerts and ticklers" failed to detect the delay.

Where were the lawyers, you ask? Totally on top of things, of course! James Bradley, attorney for the plaintiffs, told The Wall Street Journal that "after a couple of years, it seemed odd to us." He would check in but was regularly told that nothing had fallen through the cracks.

Lost in the System

Remanded SCOTUS cases aren't the only things the justice system can overlook. Last year, authorities in Missouri realized that they had simply forgotten to arrest a man convicted of armed robbery -- for 13 years. Cornealious "Mike" Anderson was convicted in 2000, but never arrested or imprisoned. He spent more than a decade raising a family, living a reformed life, even contracting with the government. Then, someone realized the error and he was arrested again. Public outcry eventually helped him earn immediate release.

Then there are the cases that are the polar opposite -- individuals who are arrested and held for years but never charged. Russell Hernandez spent two years in jail on Rikers Island, New York, without ever being charged with a crime. He was apparently jailed for so long because prosecutors wanted to force him to testify against gang members -- gang members who robbed him. Talk about blaming the victim! Hernandez eventually won a $1 million settlement from the city. Compared to Hernandez's experience, the Seventh Circuit's oversight doesn't seem nearly so bad.

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