Thursday, September 16, 2004

Judicial Plagiarism? The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that federal judges must write their own opinions and cannot simply sign an opinion that was "ghostwritten" by lawyers.

In Bright v. Westmoreland County, a unanimous three-judge panel issued a stiff rebuke to U.S. District Judge Arthur J. Schwab of the Western District of Pennsylvania after concluding that defense lawyers had submitted a "proposed opinion" and that Schwab adopted it "nearly verbatim" as his own. "When a court adopts a party's proposed opinion as its own, the court vitiates the vital purposes served by judicial opinions. We, therefore, cannot condone the practice used by the district court in this case," U.S. Circuit Judge Richard L. Nygaard wrote in an opinion joined by 3rd Circuit Judges Theodore A. McKee and Michael Chertoff.

Nygaard found there was "no record evidence which would allow us to conclude that the district court conducted its own independent review, or that the opinion is the product of its own judgment. In fact, the procedure used by the district court casts doubt on the possibility of such a conclusion." As a result, Nygaard concluded that the 3rd Circuit was forced to remand the case to Schwab with an order requiring that he "engage in an independent judicial review."

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