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.