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Federal judges must write their own opinions and cannot simply sign an opinion that was “ghostwritten” by lawyers, the 3d U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled. In Bright v. Westmoreland County, No. 03-4320, 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,” 3d Circuit Judge Richard L. Nygaard wrote in an opinion joined by judges Theodore A. McKee and Michael Chertoff. Nygaard found that there was no “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 3d Circuit was forced to remand the case to Schwab with an order requiring that he “engage in an independent judicial review.” If Schwab decides again to dismiss the case, Nygaard said, he must “prepare an opinion explaining the reasons for [his] order.” Schwab, in response to a call from The Legal Intelligencer, a sister publication of The National Law Journal, issued a statement that said: “I have carefully reviewed the clear and thoughtful opinion of the Court of Appeals in the Bright case. I appreciate its candor, and will of course make every effort to follow its advice, counsel and directions, in this and all cases.” The 3d Circuit’s ruling revives a civil rights lawsuit brought by a man who claims that the murder of his 8-year-old daughter could have been prevented if police and law enforcement officials had promptly jailed the murderer for violating his probation.

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