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Adopting the Gilbert & Sullivan style he enjoys, Dennis G. Jacobs, the new chief judge of the 2d U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, can be described as the very model of a modern major circuit judge. Jacobs strayed from the world of an English literature professor to become a lawyer, yet still holds a soft spot for the prolific Victorian novelist Anthony Trollope and the doggerel of Gilbert & Sullivan operettas. “It was not a propitious time to enter a career of college teaching,” said Jacobs of his decision to switch from lit to law after a brief tour as a lecturer in the English department of Queens College at the City University of New York from 1967 to 1969. He admitted his partiality to Victorian novels, particularly Trollope. “It is a lifetime interest and it will take a lifetime to complete,” he said. While Trollope failed in his law courses at Oxford in the 1800s due to what some suggested was bad temper, Jacobs is widely described as gregarious, friendly and “a really nice guy” by lawyers who practice before the court. A circuit colleague, Judge Sonia Sotomayor, who was confirmed about the same time as Jacobs was in 1992, said, “He is as widely read as anyone I know. He loves school kids and has engaged in teaching exercises” by presenting legal issues to high school students and analyzing the case as judges do, she said. Jacobs, 62, took over as chief judge on Oct. 1, from Judge John M. Walker Jr., who assumed senior status. The job assignment is based on court seniority and age. President George H.W. Bush appointed him to the 2d Circuit in 1992 after a 19-year legal career at the New York law firm Simpson Thacher & Bartlett handling largely insurance issues but also securities, contracts, antitrust and products liability cases. Jacobs, who was not widely known at the time of his nomination, was a director of the local chapter of the conservative Federalist Society. He caught the attention and backing of one of the co-founders of the society, Lee Liberman, after she was made assistant counsel to Bush. Liberman, who clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, said in a 1992 interview that she had backed Jacobs’ selection. He has a reputation as a conservative on the bench but not as an ideologue. “He’s a very cordial and intelligent judge and I have a lot of respect for him,” said Alex Bunin, the federal public defender for the Northern District of New York. Skyrocketing caseload While a litigation partner at Simpson Thacher, Jacobs helped in early organizing of pro bono efforts in 1990 with Bronx Legal Services, which ultimately accepted 40 individual cases and two class actions, using 51 lawyers, to aid indigent clients. “True, he’s conservative but I don’t think that plays a role in his results,” said Lauren Goldman, a former Jacobs law clerk from 1997 to 1998 and now an appellate practitioner with Chicago-based Mayer, Brown, Rowe & Maw’s New York office. “He is the opposite of a results-oriented judge. He is very, very careful in that way and extremely principled,” she said. As chief judge, Jacobs inherits the problem of the 2d Circuit’s growing immigration appeals caseload, which has skyrocketed by 1,400% since 2000. “Like the 9th Circuit, the court has a large backlog of immigration cases,” he said, but added that the circuit has already taken steps to curtail oral arguments in some asylum cases and has instituted a program to use a central cadre of law clerks specially assigned to asylum cases. “It increases the quality of justice rendered because the law clerks are skilled in that area,” he said. Widely viewed as philosophically conservative, Jacobs recently wrote the majority opinion upholding the emergency powers of the president to regulate international financial transactions in a time of security crisis and impose criminal penalties for violations. U.S. v. Wahaidy, No. 05-CR-4770. Jacobs also wrote the 2003 decision upholding the constitutionality of the government’s detention of Jordanian Osama Awadallah as a material witness shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York. The ruling upheld the jailing of a grand jury witness and reinstated perjury charges against the student, who was accused of lying about his association with one of the hijackers.

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