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The post below was published on Friday, October 8th, 2010 at 12:18 PM.

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Second District: Adopting Proposed Judgments Verbatim

Proposed judgments are a difficult subject. Trial judges often request them and often sign them without making any changes. When is that error?

In this case, the Second District largely reversed a final judgment in a dissolution matter. The trial judge had given the parties no rulings or direction. Both sides simply submitted proposed judgments. The trial judge then entered the appellee’s proposal verbatim. It consisted of 17 pages of findings and conclusions, as well as over 20 mistakes — too much proof the judge did not exercise independent decisionmaking in reviewing the order for the appellate court to ignore.

Independent decisionmaking by the trial judge is the key to whether it is proper to adopt a proposed judgment. Being able to show the absence of such decisionmaking requires a bit of happenstance. As you might guess, overreaching by the other side helps.

Though my practice focuses on appeals, the trial support side of my work has involved me in countless battles over the contents of judgments and other orders. It can be an odd experience. In the end, it is peculiar that a litigation system so careful to level advantages throughout a trial court’s proceedings can allow for extreme one-sidedness when it comes to ending the case with a final judgment prepared by the victor, especially when the judge has given no advance direction regarding findings and conclusions.

The system depends on attentive trial judges. If only the system would offer them more resources.

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