Friday, March 26, 2010

6 1/2 Years to Enter Judgment, C'mon Judge!

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is all over Chief Judge Henry Wingate (pic) for taking more than 6 1/2 years to perform the ministerial act of entering judgment in a jury verdict rendered in his courtroom in 2002.

Okay, this may sound like inside baseball for your non-attorneys, let me explain: a jury verdict and a judgment are not the same thing.  A judgment is an order entered by the Judge.  Judgment entries are ordered by Judges all the time in cases of all sorts of situations.  A jury verdict is not a judgement until the Judge records the verdict in a judgment entry.  This ministerial act of the court makes the verdict enforceable, and appealable.  Time frames begin to run after a verdict is "reduced" to judgment, conversely nothing happens when the court fails to record a verdict as a court order. 

It is axiomatic that a court "speaks through its docket" which means that the court by recording its decisions establishes the framework for the litigants to prosecute their claims, conduct their discovery and pursue their remedies.  A docket is a record maintained by the clerk of courts, that the court, the attorneys, the parties and others can refer to see what is going on in a case. Court dockets are mostly online and can be looked at in most courts 24/7 via your internet hook up.  The court that ignores the administrative functions leaves the litigants in limbo, which is what Judge Wingate did in the case of Jimmy Ford versus Brandon Technologies, according to the Clarion Ledger story.

The Fifth Circuit appellate panel noted that this is not the first time that Judge Wingate failed to take administrative acts that are expected of him as a U.S. District Court judge.  Whoa!  I can't say I've seen a recent U.S. Circuit Court panel as agitated at a U.S. District Court Judge as you see in this opinion.  You have got to wonder what has paralyzed Judge Wingate?  I, personally, know the feeling--a slight difference, Judge Wingate  has a well paid and fully staffed administrative office which the Court of Appeals was at pains to point out to him, so how did this happen and why does the appellate panel feel the need to point out that this failure on Judge Wingate's is part of a pattern? 

To Judge Wingate's credit he owned his responsibility for the failure.

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