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Federal Circuit converges on Indianapolis

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The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has kept up with a trend of publishing more written opinions than any other federal court, and one of the most significant happenings in the past year is the recent resurrection of inviting lower trial judges to sit by designation on appeals panels.

Chief Judge Frank Easterbrook offered those two points to hundreds of his colleagues within the federal legal community who are gathered in Indianapolis for the annual meeting of the 7th Circuit Bar Association and Judicial Conference. The two-day event rotates locations each year and comes to Indiana once every four years.

The business portions are today and Tuesday at the Westin Hotel, with panel discussions focusing on legal writing, caselaw about non-scientific evidence, attorney-client privilege in government investigations, e-communication security and privacy, civil discovery, victims' rights, patent litigation, and a look at the Midwest economy.

During his annual State of the Circuit address at a luncheon this afternoon, Chief Judge Easterbrook highlighted his decision in January to start inviting District judges to sit by designation at the 7th Circuit - a policy that hasn't been used for about 15 years. He plans to start inviting more judges later this year.

Overall, caseloads in the Circuit remain steady and saw an 8 percent increase last year, the chief judge said. The 7th Circuit continues standing out in that it publishes written opinions in 51 percent of its decisions, compared to 19 percent nationally - 693 were published last year, he said.

This coming year could present challenges in that the entire Western District of Wisconsin will see a complete turnover of judges, and the Southern District of Indiana may have two vacancies to fill simultaneously - that of Judge David F. Hamilton who's been nominated for the 7th Circuit, and Judge Larry McKinney who takes senior status in July.

Indiana Chief Justice Randall Shepard spoke briefly about how state courts continue working with the federal system to improve the nation's courts from within, and also about his work on a panel analyzing the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

Justice John Paul Stevens, the Circuit's representative for the U.S. Supreme Court, is a keynote speaker at a dinner reception this evening. Rev. David Link, former dean of Notre Dame Law School for 24 years, is receiving the American Inns of Court's 2009 Professionalism Award for the Seventh Circuit, which is given to a senior judge or lawyer whose life and practice displays "sterling character and unquestioned integrity, coupled with dedication to the highest standards of the legal profession."

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