An opinion from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit was swiftly vacated two business days after it was issued November 29.
Judge Julio Fuentes had written the opinion, issued as not precedential, on behalf of a three-judge panel. Unbeknownst to Fuentes, his daughter, Karina Fuentes, a lawyer in the New Jersey Public Defender's Office, had worked on the appellant's brief.
In the opinion written by Judge Fuentes, the court ruled against attorney Fuentes' client.
The lawyer called Judge Fuentes as soon as her office got a copy of the court's opinion, realizing that her father was on the panel that decided in the case. He then called the other two judges on the panel and the court vacated the opinion, which will be presented to a new panel.
The Third Circuit has a system in the clerk's office for ensuring proper recusals, Fuentes said, but it's not designed to catch attorneys on the briefs; rather, it catches those who will appear before the court.
Karina Fuentes is listed as the research and writing attorney on the brief.
Judge Fuentes doesn't look at the attorneys on the briefs, he said, because the issues they present are more important. That's where he focuses, he said.
His staff are instructed to check for connections, he said, "but this one slipped through."
Both he and his daughter are glad that the situation could be dealt with, Fuentes said.
"We didn't catch it in time," he said, expressing regret that having the case reassigned would burden his colleagues.