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Reminder From Fed. Dist. Court: Wikipedia is Not a Proper Legal Authority

Just saw this over at Legal Writing Prof Blog.

The court notes here that defense counsel appears to have cobbled much of his statement of the law governing ineffective assistance of counsel claims by cutting and pasting, without citation, from the Wikipedia web site. Compare Supplemental to Motion for New Trial (DN 199) at 18-19 with (last visited Feb. 9, 2011). The court reminds counsel that such cutting and pasting, without attribution, is plagiarism. The court also brings to counsel’s attention Rule 8.4 of the Kentucky Rules of Professional Conduct, which states that it is professional misconduct for an attorney to “engage in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation.” SCR 3.130(c)See also In re Burghoff, 374 B.R. 681 (Bankr.N.D.Iowa 2007)(holding that counsel’s plagiarism violated identical provision of Iowa Rules of Professional Conduct). Finally, the court reminds counsel that Wikipedia is not an acceptable source of legal authority in the United States District Courts.

From U.S. v. Sypher, Criminal Action No. 3:09-CR-00085, 2011 WL 579156 (W.D. Ky. Feb. 9, 2011).

Don’t plagiarize people! Also, cite case law – not the internet. Something like this will follow you around for the rest of your career.

UPDATE: A user over at r/Law on Reddit pointed out that the case is available on Google Scholar.

UPDATE 2: See new post: Then Again, Maybe Wikipedia IS a Legal Authority, for the S.D.N.Y.’s take on Wikipedia.


    • A fair point. However, until Wikipedia has the power to sanction me or dress me down in a holding – I’m going to play it safe and go with W.D. Ky. in regards to citing to Wikipedia. At least until I see something substantial from a higher court or a “Proper” legal authority.

      • … and yet, if either of you had read the Wikipedia entry on the subject, you would see that the first two United States cases mentioned indicate that Wikipedia is NOT an acceptable source. Yes, I once did a Lexis search for opinions that mention Wikipedia, and I found hundreds of them, most of them probably written by judicial clerks fresh out of law school who didn’t know better and judges who signed off on them without knowing what Wikipedia is, or perhaps quoting a brief similiarly written by a recent grad and signed off on by an older attorney. I hope we will see less of this garbage now that more people know about Wikipedia.

  1. Speaking of plagiarism, when are we going to see these judges give credit to their law clerks who, in all likelihood, wrote at least some of this case’s decision?

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