Are the Illinois Supreme Court’s Dissents Getting Longer (Part 2)?

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Yesterday, we began our examination of trends in the Illinois Supreme Court’s civil and criminal dissents.  We discovered that dissents were at an extremely high level on the criminal side, and somewhat elevated on the civil side, but have settled down in the years since.  The average length of the civil and criminal dissents started to creep up halfway through our first eight years, before definitely increasing in the 2005-2007, when majority opinions were also edging up.

In Table 347, we report the average data for civil and criminal dissents between 2008 and 2015.  We see that for much of this period, the average length of civil and criminal dissents was fairly similar.  In 2008, civil dissents were up to 7.14 pages, while criminal dissents averaged 9 pages.  The following year, civil dissents were flat at 7.2 pages, while criminal dissents averaged 7.55 pages.  In 2010, civil dissents were up slightly to 8.1 pages.  Criminal dissents were down a bit, averaging 6.69 pages.

In 2011, dissents in civil cases were slightly longer, averaging 8.8 pages.  Criminal dissents were up slightly as well, averaging 7.14 pages.  In 2012 and 2013, dissents got noticeably shorter.  For 2012, the average civil dissent was 5.95 pages to 4.67 pages on the criminal side.  The next year, civil dissents averaged 5.8 pages to only 3.29 pages for criminal dissents.  In the most recent two years, dissents have edged back up a bit, but not reaching the levels they were at even as recently as 2011.  In 2014, the average dissent in a civil case was 6.43 pages.  The average criminal dissent was only slightly longer, at 6.86 pages.  Last year, civil dissents were up a bit, averaging 8.44 pages.  Criminal dissents, however, were down slightly at 5.83 pages.

Table 347

Join us back here next week as we turn our attention to a new subject, studying the Court’s history with amicus curiae briefs in civil and criminal cases.

Image courtesy of Flickr by Ron Frazier (no changes).

Are the Illinois Supreme Court’s Dissents Getting Longer (Part 1)?

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This week, we conclude our analysis of trends in the length of the Court’s opinions with a look at the Justices’ dissents.

First, let’s turn to the most fundamental question – just how common are dissents?  The data reported in Table 345 is not total cases in which at least one dissent was filed, which we have sometimes reported as the non-unanimous rate.  It’s total separately signed dissents.  When a Justice filed a written dissent from a denial of rehearing, we count that here too.

One thing is immediately obvious from reviewing the chart.  At least in criminal matters, the Court was quite divided in the years immediately leading up to the 2004 election.  The Justices filed seventy-seven dissents in criminal cases in 2000.  The figure dived, but still stayed high in the years immediately following: 34 in 2001, 44 in 2002, 26 in 2003 and 18 in 2004.  Civil dissents during those years were a bit higher than they’ve been in the years since, but only slightly – 21 in 2000, 16 in 2001, 21 in 2002, 15 in 2003 and 13 in 2004.

The stark division between the number of criminal and civil dissents has disappeared in the years since the election of incoming Chief Justice Lloyd Karmeier.  The Justices filed eleven dissents each in civil and criminal cases in 2005.  In 2006, they filed twenty dissents in civil cases, 16 in criminal cases.  In 2007, there were only eight civil dissents to 10 on the criminal side.  In 2008, there were fourteen civil dissents, but there were ten each in 2009, 2010 and 2011.  There were eight dissents in criminal cases in 2008, 11 in 2009, 13 in 2010 and 15 in 2011.  Dissents reached their highest level in recent years on the civil side in 2012 at 20, with 12 being filed on the criminal side.  For the next two years, the sides of the docket were almost evenly matched – 15 civil in 2013, 7 in 2014 to 14 criminal in 2013, 7 in 2014.  Last year, there were nine dissents filed on the civil side to six on the criminal side.

Table 345

We’ve noticed in our earlier work that majority opinions (but not concurrences) seemed to be getting a bit longer late in the period 2000-2007.  We see an interesting result in Table 346 below – dissents weren’t especially long in the period 2000-2003, when dissents were commonplace.  They started to get a bit longer beginning in 2004, when they became rarer.

In 2000, the average civil dissent was four pages, to 3.1 on the criminal side.  In 2001, civil dissents were up to 5.38 pages, although they fell to an average 4.52 in 2002.  During that same period, criminal dissents first retreated a bit in 2001 to 2.91 pages before increasing to 3.77 in 2002.  In 2003, the average civil dissent was 5.2 pages, the average criminal dissent 3.57.

In 2004, the average dissent on the civil side was up to 6.94 pages.  Criminal dissents were even longer, averaging 7.21 pages.  In 2005, civil dissents reached their highest level of the entire sixteen years, averaging 9.45 pages; but criminal dissents dropped, to 3.91 pages.  But the next year, both sides were high – civil dissents averaged 8.95 pages, criminal dissents 7.28 pages.  In 2007, dissents in civil cases were down to 5.5 pages, and criminal dissents were down slightly, remaining historically high at an average length of 6.9 pages.

Table 346

Join us back here tomorrow and we’ll review the data for the civil and criminal dissents between 2008 and 2015.

Image courtesy of Flickr by Doug Kerr (no changes).

Are the Court’s Special Concurrences Getting Longer in Criminal Cases?

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Yesterday, we reviewed trends in the Illinois Supreme Court’s special concurrences in civil cases.  Today, we turn to the criminal docket.

We report the data in Table 344 below.  We noted yesterday that special concurrences tended to be somewhat longer in non-unanimous decisions, speculating that concurrences might be used at times to respond to points raised in dissents.  We see here that that’s not true in criminal cases – non-unanimous concurrences were longer in only five of the sixteen years.  In addition to being more numerous, concurrences have tended to be somewhat longer on the criminal side.  Between 2000 and 2006, concurrences in unanimous cases have generally averaged between 4 and 6 pages (with the lone exceptions of 2001 and 2005).  Concurrences in non-unanimous decisions were more variable, ranging from only one page in 2004 to 10.3 in 2006.

In the years since, there’s no consistent trend in the average length of concurrences on the criminal side.  For example, in 2008, concurrences in non-unanimous cases averaged three pages.  In 2010, they were up to 7.33 pages.  Two years later, concurrences in non-unanimous cases averaged only one page.  In 2008, concurrences in unanimous cases averaged 4.17 pages.  By 2012, that was down to 2.67 pages.  But by 2014, the average concurrence in unanimous cases averaged six pages.  Last year, all the special concurrences on the criminal side were in unanimous decisions, with an average length of 4.75 pages.

Table 344

Join us back here next Tuesday as we turn our attention to trends in the Court’s dissents.

Image courtesy of Flickr by Adam Moss (no changes).

Are the Court’s Special Concurrences Getting Longer in Civil Cases?

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Last week, we completed our examination of trends in the length of the Illinois Supreme Court’s majority opinions.  This week, we turn our attention to the Court’s special concurrences.

First, a preliminary question.  Concurring opinions are a somewhat controversial subject in appellate law; some people have suggested that they tend to detract from the impact of the majority opinion and diminish the Court’s voice.  So how common are special concurrences on the Illinois Supreme Court?

We report the data in Table 342 below.  The biggest surprise here is that special concurrences are nearly always more common in criminal cases than in civil cases.  In the years immediately before the Court’s political balance shifted in 2004, many special concurrences were filed on the criminal side – 28 in 2000, 16 in 2001, 17 in 2002 and 15 in 2003.  Many fewer special concurrences were filed during those years on the civil side – 6 in 2000, 8 in 2001, 7 in 2002 and 4 in 2003.  In the seven years that followed (2004-2010), special concurrences reached double digits only once – in 2005, 11 special concurrences were filed in civil cases to 6 on the criminal side.  Special concurrences spiked on the criminal side in 2011 with 16; seven were filed that year on the civil side.  Since that time, concurrences have fallen off again.  Five were filed on the civil side in 2012 to four on the criminal side.  In 2013, there were four civil concurrences to seven in criminal cases.  In 2014, only one was filed on the civil side, to four on the criminal side.  Last year, four special concurrences were filed on the criminal side.

Table 342

We report the average length of the Court’s special concurrences in civil cases in Table 343 below.  The data gives some support to the theory that special concurrences are frequently used to address points raised in dissents; in ten of the sixteen years, the average special concurrence was longer in non-unanimous decisions than in unanimous ones.  From 2000 to 2002, special concurrences in non-unanimous cases averaged 6, 8 and 9.7 pages, respectively.  Special concurrences were much shorter in unanimous decisions – 1.4 pages in 2000, 2.17 pages in 2001 and 2 pages in 2002.  Even though special concurrences increased in number in 2005, they weren’t much longer; in non-unanimous cases that year, concurrences averaged 4 pages, to 2.67 in unanimous decisions.

We discovered in the past two weeks that the length of majority opinions tends to move in a fairly consistent way from one year to the next.  Special concurrences are different; there is no real trend in length, either during the early years of our period when majorities were getting longer, or more recently when they seem to be getting a bit shorter.  In 2008, concurrences averaged three pages in non-unanimous decisions to 6.5 pages in unanimous cases. Three years later, the numbers were almost the same – two pages in non-unanimous decisions, six in unanimous cases.  In 2012, concurrences were even shorter – 2.67 pages in non-unanimous decisions, one in unanimous cases.  Concurrences were somewhat longer in 2013 (8 pages non-unanimous, 3.67 unanimous), but there was only one concurrence in a civil case in 2014, and none last year.

Table 343

Join us back here tomorrow as we review the special concurrences in criminal cases from 2000 to 2015.

Image courtesy of Flickr by Adam Moss (no changes).

Are the Court’s Majority Opinions Getting Longer in Criminal Cases (Part II)?

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Today, we conclude our look at the evolution of the Court’s majority opinions with a look at the criminal docket between 2008 and 2015.  Last week, we observed two trends in the data.  First, majority opinions in non-unanimous decisions were consistently longer than majorities in unanimous decisions – and the margin between non-unanimous and unanimous majorities in criminal cases was consistently higher than the difference in civil cases.  Second, there was some indication in the years 2005-2007 that majority opinions might be getting longer.

Neither of those trends has held between 2008 and 2015.  In 2010, 2012 and 2013, majority opinions in unanimous criminal decisions averaged longer than non-unanimous majorities. Even in years when non-unanimous majorities averaged more, the difference was less than it typically was between 2000 and 2007.  In 2008, majority opinions in non-unanimous decisions fell to 21.4 from a high of 30.1 the previous year; majority opinions in unanimous cases averaged 14.6 pages.  The next year, non-unanimous majority opinions averaged 22.3 pages.  Majority opinions in unanimous decisions were up a page and a half to 15.97 pages.  Majority opinions in non-unanimous decisions were down to only 13.67 pages in 2010, while the average in unanimous cases drifted up nearly three pages.

In the most recent five years, majority opinions have drifted downwards, just as we saw in civil cases.  In 2011, majority opinions in non-unanimous decisions were up to 16.5 pages, but they were down to 12.49 pages in unanimous cases.  In 2012 and 2013, division in the Court had almost no impact on the length of the majority opinions.  In 2012, non-unanimous majorities averaged 11.06 pages to 11.19 in unanimous cases.  The following year, non-unanimous majorities were down to 10.14 pages, while majority opinions in unanimous cases were up only slightly, to 11.75 pages. Majority opinions in non-unanimous decisions have drifted up slightly in the past two years, to 13 (2014) and 15.17 pages (2015), while majority opinions in unanimous decisions have been flat – 11.62 in 2014 and 11.7 pages last year.

Table 341

Join us back here next Tuesday as we begin our look at the Court’s special concurrences.

Image courtesy of Flickr by Kathy (no changes).

Are the Court’s Majority Opinions Getting Longer in Civil Cases (Part II)?

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Last week, we started working on a new question – how has the length of the Illinois Supreme Court’s majority opinions evolved in civil and criminal cases since 2000?  Last week, we reviewed the years 2000-2007; this week, we’ll look at the years 2008 through 2015.

The data for civil cases is reported in Table 340 below.  Between 2000 and 2007, we saw that non-unanimous majority opinions were consistently a least a bit longer than majority opinions in unanimous cases.  Between 2008 and 2015, the relationship between the two is not as stable.  In fact, in 2009 and 2011-2013, majority opinions were slightly longer in unanimous cases.

Between 2005 and 2007, we saw last week indications that majority opinions might be getting longer, at least in non-unanimous cases.  We see below that that trend hasn’t held.  Non-unanimous majorities averaged 19.2 pages in 2008 to 15.4 pages in unanimous cases.  The following year, non-unanimous majorities fell to 14.75 pages, while majority opinions in unanimous cases were flat at 15.39 pages.  In 2010, majority opinions in non-unanimous cases were up by three and a half pages, but the average for unanimous decisions fell by nearly a page.

Majority opinions were shorter in all cases in 2011; non-unanimous majorities fell by exactly five pages, while the average unanimous majority was down to 13.28 pages.  The following year, majority opinions fell further to 11.06 pages (non-majority decisions) and 11.19 pages (majority decisions).  In 2013, majority opinions in non-unanimous cases reached their lowest level of the entire period, averaging only 10.14 pages.  Majority opinions in unanimous decisions were only a bit longer, averaging 11.75 pages.  In the most recent two years, majority opinions have gotten a bit longer – 13.0 (non-unanimous) and 11.62 (unanimous) in 2014, 15.67 (non-unanimous) and 13.06 (unanimous) in 2015.

Table 340

Join us back here tomorrow as we turn to an analysis of the Court’s majority opinions in criminal cases between 2008 and 2015.

Image courtesy of Flickr by Chris Phan (no changes).

Are the Court’s Majority Opinions Getting Longer in Criminal Cases (Part I)?

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Yesterday, we began our analysis of how the Illinois Supreme Court’s majority opinions have changed in the past sixteen years with a look at the civil docket between 2000 and 2007.  Today, we review the data for the criminal docket during the same years.

Once again, majority opinions in non-unanimous cases tended to be longer than in unanimous ones, but at least for the first half of the period, the difference was greater than it was on the civil side.  In 2000, majorities in non-unanimous criminal cases averaged 21.14 pages to 13.88 pages on the civil side.  Majorities in unanimous criminal cases averaged 13.13 pages – significantly less than divided decisions, but not dramatically longer than majorities in unanimous civil cases.  Opinions stayed in the same range in 2001 and 2002, both in an absolute and comparative sense.  Non-unanimous majorities averaged 20.96 and 21.19 pages, respectively; majorities in unanimous decisions averaged 12.94 and 11.72 pages.

In 2003 and 2004, majority opinions in non-unanimous criminal cases got a bit shorter – 16.42 pages in 2003, 17.08 in 2004.  Unanimous majorities, on the other hand, got a bit longer, drawing much closer to the non-unanimous cases.  In 2003, the average unanimous criminal majority opinion was 13.68 pages, and the following year, it rose over a page to 14.85.

Among divided decisions, the dip was short-lived, as majorities averaged 21 pages and 20.29 pages in 2005 and 2006.  But unanimous majorities got even longer, rising to their highest levels of the period – 16.38 pages in 2005 and 18.29 pages the following year.  Although majority opinions in non-unanimous criminal cases tended to be a bit longer than majorities in non-unanimous civil cases for the years 2000-2002, by 2005 and 2006, non-unanimous civil majorities tended to be significantly longer.

The following year showed a curious spike in the data.  Majorities in non-unanimous cases jumped by a third in average length to 30.13 pages.  But the Court wasn’t writing longer across the board – unanimous civil majorities actually dropped in average length to 15.9 pages.

Table 339

Join us back here next Tuesday as we address the data for the civil and criminal dockets between 2008 and 2015.

Image courtesy of Flickr by DanielSTL (no changes).

Are the Court’s Majority Opinions Getting Longer in Civil Cases (Part I)?

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Today, we begin a new topic in our analysis of the Illinois Supreme Court’s decision making – the average length of the Court’s majority, special concurrence and dissenting opinions.

In Table 338 below, we report the average length of majority opinions in civil cases between 2000 and 2007, divided into non-unanimous and unanimous decisions of the Supreme Court, as well as an overall average.  This chart shows two things: not surprisingly, majority opinions in non-unanimous cases tend to be a longer than in unanimous decisions (although only slightly so), and second, there is some evidence that the Court’s majority opinions were getting longer in the second half of the period.

We begin in 2000 – majority opinions in non-unanimous civil cases averaged 13.88 pages to 10.14 for unanimous decisions.  The following year, majorities were up a half page to 14.31 in non-unanimous cases, but majorities in unanimous decisions were up by around a third, to 13.5 pages.  Decisions continued to get longer in 2002 – majorities in non-unanimous decisions were up to 16.38 pages, to 15.18 in unanimous ones.  In 2003 and 2004, the Court’s opinions stopped edging up, leveling off at 14.13 and 15.44 pages (non-unanimous), and 14.75 and 14.95 pages (unanimous decisions).

But in 2005, the pattern diverged sharply, at least for non-unanimous decisions.  The average non-unanimous majority opinion in 2005 more than doubled in length to 32.56 pages.  For unanimous decisions, the average majority length was only up by 1.2 pages, to 16.11.  The average majority was down only slightly from its high in 2005 to 27.85 pages, while unanimous majorities increased roughly a page and a half, to 17.52.  Majority opinions in non-unanimous cases were down even more in 2007, but the average majority (21 pages) was still significantly longer than it had been at any time in the 2000-2004 period.  Average opinions in unanimous cases dropped by three-tenths of a page, coming in at 17.16 pages.

Table 338

Join us back here tomorrow as we review the average majority opinions in criminal cases at the Court between 2000 and 2007.

Image courtesy of Flickr by David Ohmer (no changes).

Average Votes to Affirm the Appellate Court in Criminal Cases – Overall Conclusions

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Yesterday, we gathered up our last several weeks’ work to assess the performance of the Districts and Divisions of the Appellate Court in civil cases before the Illinois Supreme Court. Today, we review the criminal docket.

The same court led among non-unanimous criminal decisions that led for non-unanimous civil cases – Division Five of the First District, which averaged four votes to affirm. Totals were less dispersed on the criminal side that on the civil; three quarters of the state averaged between three and four votes to affirm in non-unanimous cases. Division One of the First District was second behind Division Five at 3.67 votes. Division Two was just behind them at 3.6. The Second District, unattributed cases from the First District and cases from Division Three of the First District were closely bunched at 3.32 votes, 3.29 votes and 3.27 votes to affirm. Division Four of the First District averaged 3.17 votes, followed by the Fifth District at 3.09 and Division Six of the First District at 3. Only three courts averaged less than three votes to affirm in non-unanimous decisions: the Third District (2.85), the Fourth District (2.77) and direct appeals from the Circuit Court, which averaged only 2.28 votes to affirm.

Unanimous criminal decisions were dispersed, with half the Districts averaging more votes to affirm in unanimously decided cases and half fewer. Division Six of the First District led, averaging 4.28 votes to affirm in criminal cases decided unanimously 2000-2015. The Second District was second at 3.94 votes, followed by unattributed cases from the First District at 3.51 and decisions from Division Five at 3.5. Division Four averaged 3.33 votes to affirm, with Division Three of the First District right behind at 3.27. In a mild surprise, direct appeals fared a bit better on the criminal side than on the civil, averaging 3.04 votes to affirm. The five remaining courts all averaged between two and three votes to affirm: Division One of the First District (2.89); the Fifth District (2.62); the Third District (2.53); Division Two of the First District (2.47); and finally, Division Four of the First District at 2.14 votes to affirm.

Table 336

We report the percentage of criminal cases unanimously reversed in Table 337 below. Two courts had over half of their criminal decisions reviewed by the Court unanimously reversed – Division Four of the First District (57.14%) and Division Two (50%). Four courts averaged between forty and fifty percent unanimous reversals: the Third District (48.7%); Division One of the First District (44%), Division Three of the First District (41.46%) and the Fifth District (40.63%). The Fourth District and unattributed cases from the First District were next, averaging 38.46% and 38.1% unanimous reversals. The Second District fared well, averaging only 32.11% unanimous reversals, and Division Five averaged only 30%. The two leading courts in this category in the criminal docket were Division Six of the First District, which saw only 28% of its criminal decisions unanimously reversed, and direct appeals, only 25.93% of which ended in unanimous reversals.

Table 337

So where does all this leave us? For the entire sixteen years, civil decisions have fared a bit better than criminal ones for Division Four of the First District, unattributed decisions of the First District and the Third and Fourth Districts. Criminal decisions have fared slightly better from Divisions Two and Six of the First District and the Second and Fifth Districts. The two sides of the docket have been quite close for decisions from Divisions One, Three and Five of the First District.

Join us back here next Tuesday as we begin another topic: the evolving length of the Court’s majority, special concurrence and dissenting opinions in civil and criminal cases.

Image courtesy of Flickr by Bill Rand (no changes).

Refining Reversal Rates: Average Votes to Affirm the Appellate Court in Civil Cases – Overall Conclusions

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For the past several weeks, we’ve been refining simple reversal rates as a measure of an Appellate Court’s standing by analyzing, District by District (and Division by Division), the average votes to affirm the Appellate Court. By doing so, we distinguish between decisions which are narrowly reversed by a sharply divided court, and those which are reversed with little or no dissent. Today, we gather up our year-by-year work to look at some overall conclusions for the civil docket.

Division Five of the First District performed best for the entire period of 2000-2015 in non-unanimous Supreme Court decisions, averaging 4.08 votes to affirm. The Workers Compensation Division of the Second District was right behind, averaging four votes to affirm in non-unanimous decisions. Nine different courts averaged between three and four votes in non-unanimous decisions. Division Three of the First District averaged 3.67 votes, followed by Division One at 3.5, the Fourth District at 3.36 votes and Division Four of the First District at 3.33 votes. Decisions from the First District which we were unable to attribute to a Division averaged 3.25 votes to affirm in non-unanimous decisions. The Second District was right behind, averaging 3.24 votes. Three courts – Division Six of the First District and the Workers Compensation Divisions of the First and Fifth Districts, averaged three votes to affirm. Direct appeals averaged only 2.79 votes to affirm and Division Two of the First District was at 2.77 votes. The lowest averages among courts which had a significant number of cases in the sample were the Third District, which averaged only 2.4 votes to affirm, and the Fifth, which averaged 2.29.

Not surprisingly, average votes to affirm among unanimous decisions of the Supreme Court were for the most part lower than among non-unanimous decisions. The Workers Compensation Division of the First District led, averaging 5.86 votes to affirm among a very small sample. Unattributed decisions from the First District averaged 4.86 votes. Only three courts averaged between three and four votes: the Third District (3.95), the Fourth (3.58) and Division Four of the First District (3.39). Five courts averaged between two and three votes – Division Three of the First District with 2.88 votes, Division One of the First District with 2.81, the Second District at 2.8, Division Five of the First District at 2.7 votes, and Division Six of the First District, which averaged 2.57 votes to affirm in unanimous decisions. Our three lowest finishers are Division Two of the First District, which averaged only 1.98 votes to affirm in unanimous decisions, direct appeals, which averaged 1.79, and finally, the Fifth District at 1.57 votes to affirm.

Table 334

In Table 335 below, we report the percentage of civil decisions from each District and Division which were unanimously reversed by the Supreme Court. Not surprisingly given the data discussed above, the Fifth District led among courts with a substantial number of cases, with 56.79% of its civil decisions unanimously reversed. Division Six of the First District was next, with 55% of its cases unanimously reversed. Direct appeals ranked third, with 52.08% unanimous reversals. Only two courts averaged in the forties – Division Three of the First District (44.23%) and the Second District (43.75%). Five additional courts averaged around a third of their civil decisions being unanimously reversed: Divisions Five, One, Two and Four of the First District (37.5%, 35.71%, 35.71% and 34.88%, respectively), and the Third District at 30.36%. The Fourth District fared quite well over the entire period, averaging only 29.07% of its civil decisions being unanimously reversed, and unattributed decisions from the First District were even lower, at 18.18%.

Table 335

Join us back here tomorrow, as we review our overall conclusions from the criminal docket for the years 2000-2015.

Image courtesy of Flickr by Phil Roeder (no changes).

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