Finding History in a Drawer

In 1875, a jury committed Mary Todd Lincoln to an insane asylum.  This week, the Chicago Tribune reported that two Illinois State Supreme Court justices discovered her trial papers still on file with the Cook County Clerk!  The Clerk’s Office will be donating them to the Lincoln museum, but we hope the story does not end there.  Like many others, we’ve previously posted about the cultural heritage reflected in state court files.  Some of the stories told in these documents are historically significant, like Mary Todd Lincoln’s commitment, or John Wesley Hardin’s murder trial (see this Texas Task Force report).  Many stories, however, are just minor threads in life’s tapestry: divorces, probates, business disputes.  Whether the story is big or small, the court records that tell it may be irreplaceable.

Each state’s preservation rules differ.  Some place the retention determination in the hands of state libraries or archives, some issue mandatory retention schedules based on the nature of the action, and some afford the clerk of court discretion to dispose of files after prescribed time periods.  Even if a clerk of court wanted to save everything, storage expenses and space constraints make this impossible.  The costs of digitizing every paper record are prohibitive.  As cultural institutions may not be interested in less noteworthy files, many are noticed for destruction.  Provided that a state’s rules allow it, however, law libraries may be uniquely positioned to rescue these files — preserving not just the documents, but also state history.  And if you spend some time digging through them all, you never know just what you might find…

New SCOCAL Resource – 9th Circuit Questions of Certification to the California Supreme Court

Thanks to the good folks at Hughes Hubbard & Reed LLP, the SCOCAL site now has a terrific new resource.

The 9th Circuit Questions of Certification to the California Supreme Court page contains a detailed list, with links, of all the questions certified to the California Supreme Court by the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

The practice began in 1998 and the list includes current cases.

Under California Rules of Court, Rule 8.548 (Decision on request of a court of another jurisdiction):

On request of the United States Supreme Court, a United States Court of Appeals, or the court of last resort of any state, territory, or commonwealth, the Supreme Court may decide a question of California law if:
(1)The decision could determine the outcome of a matter pending in the requesting court; and
(2)There is no controlling precedent.

Some time ago, the attorneys at  Hughes Hubbard & Reed LLP starting tracking these types of questions as presented to the California Supreme Court by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

As we’ve mentioned before (here and here), our ALR students write annotations on California Supreme Court cases that appear on the SCOCAL site.  Our students regularly contact the attorneys in the cases to acquire briefs for posting on SCOCAL alongside their annotations.  This past quarter, one of our students reached out to the the attorneys at Hughes Hubbard & Reed LLP.  Lucky for us, the attorneys there knew about our site and asked if we would be interested in posting and hosting their terrific resource listing the questions presented to the California Supreme Court.    We, of course, said yes.  Our students have now annotated sixteen of the cases on the list, and we hope to add more this year.

Please take a look and spread the word.

Special thanks, as always, to the amazing crew at Justia for everything they do to support the SCOCAL project as it evolves and grows.

Between a Rock and a Free Site

We are big fans of free and low-cost legal research alternatives here at LRP.  And, we share our enthusiasm with our students in Advanced Legal Research.

But what do you do when there are apparent discrepancies in the free sites that you steer your students to time and time again?

Here is the story:

A professor stopped by the library one day and started off by saying how great Cornell’s LII site is but was wondering about a potential error on their site.

What was the error?

In the Federal Rules of Appellate Practice, Rule 4: Appeal as of Right — When Taken, there is a section dealing with appeals in criminal cases.

In 2009, that rule was modified: defendant’s notice of appeal needs to be filed within 14 days of certain events.  The prior version of the rule required that this notice needed to be filed within 10 days.

The big change: 14 days now; before, 10 days.

As of May 13th, the version of FRAP Rule 4 on LII’s site still shows the text of the old rule.  The top of that page states that it is current through 2007.  (And, not 2009.)

I decided to look around at other important research sites and see what was online.

The Office of the Law Revision Counsel prepares and publishes the United States Code, and on their site (uscode.house.gov) they have the text of the code and the rules.  They also have the wrong version of FRAP Rule 4.  The LII folks work off of the House site, so it isn’t that surprising.  This House version has a currency date as of 1/2009 — the rule was changed in March, taking effect in December 2009.

However, another site at the US House of Representatives has it right.  On the House Judiciary Committee site, they have the correct version of the rule posted on their Procedural Documents page.

The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts has the correct version posted on their Rules page.   I also checked a number of Federal Court websites and all had the current version.

The GPO Access site directs you to the most recent printed, official version of the US Code (2006), so this is out of date.  And, worth noting: “The information contained in the U.S. Code on GPO Access has been provided to GPO by the Office of the Law Revision Counsel of the U.S. House of Representatives.”   But, of course.   Also, FDSys has such a great interface and so much useful information, but it is only current through the last official supplement — missing the current version of this rule.

As to various commercial versions: Westlaw and Lexis have the correct version.  And, FastCase and CaseMaker also have the current version.

However, newcomer on the block, Bloomberg’s BLAW has a 1998 version — very out of date (and still with the 10 days instead of 14 days mistake, among others).

So, what is the right thing to say to your class?  Do we feed the research paranoia, as Bob Berring describes it, where students feel the need to double or triple check everything online on multiple sources?  Or do we frustrate the students with the caveat that sometimes even the best resources aren’t going to do the trick?

This is truly a teachable moment, but not the type of lesson I had in mind.

Brief Fight Likely to End in Compromise

From tomorrow’s (Friday’s) San Francisco Recorder:

Brief Fight Likely to End in Compromise
The Recorder

By Mike McKee

October 30, 2009

The [California] Supreme Court sounds willing to end its practice of shipping briefs from all the state’s appellate cases to Westlaw and LexisNexis, which charge for them. An Irvine lawyer [Edmond Connor] saw a copyright problem…

Some more from the article:

‘Connor, who claims court briefs are lawyers’ copyrighted property, wrote again last Friday, urging the court to at least amend Rule of Court 8.212 — which requires lawyers to file either one electronic copy or four hard copies of their briefs with the high court — to instead require only one paper copy.

“Litigants will not have to incur the needless time and expense,” he wrote, “of providing the court with extra copies of briefs that the court simply discards — or gives away to vendors.”

Local Rules in the Wake of Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 32.1

“Local Rules in the Wake of Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 32.1”

DAVID R. CLEVELAND, Nova Southeastern University – Shepard Broad Law Center

Adoption of the Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 32.1 has had a ripple effect throughout the federal courts of appeals, but it has not brought uniformity on the issue of unpublished opinions. The federal judiciary’s practice of issuing unpublished opinions traditionally ascribed three characteristics to such opinions: unpublished, non-citeable, and non-precedential. However, local rules of the Courts of Appeals are widely varied on these characteristics. The most fundamental jurisprudential question: “what is law?” has varying answers across a supposedly uniform federal system. From the types of cases eligible for unpublication to the limits of citation of unpublished opinions to the precedential status afforded such opinions, uncertainty and ambiguity abounds.

This article, Local Rules in the Wake of Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 32.1, examines the federal judiciary’s desire for uniform rules on publication and citation (and its persistent avoidance of the precedent issue) regarding unpublished opinions. It then categorizes and analyzes the circuits’ local rules regarding publication, citation, and precedent in the wake of Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 32.1. Finding significant discrepancies between circuit local rules in each of these three categories, the article argues for truly uniform publication, citation, and precedent rules – the most direct of which would be to end the experiment with unpublished opinions and recognize the full value of all circuit court opinions.

 

Source:  LSN Law & Courts Vol. 3 No. 59,  09/07/2009