Citation Process for California Supreme Court Opinions

On the NOCALL list today was an interesting posting from Kerry Shoji, Paralegal/Research Analyst.

Kerry had recently asked questions on the NOCALL list about the citation process for the California Supreme Court.  Kerry then passed the questions along to the experts, Fran Jones, Director of Library Services, California Judicial Center Library and Edward Jessen, Reporter of Decisions.

Below is the text of Kerry’s questions and Mr. Jessen’s responses. [Reproduced with the permission Kerry Shoji and Edward Jessen.]

“How can you find out a California Supreme Court citation on a recently decided case?  I have the LEXIS citation, but I am curious:

1) How the official reporter volume/page number for the citation is assigned?

The California Official Reports publisher assigns volumes and page numbers because it is essentially a byproduct of the print composition process, and deadlines preclude much involvement in this function by the Reporter of Decisions.  But the publisher is contractually required to print opinions in the order received, and there are contractual requirements for the pagination of volumes.

2) How long does it take to go from slip opinion to the bound opinion?

For example, Official Reports advance pamphlet No. 16 will contain all published opinions filed between 5/17/10 and 5/25/10, and will be issued on 6/17/10.  Promptness is regulated by the Official Reports publication contract.*

Citations for opinions in that pamphlet, however, will be available on LexisNexis by approximately June 11.

3) How one can determine the official citation once bound?

Bound volumes, as a general rule, publish about 10 to 12 months after the last pamphlet issues with opinions  for a particular volume.  Citations, however, never change between advance pamphlets and bound volumes, except that superseded opinions (review granted, depublished, or rehearing granted) are omitted.

4) Do all the Westlaw or Lexis electronic references get converted to the official citation once the bound version is issued?

For the California Official Reports, there are several points in the editorial process leading to the final version of opinions in the bound volumes at which this office or the publisher would “convert” a Lexis or Westlaw cite to another California opinion to the Official Reports cite.  The LexisNexis version of that opinion would also then receive the Official Reports cite in place of the Lexis or Westlaw cite.  I cannot speak to what Westlaw would do in this situation because it is not the official version of opinions and we do not control content in the way we do for opinions on LexisNexis.”

*Special note: Peter W. Martin, Cornell Law School, has published in his Access to Law site many of the contracts between State courts and law report publishers, including California (2003).  There is also a great table showing these contracts, too.

5 thoughts on “Citation Process for California Supreme Court Opinions

  1. Erika,

    I’m sure you’ve already seen it, but I always thought this viewpoint piece by Ed Jessen back in 2008 was an interesting perspective on the value of California cases on Lexis relative to Westlaw. I would be curious to know from him whether West’s editorial standards have changed since then.

    Also, given that Lexis is assigning page numbers as a “byproduct” the print composition, why don’t they include the pagination on the Courts site?

    • Thanks Jason,

      good point (and curious about the West standards, too)

      And speaking of the page numbers:
      Yes, I do find it interesting that the California contract (2003) for publication of the decisions includes this:

      “No copyright or other proprietary right may be procured or claimed by Matthew Bender with
      respect to any element of any citation for any opinion reported in the Official Reports. This
      includes any method of intra-opinion designation ( i.e.,” point page”references).”


      “Matthew Bender or LexisNexis will host a Web site of California opinions that will be available
      to the public at no charge and linked to the California Courts Web Site. This Web site will
      include the official text of opinions from volume 1, California Reports( 1850-1851) and volume
      1, California Appellate Reports (1905), through all opinions reported pursuant to this contract.
      Opinions will be added to the Web site not later than the approximate time final versions of
      opinions prepared for the Official Reports bound volumes are available.”

      Yet, no page numbers on the free site…..

  2. Erika,

    One last thing that I noticed was the fact that the electronic cases supplied by Lexis do not support inline images. For example, there are a number of figures included in the print and WestlawNext versions of People v. Pizarro, 110 Cal. App. 4th 530, but they are listed as “[SEE Figure {#}. {Description of figure} IN ORIGINAL].” I’ve been thinking more about what Daniel Poulin calls “illustrated judgments” and the limitations of or electronic case providers. This case is an example of how most services handle opinions. What is going to happen when we no longer have access (or only one vendor is providing access) to the illustrated part of opinions? And tack on hyperlinks, embedded video, audio, etc.

  3. Okay, really last thing here. My last comment should be clarified to note that more recent opinions, say 2005 and later include links to images. An example would be Christian v. Flora, 164 Cal. App. 4th 539. But what about all of the past data? Why aren’t those images available as well?

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