Revised (5th Edition) of “Locating the Law”

The Public Access to Legal Information (PALI) Committee of the Southern California Association of Law Libraries (SOCALL) has posted online its handy and valuable:

Locating the Law: A Handbook for Non-Law Librarians
Fifth Edition, Revised (2011)

Cross-posted at Law Library Blog.

LexisNexis Introduces CourtLink Hourly Alerts

LexisNexis has announced that its docket service product CourtLink is now offering hourly alerts on newly-filed federal cases — please see:

Reed Elsevier plc : LexisNexis Introduces CourtLink Hourly Alerts

Cross-posted at Law Library Blog.

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…

Cooperative Agreement between Digital Public Library of America & Europeana

Two of the world’s principal digital library networks — the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) and Europeana have announced an agreement to collaborate to make more cultural heritage materials available:

Digital Public Library of America and Europeana Announce Collaboration

A Statement of Common Principles: DPLA-Europeana
The Digital Public Library of America and Europeana share a common goal: to make the riches of libraries, museums, and archives available, free of charge, to everyone in the world. They will be guided in this mission by the following principles.

  1. They will make their systems and data interoperable to the greatest possible extent.
  2. They will promote open access to the greatest possible extent through joint existing and new policies concerning content, data, and metadata.
  3. They will collaborate regularly in developing specific aspects of their systems, beginning with:

Cross-posted at Law Library Blog.

“We don’t know what it is that they’re not putting online”

According to a new report from the Reynolds Journalism Institute, reporters regularly turn to government (Federal, State and Local) websites for data needed in their stories.

David Herzog writes on the RJI site, “The findings from the survey, conducted as part of my fellowship at RJI, show that government data – whether it’s a spreadsheet or database file – has become a key ingredient of U.S. daily newspaper reporting.”

Of those surveyed, many reporters noted deficiencies in government websites.  According to one reporter, “We don’t know what it is that they’re not putting online.”

Herzog shares a few of the notable complaints from reporters using government websites:
“They just don’t put enough of it there”
“I end up going to Google”
“Getting current records is often difficult”





Mobile PACER Case Locator

Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) , the electronic public access service that allows users to obtain case and docket information from federal appellate, district and bankruptcy courts, has just added a mobile Web version of the PACER case locator function. This new version is accessible using Apple computer devises such as iPads and iPhones, as well as using Android devices (version 2.2 or higher).

See here for the announcement of the Mobile PACER Case Locator, which can be obtained by visiting: here.

Cross-posted at Law Library Blog.

Up to 1,000 Percent More Constituent Communications Being Received by U.S. Congress

The Congressional Management Foundation reports that congressional offices are receiving from 200 to 1,000 percent more constituent communications than they were 10 years ago.

Selected findings include:

  • Data from a select number of House and Senate offices quantifying the increase in constituent communications in the past decade.
  • Percentage of congressional offices answering incoming email with a response email in 2010 compared to 2005.
  • Percentage of congressional staff who report they spend more time on constituent communications than two years ago.
  • Response time to constituent communications, as reported by congressional staff.

See the full report:

How Citizen Advocacy Is Changing Mail Operations on Capitol Hill

Cross-posted at Law Library Blog.

Don’t Mess With Texas State Court Documents

State court case files are rife with personal and community histories that often cannot be found anywhere else.  These documents also reflect developments in the language of the law, and the procedures of our court systems.  Preserving these historical gems is increasingly important as many records face destruction due to court space and budget constraints, and the ill effects of time or the elements.  We hope to provide periodic updates here about states’ efforts to preserve such records and, on that note, want to spread the word about developments today in Texas.

Just shy of two years ago, the Texas Supreme Court established a volunteer task force of attorneys, judges, historians, document preservationists, and county and statewide officials to “develop a report that discusses statewide county preservation needs, the importance of protecting the records, and providing assistance to counties to do that.”  (See this Texas state bar blog.)  After extensive studies, the Task Force issued this report on August 31, 2011.  In addition to containing practical information for other jurisdictions similarly seeking to preserve state court files, the report contains anecdotes that scratch the surface of the kind of information at risk of being lost.

Here is an excerpt from its “Overview”:

In his classic song, Hardin Wouldn’t Run, Johnny Cash sang that outlaw John Wesley Hardin was a steadfast man. Truth is, Hardin was not so firmly fixed. After shooting Deputy Sheriff Charles Webb in Comanche County in 1874, Hardin fled Texas and headed east. Texas Ranger John B. Armstrong pursued Hardin and found him on a train outside Pensacola, Florida several years later. Armstrong overtook Hardin after Hardin got his pistols tangled up in his suspenders when he tried to draw. He was brought back to Comanche County, Texas, and put on trial before a jury of twelve citizens of the county. Bob Dylan, in his Hardin song, sang that “no crime held against him could they prove.” That is also incorrect. Unlike Jesse James and Billy the Kid, who were both gunned down, John Wesley Hardin, who killed many people in multiple states, was convicted of murder in 1878 and sentenced to prison in Huntsville, Texas.  The historical documents that record the true story about the trial and sentencing of Hardin are at risk of being stolen, destroyed, or lost . . .  The Hardin records are not unique. Thousands of other Records are stored in hundreds of Texas district and county clerk archives. Some of these facilities are excellent; some of these Records are preserved, or in the process of being preserved. But many of the oldest Records – especially those that date back to the Republic of Texas, early statehood, or the Civil War – are at risk of being lost forever, unless measures are soon taken to help district and county clerks protect them.

American Automobile Association (AAA) Digest of Motor Laws

The American Automobile Association (AAA or “Triple A”) has released its latest edition of the venerable and valuable Digest of Motor Laws.

The digest is “an online compendium of laws and rules related to driving and owning a motor vehicle in the United States and Canada.”

It is possible browse each state’s traffic laws, driver’s license, vehicle titling and registration requirements, and fees and taxes.

It is also possible to compare specific laws or requirements across multiple jurisdictions — see here.

Hat tip to

Cross-posted on Law Library Blog.