Horse-and-Buggy Dockets in the Internet Age…

Lyle Denniston, courthouse and legal news reporter since 1948, writes about the woeful state of courthouse dockets (and documents) and the difficulties this presents for accurate courthouse reporting in his article “Horse-and-Buggy Dockets in the Internet Age, and the Travails of a Courthouse Reporter,” 9 Journal of Appellate Practice and Process 299 (2007).  The first page of the article opens:

“With rare — too rare — exceptions, however, the news-gatherer on the courthouse beat is still functionally inhibited by the backwardness of most courts in the design, operation, and maintenance of their electronic dockets. . . .

The underlying premise of this criticism is simple to state: No courthouse reporter can do his or her work without prompt–sometimes, virtually immediate — access to original documents. ”

As I read this article about the challenges facing reporters on the courthouse beat, I kept substituting the term “legal researcher” into the text.  The concerns about docket/document availability are shared by so many of us in the legal research world.  But, I confess, that I hadn’t really thought about the impact on news reporters. 

Denniston correctly applauds at the fine work of the Florida Supreme Court on the Bush v. Gore documents and the more recent improvements at the U.S. Supreme Court, as well as the great resources found on both the SCOTUS Blog and the SCOTUS Wiki pages.   But more needs to be done.

Perhaps, librarians should be working more closely with legal journalists to improve the access issues?  Especially in a day when media outlets and libraries are experiencing shrinking budgets, we might be wise to find new partners to help us liberate public documents.