Monday, February 3, 2020

PACER's Day in Court

Today, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit will hear arguments in the ongoing litigation about the cost of PACER, the U.S. government's repository of federal court filings. PACER, or Public Access to Court Electronic Records, operates behind a paywall of $0.10 per page for searches and document retrieval. Charges are capped at $3.00 per document, and individual users are not billed unless they incur more than $15.00 in charges during a billing quarter. While the costs of PACER were designed to support the system’s infrastructure, critics have noted that PACER's annual income (more than $145 million) far exceeds the actual operating costs.

As The New York Times reported over the weekend, several consumer groups have filed suit over PACER costs. The complaint highlighted practices of overcharging or double-charging individual users, and also challenged the judiciary's practice of using excess PACER income for costs unrelated to the maintenance of the court records system. The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia allowed the suit to proceed; its denial of the government's motion for summary judgment and partial grant of summary judgment on liability in favor of plaintiffs is now on appeal before the D.C. Circuit. Numerous advocates for free access to federal court filings have filed amicus briefs in the case, which has the potential to unlock PACER's paywall.

In the meantime, current members of the Duke Law community have free access to PACER materials through Bloomberg Law's Litigation Intelligence Center. Docket tracking is also available within Bloomberg Law. For filings that pre-date the PACER service, or from state courts, the library's research guide to Court Records and Briefs provides guidance on additional sources for researching court filings. For assistance with any of these resources, be sure to Ask a Librarian.

Monday, January 6, 2020

Landmark Circuit Court Records Now Available

The Goodson Law Library has recently subscribed to Gale Primary Source's new database, The Making of Modern Law: Landmark Records and Briefs of the U.S. Courts of Appeals, 1950-1980. The eleventh library in the Making of Modern Law series expands access to online court records and briefs with more than half a million pages of content spanning three decades.

Materials may be searched by keyword, browsed by jurisdiction, or explored in the Topic Finder. A "Term Frequency" tool allows researchers to conduct textual analysis. Coverage varies by jurisdiction, but the First through Tenth Circuits as well as the D.C. Circuit are represented (the Eleventh Circuit was formed from part of the Fifth in late 1981, one year past the database’s cutoff date). The "Circuits" browse menu shows the source libraries and approximate number of pages available for each jurisdiction. Coverage is currently strongest for the Second Circuit and D.C. Circuit, each with about 225,000 pages; the Ninth Circuit is a distant third at 115,000 pages; other circuits range from 6,000 to 50,000 pages of content.

This new database expands our community’s access to court records and briefs from the intermediate federal appellate courts. Other options for accessing print, microform, and electronic court records from federal and state courts can be found in the Goodson Law Library research guide to Court Records & Briefs. For help with navigating this new database or locating other court records, be sure to Ask a Librarian.

Monday, December 23, 2019

The Airing of Grievances

The secular holiday Festivus, popularized on a 1997 episode of Seinfeld, is celebrated on December 23. Presented by a character on the sitcom as a non-commercial alternative to Christmas glitz ("a Festivus for the rest of us!"), Festivus traditions include an undecorated aluminum pole rather than a tree, a simple dinner, demonstrations of "feats of strength," and ceremonial "airing of grievances." The episode was inspired by the family traditions of Seinfeld writer Kevin O'Keefe, who described the origins of Festivus to Time magazine in 2016.

Festivus and its "airing of grievances" immediately sprang to mind when Goodson Law Library staff came across this treasure from the Law Library Archives: the Law Library's Comment & Grievance Book for 1973/74.

Comment & Grievance Book 1973/74

This tattered spiral notebook gives a fascinating glimpse into law student life more than 45 years ago. Presumably housed at or near the service desk, library users left all sorts of comments, suggestions, and complaints in the pages over the course of the academic year. Library staff would occasionally respond with handwritten comments indicating that a problem had been reported or handled.

Some of the common complaints of the era will feel completely alien to today's law students: repeated complaints about inadequate photocopying facilities, desire to access the locked "periodicals cage" on weekends, and numerous suggestions for which print magazine subscriptions to add (someone really, really wanted Gloria Steinem’s Ms. magazine, still a relatively new publication at the time). We’re particularly relieved not to receive complaints about smokers in the modern law library:

Request to enforce no-smoking rule


However, many of the concerns will feel just as familiar to law students today as they did in the 1970s. For example:

The library was too cold!

Concerns about library being too cold


Except when it was too hot!

Concerns about library being too hot


But then it was too cold again!

Concerns about library being too cold


People kept reserve items past their due time!

Comment regarding overdue reserve items


The Comment & Grievance Book also featured an annual poetry contest in its pages during the month of April, with unspecified prizes to be awarded by staff.

7th Annual Quasi Modo Poetry Contest Rules


A few student entries incorporated some common library grievances:

It's always cold in here / It's always hot in here / But always / At the wrong time of year


Lengthy poem by student on mischievous library elf

These days, Goodson Law Library users can share their comments and concerns (whether in verse or prose) via an online Library Suggestion Box. During this holiday season, the Suggestion Box is on a short hiatus from official responses, due to various University closures and limited staffing. Administration will resume responding to new suggestions on January 6, 2020. In the meantime, we hope our community enjoys a safe and happy winter break, as well as this walk down Duke Law memory lane.

Friday, December 20, 2019

History of International Law Now in HeinOnline

The Goodson Law Library's subscription to HeinOnline now includes the module History of International Law. This library currently contains more than 2,000 titles and one million pages on international law topics, including the development of the Hague Conventions, international arbitration, the Nuremberg trials, law of the sea, and much more.

While the earliest titles in this collection date back to the 17th century, more modern texts and treatises are also available, including a number published by Duke University Press (such as 2016's Man or Monster? The Trial of a Khmer Rouge Torturer). The full list of titles can be accessed in the Hein library, and the Duke Libraries Catalog will point to individual works in the collection as well.

For additional help with researching the history of international law, check out the library's research guide to International Law or Ask a Librarian.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Resources for Ethics Research

Legal ethics should always be a matter of paramount concern for practicing attorneys. Failure to abide by ethics rules and opinions can spell disaster – including malpractice suits by clients and disciplinary action by the bar. Unfortunately, many key publications are locked behind premium legal research services like Bloomberg Law (online home of the ABA/BNA Lawyer's Manual on Professional Conduct), Westlaw, and Lexis Advance – sometimes out of reach for solo practitioners and the general public.

However, it is possible to conduct some legal ethics research without premium research tools. The University of Texas's Tarlton Law Library recently unveiled a new free resource for legal ethics research, the Thomas Woodward Houghton 50 State Ethics Guide. This new guide links to free options for state codes of attorney and judicial conduct, legal ethics opinions from state and local bars, and selected print and online resources from the American Bar Association.

For additional resources on researching professional responsibility (both free and premium), check out the Duke Law Library's own research guide to Legal Ethics or Ask a Librarian.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Exam Season Excellence

Hard to believe that the fall semester is coming to an end! After the Thanksgiving holiday break, there's just one week of classes left to get your exam plans in order. Fortunately, the Goodson Law Library is here to help – and not just for quiet study space.

Past exams, if your professor chooses to make them available, will be linked on your course's Sakai site. The library does not maintain a database of past Law School examinations from recent years. (We do have some in the archives dating from the 1930s to the 1990s, but those aren't going to help you by now.) However, help is still available if your professor opts not to share a sample exam. General law school exam-taking advice can be found by searching the Duke Libraries Catalog for the subject "Law Examinations – United States."

Study aids can supplement your class material, clearing up any lingering confusion about a particular topic.
  • West Academic Library Study Aids provides full-text access to hundreds of study aids, treatises, audio lectures, and flash card sets published by West Academic. The available series include Concepts and Insights, Hornbooks, Nutshells, Black Letter Outlines, Legalines, Sum and Substance, and many more.
  • Elgar Advanced Introductions provide accessible overviews to about 15 topics, mostly in comparative and international law.
  • Additional study aid series, such as Examples & Explanations and Glannon Guides, can be found in print on Reserve with a search for the topic, limited to the Law Library Reserves collection. Part III of the library's Law School Success guide details the series available and how to locate them.

Need to block out distractions? Our friends at CALI (The Center for Computer-Assisted Legal Instruction) have kindly provided us with a supply of earplugs, now available at the service desk. (We've always had disposable foam earplugs available upon request – but CALI's come in a nice plastic shell, and give you a few more color choices.) When you come to pick them up, ask the librarian on duty for the CALI registration code (or access it here with NetID if you're shy), in order to unlock more than 1,000 online tutorials on legal topics, all created by law school faculty members. CALI also features free e-books in its eLangdell bookstore.

Good luck with final examinations! For help locating study aids in print or online, be sure to Ask a Librarian.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Federal Judicial Ratings

Last week, former White House lawyer Steven J. Menashi was confirmed 51-41 to a lifetime judicial appointment on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, over strong objections from Senate Democrats over Menashi's role in developing White House immigration policies and his past writings on LGBTQ issues. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer described the nominee as "one of the most contemptible" he had ever considered during his time in the Senate, and Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine even crossed party lines to vote against his confirmation.

Despite this controversy, Menashi had received a rating of "Well Qualified" from the American Bar Association's Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary, which has played a role in the federal judicial nomination process since the Eisenhower administration. The history of the ABA's evaluation process was described last year in the ABA Journal. The committee itself also provides a detailed backgrounder document, Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary: What it Is and How It Works. This document includes sample copies of the questionnaires and a template for the committee's confidential formal report.

As the ABA Journal article noted, "ratings are never made public until a judicial candidate has been officially nominated, and it elaborates on what is discovered during the evaluation process only if committee members are asked to testify before the Senate." A rating of "Not Qualified" may sink a potential nomination before a public announcement, or may complicate the confirmation process, as with a current Ninth Circuit nominee. Lawrence VanDyke made headlines for his emotional reaction to a negative ABA rating during his October confirmation hearing, disputing the committee's negative assessment of his impartiality and pointing to problems with the interview process. The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to vote on his nomination on Thursday.

Ratings for federal judicial nominees dating back to the 101st Congress (1989) are available on the Standing Committee's website. For the committee's ratings of U.S. Supreme Court nominees, more detailed rating information back to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg can be found on the committee website as well. Earlier U.S. Supreme Court nominee rating summaries from 1956-2010 are compiled in table 4-16 of The Supreme Court Compendium: Data, Decisions, and Developments, 4th ed. (Reference KF8742 .S914 2015 & online).

Other assessment tools for federal judges include the interview comments in the Almanac of the Federal Judiciary (online in Westlaw Edge), which provide evaluations from attorneys who have appeared before the judge. Only current federal judges are included in this resource, meaning that neither Menashi nor VanDyke have profiles yet. For judges with completed evaluations, though, AFJ can be a valuable insight into the judge's temperament and judicial philosophy. For additional resources that feature judge profiles, check out the library's research guide to Directories of Courts & Judges or Ask a Librarian.