Monday, November 29, 2010

A Meth House is Not a Home

Today, CNN and the Consumerist blog reported the story of a Pennsylvania couple, Jenn Friberg and Ron Quigley, who were dismayed to discover that their new home had previously been a meth lab. Lingering drug residue made the new owners physically ill just days after moving in, and professional cleaning will cost the couple an additional $25,000 over their purchase price. Friberg and Quigley have started a blog, Our Meth House, to solicit donations for the cleanup, as well as to help raise awareness of the warning signs for other potential home-buyers.

Goodson Blogson readers who have survived the labor-intensive process of purchasing a home may be shocked to hear that no laws were broken by the inspectors or sellers who failed to disclose the property’s colorful history. Disclosure laws vary widely by state, and in Pennsylvania the burden is on the homeowner to request a “meth lab test” by the inspector and/or to conduct independent research on the property. Friberg and Quigley learned of their new home’s history from a neighbor, and subsequently discovered the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency’s National Clandestine Laboratory Register, which did list their property’s address. Unfortunately, the news came too late to prevent the purchase of their contaminated home.

What can a savvy legal researcher do to determine how Friberg and Quigley’s situation might compare to another state’s laws on the matter? 50-state surveys to the rescue! Multi-state surveys provide quick access to various jurisdictions’ statutes and/or regulations on a particular subject. Although there won’t always be a survey available on your specific research topic, it’s always worth a check before you attempt to compile the information yourself. Here are some approaches which could save you valuable research time down the road:
  • Researchers at Duke may want to start with HeinOnline’s Subject Compilations of State Laws database (the book version is also available in the library’s Reference Collection). This collection is searchable by keyword or browseable by topic, and indexes multi-state surveys from premium databases, footnotes and appendices to law review articles, and non-governmental organization websites. A keyword search for “methamphetamine” returned several results, including a Westlaw survey entitled “Cleanup, Remediation, or Demolition of Methamphetamine Houses” (dated 2006).
  • As seen above, the Subject Compilations will frequently point to surveys available on LexisNexis and Westlaw, but because of publication delays (the 2008-2009 volume was uploaded to Hein in June 2010), it can be useful to search these premium databases separately for more recent material. On Lexis, follow the path Legal > Legislation & Politics (or 50-State Multi-Jurisdictional Materials) > LexisNexis 50 State Surveys, Legislation & Regulations to search the survey text; on Westlaw, the database identifiers are SURVEYS for statutory materials, and REG-SURVEYS for regulatory comparisons. Note that these surveys are updated periodically by Lexis and Westlaw staff—that 2006 survey cited in the Subject Compilations was last revised in October 2009 (for Find by Citation: 0070 SURVEYS 9).
  • A quick web search can also be an effective research strategy for locating free 50-state surveys which may not yet be indexed by the Subject Compilations of State Laws (such as surveys from the National Conference of State Legislatures, or this 2010 student note from BYU on methamphetamine disclosure laws, which is freely available on the school’s repository). As with all Internet search results, though, smart researchers will want to independently verify their findings – because with free legal information, you often get what you pay for.
(For local readers, the Westlaw survey and BYU note both point to N.C. Gen. Stat. § 130A-284, which charges the state Commission for Public Health with rulemaking power to establish decontamination standards for former meth labs. North Carolina’s disclosure form includes a section on “environmental hazards” but does not specifically address meth labs.)

Have 50-state surveys ever saved you a research headache? Tell us your success stories in the comment section.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

More Holiday Gifts for Lawyers (and Law Students)

Last year, the Goodson Blogson rounded up some recommendations for law-themed holiday gifts. But our Dec. 11 post came a little late for many shoppers-- and besides, who wants to brave the mall when you need to study for final exams? This year, we’re beating the Black Friday crowds with our 2010 legally-minded gift guide.

The links from last year’s post still remain great sources for legal-themed holiday gifts. What budding constitutional law scholar could resist the wares at the Supreme Court Historical Society Gift Shop? This gift shop still boasts perennial favorites like the “Lawsuit!” board game and guest room soap with the Court’s seal (although the Goodson Blogson still wishes for a revival of the shop’s book-and-gavel salt & pepper shaker set, which hasn’t appeared on the site since 2008). Another site highlighted in our 2009 list, The Billable Hour, offers a similar mix of lighthearted games, “survival kit” care packages (including one just for law students), and practical law office accessories like briefcases and desk sets.

Last week, blogger Reid Trautz released his sixth annual Gift Guide for Lawyers. Today the ABA Journal highlighted holiday gifts from Trautz’s list as well as some other finds, including a cool coffee mug boasting 30 landmark SCOTUS cases (the names of the losing parties disappear when the mug is filled).

Perhaps you’d prefer a law-themed gift with a more local flavor. From Monday, November 29 through Wednesday, December 1, Duke Law’s Public Interest Law Foundation (PILF) will hold its “PILF Gear” sale over the lunch hour in the Star Commons. Purchases of the sale’s Duke Law-themed items (including shirts, hats, and bumper stickers) will help provide grants to law students who choose to work in unpaid nonprofit/public interest employment over the summer.

Speaking of local shopping, a group of retailers in Durham have launched Sustain-A-Bull, an initiative which encourages holiday shoppers to support the Bull City’s unique independent stores. Although the law-themed gifts may be few and far between here, many of these retailers are offering special discounts during the week of November 29 – December 5.

But if limited luggage space requires you to do most of your holiday shopping online instead of in person, be sure to first check for coupon codes at RetailMeNot and The Consumerist blog’s “Morning Deals” section. For the true procrastinators among you, check out the retailers who will participate in Free Shipping Day, which will again take place on Friday, December 17.

Do you have other recommendations for law-themed gifts? Let us know in the comments.

Monday, November 22, 2010

End-of-Semester Library Access & Services

The end of fall semester classes will bring some changes to the Goodson Law Library’s access and service hours.

To ensure that adequate study space is available for law students during the reading and examination period, the library will implement a new access and use policy from December 2-18. During the reading and examination period, use of the Goodson Law Library will be restricted to the Duke Law community at all times (including when the entrance doors are unlocked). Exceptions will be made for other students who are currently enrolled in Law School classes, or researchers with a demonstrated need for use of the law collections. All others may be asked to leave. (Please contact the Reference Desk during normal business hours about access under the above exceptions, or assistance with researching legal materials.)

The Law School and library entrance doors will be locked (with card swipe access restricted to the law community) after 5:00 p.m. on weekdays, and on weekends from December 2-18. Law students are reminded to carry their DukeCards at all times, both to enter the building and to enter the library. Library doors will remain open during normal business hours to accommodate outside deliveries and the needs of law school staff and faculty to enter the library.

Reference services will be available from 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. until Thursday, December 2. Beginning Friday, December 3, reference services will be available Monday-Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Evening and weekend reference services will resume at the beginning of the spring 2011 semester.

Circulation/Reserve services and the Academic Technologies Help Desk will continue to be available on weekends and in the evenings during the reading and examination period. Effective the last day of exams (Friday, December 17), all library service points will change to intersession hours (Monday-Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.), and will resume evening/weekend service at the start of the spring 2011 semester.

Good luck to our students on final exams, and have a safe and happy winter break!

Monday, November 15, 2010

A Very TSA Thanksgiving

With the busiest travel days of the year fast approaching, the news media has been focused on the latest developments at the Transportation Security Administration, which has overseen airport security since its creation in November 2001. After an attempted airplane bombing on Christmas Day 2009, TSA stepped up its deployment of Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) machines, which are expected to eventually replace the traditional metal detectors at most airports. (A list of airports which are currently using the new screening technology is available on the TSA’s website.)

The new machines, which produce X-ray-like scans of passengers that are monitored by an officer at a remote location within the airport, stirred immediate controversy among civil-liberties groups for their detailed imagery (revealing everything from artificial joints and other medical devices to the outline of genitalia) and potential for misuse by staff. (Although TSA promises that travelers’ faces are obscured by the software and that the body scans are not stored, the machines are capable of saving and transmitting the images. Furthermore, at least two disciplinary incidents have been reported where security officers made disparaging remarks about the content of the body scans – one in Miami and one in London.)

In addition to the concerns about personal privacy, others have expressed reservation about potential health risks from radiation. While the TSA information page assures travelers that the new AIT machines provide a lower dose of radiation than cell phones (or two minutes of the flights for which passengers are being screened), some of the most frequent fliers – i.e., pilots – are unconvinced. Last week, the pilots’ unions from US Airways and American Airlines urged their members to opt out of the AIT screening, citing potential for serious health risks due to frequent exposure.

So what happens after a pilot-- or any other passenger-- “opts out” of the AIT screening? The secondary method of screening is usually a pat-down search, although the procedure has allegedly become more invasive since the deployment of the AITs. (For details, compare TSA’s official blog on new procedures with Jeffrey Goldberg’s humorous first-person account from The Atlantic).

For some, the choice between a full-body scan or a physical pat-down is a true dilemma—and one, it turns out, with potential legal consequences. Over the weekend, a California blogger described his experience with security at the San Diego airport, after he refused both the AIT scan and the pat-down, requesting instead to be screened through the traditional metal detectors. When TSA officers escorted him out of the security area and he obtained a refund for his ticket, the blogger was approached by a security supervisor who informed him that “once I start the screening in the secure area, I could not leave until it was completed,” threatening him with a civil suit and a $10,000 fine if he did not comply. On Monday, the TSA confirmed the blogger’s allegations in a statement, citing a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling to support its contention that those who refuse to complete security screening could face civil penalties. (Although the news reports do not give more detailed case information, savvy legal researchers should be able to use the court’s quoted language to easily track down U.S. v. Aukai, 497 F.3d 955, 960-61 (9th Cir. 2007); text at Google Scholar.)

More developments are certainly coming, with a Senate committee hearing on TSA oversight scheduled for Wednesday, November 17. A grassroots effort to declare Wednesday, November 24 to be “National Opt-Out Day” will also raise public awareness of the new TSA policies and procedures.

To learn more about the history and activities of the TSA, check out the “Information About Agencies” section of our research guide to Federal Administrative Law. And if the current airport security measures give new meaning to “fear of flying” this holiday season, remember that current Duke Law students, faculty and staff will retain 24-hour building access over the library’s Thanksgiving closure.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Study Rooms Are Back Online

In September and October, the library tested new reservation calendar software for its eight private study rooms. After making some improvements to the system based on user feedback, we are ready to relaunch the online reservation calendar. (For example, no longer will you need to puzzle over making a 210- or a 240-minute reservation – we’ve adjusted the time display based on the #1 complaint about the software.)

Law students may log in at with a NetID and password to reserve one of our study rooms up to 72 hours in advance. The link is accessible on the Law Library home page as well as the Library & Technology page.

If you experience access problems where the system does not recognize you as a law student, please submit a feedback form and include your NetID so that we can resolve the error. We welcome other comments and suggestions about improving the calendar software, as well. Although not every suggested change will be possible in the calendar software, library staff will definitely consider your input for making the reservation experience as smooth as possible.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

GV903, and Other Mysterious Library Numbers

Last night, the Duke Law Bowling League Fall 2010 tournament entered its semifinal round. GV903, a team comprised of staff members from the Goodson Law Library & Academic Technologies, was knocked out of contention for the BarBri Cup after an exciting Elite 8 match with defending champions Strike a Posner. The competition has been strong all season, and GV903 has enjoyed rolling against so many Duke Law students. But we were a bit concerned to hear the same question from virtually all of our opponents this season: “What does your team name mean?”

The answer, of course, can be found in the library! You may have noticed that most materials in the library are organized by the Library of Congress Classification Outline, where books are arranged not by their title or author name but by an alphanumeric code (known as a “call number”). These call numbers correspond to the subject matter of the book; as a result, books on similar topics are grouped together. In this classification system, GV903 is the beginning of the call number for any books about (what else?) bowling—and because the Library of Congress call numbers are used in most academic and research libraries, you could walk into any library which uses this system and find bowling books at GV903.

Shockingly, there’s not much to be found in the Duke University Libraries under the actual call number GV903 (although we’re sure the illustrations in this 1939 handbook must be unintentionally hilarious by now). But those search results are a good reminder that you can actually search call numbers in the online catalog, just like you would search for a title keyword or an author’s name. Since similar books are assigned the same call number, this can be a useful strategy if you have found one particularly relevant book, and want to see what other books are available which have been classified with the same call number.

The Duke Libraries catalog also allows you to Browse Call Numbers, although this can lead to an overwhelming number of results for some call numbers (such as KF, the classification for American law materials, which retrieves more than 55,000 results). The browse feature does work particularly well for quickly pulling up legal materials from non-U.S. jurisdictions (like the 17 titles classified under Law of Antarctica).

Library of Congress isn’t the only call number system out there. Public libraries tend to use the numeric Dewey Decimal system (where bowling books can be found at the call number 794.6). Even within the Duke libraries, you might encounter different styles like the Superintendent of Documents system (for federal government documents). If you have any questions about locating a call number or searching for materials on a particular subject, be sure to Ask a Librarian.

This lesson in library call number systems has been brought to you by the members of GV903:
  • Sean Chen, Digital Resources Librarian (captain)
  • Shyama Agrawal, Acquisitions Librarian
  • Kristina Alayan, Foreign & International Law Librarian
  • Jennifer Behrens, Reference Librarian
  • Karen Douglas, Head of Collection Services
  • Melanie Dunshee, Assistant Dean for Library Services
  • Kelly Leong, Reference Intern & Lecturing Fellow
  • Hiroki Nishiyama, User Analyst
    (With special guest appearances throughout the season by staff spouses & significant others: Marvin Douglas, Chris Bobko, and Chris Reeves)
Good luck to the Final Four in next week’s championship rounds, and we’ll see you on the lanes next spring!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Blekko Takes Aim at the Google Goliath

The web buzzed this morning with talk of Blekko, a new search engine which has just launched to the public after several months in private beta-testing. As The New York Times reported, Blekko aims to filter out spam-like sites which push unhelpful results to the top of other search engines. In some areas which Blekko editors consider especially vulnerable to spam results (health and medical information, recipes, cars, travel, song lyrics, finance and college searching), the results are automatically filtered. In other areas, Blekko’s “slashtag” search option allows users to quickly filter irrelevant results. (See a demonstration and comparison at Search Engine Land.)

Blekko is just the latest search engine competitor to debut in a Google-dominated market. So how will they fare? It’s hard to tell. Last year’s “new kid” Bing is still holding strong, thanks to aggressive advertising and financial support from its heavyweight parent company Microsoft. But for every Bing which captures a piece of the search engine market share, there are several smaller search engines which don’t: for example, 2008’s Cuil, which the Goodson Blogson reviewed upon its debut. Although hopes were high for Cuil due to its developers’ past employment at Google, the would-be competitor shut down in September of this year.

No matter what happens to Blekko, it’s worth remembering that there are a number of search options out there, and that each will give you slightly different results. Dogpile’s Search Engine Comparison allows you to view a cross-section of results for your search from the “Big 4” (Google, Yahoo, Bing, and Ask), while sites like SearchEngineWatch and Search Engine Land report on new developments from the major and minor engines out there.

For help finding the best place to start your search, be sure to Ask a Librarian.