Monday, June 27, 2011

Getting the Goods on Judges and Courts

Need to know some details about a state or federal judge? The Goodson Law Library just added another place to look, with a new subscription to the online version of The American Bench. While the library has always kept the latest copy of this directory in the Reference Collection (and will continue to do so), the online version allows searches by judge name or by court/jurisdiction. Although the Goodson Law Library has a number of other judicial directories available in print and online formats, The American Bench is unique for its inclusion of more extensive biographies of state court judges. (The website also reproduces the print version’s helpful maps of state and federal judicial districts, which are posted in PDF.) Available information varies by judge, but generally entries provide basic biography (such as education and date of appointment) as well as contact information for the judge’s chambers. Occasionally, the entries also include professional affiliations and activities, links to external websites, and a photo of the judge.

If you’re researching a current federal judge, though, you might want to go beyond the basics with a second directory, The Almanac of the Federal Judiciary (Reserve KF8700 .A19 A4 & Westlaw’s AFJ database). Like The American Bench, the Almanac includes basic biographical information about federal judges. But it goes one step further with its “Lawyers’ Comments” section. The comments are culled from attorneys who have appeared before an individual judge, and candidly discuss topics like the judge’s courtroom demeanor and attitude toward certain types of cases. Just for fun, visit the online version in Westlaw and try keyword searches for comments like "terrible" and "awful" to see how detailed these entries can get!

Note that the online versions for both of these directories include the most current listings only; the online entries are not archived as judges leave the bench. Likewise, the print version of the Almanac of the Federal Judiciary is a loose-leaf binder set, and pages are not archived as they are removed. However, past editions of The American Bench (back to 1977) can be found in the library’s Superseded Reference collection on Level 1.

For more information on tracking down the facts about state and federal judges, check out the library’s research guide to Directories of Courts and Judges and/or Ask a Librarian.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Value of a Dollar (and a Beard)

From time to time, we all feel ripped off. Whether it’s a sleazy car salesman selling you a lemon, or furniture on Craigslist which turns out to be scratched and reeking of smoke, or the online date who hasn’t updated his profile picture since 1999, everyone can relate to being so angered by a raw deal that you just want to forcibly remove the scammer’s facial hair and make him eat it.

Wait...maybe we can’t all relate to that last part. But that’s exactly what happened last November to Harvey Westmoreland, a Kentucky man who just wanted to sell his lawnmower to neighbors Troy Holt and James Hill. But when their negotiations broke down, an intoxicated Holt and Hill held Westmoreland and his brother at knifepoint, then cut off Westmoreland’s beard and force-fed it to him. The unusual story made headlines around the country, and before he “knowed” it [sic], Westmoreland’s grammatically-challenged video interview with a local news station became a top hit on YouTube (as did the dance remix).

Both of Westmoreland’s attackers pleaded guilty, and each were sentenced to several years of probation. But Holt now faces the possibility of jail time for failing to also pay Westmoreland court-ordered restitution. Next Tuesday, a judge will determine whether to revoke Holt’s probation over the snub. What’s the going rate for a lost beard these days, you ask? The Anderson County Circuit Court priced Westmoreland’s ordeal at $570.

It may seem strange to assign a dollar value to facial hair (or the pain and suffering of eating it), but courts and juries must often calculate the value of unusual things: trademarked phrases, missing limbs, and even law degrees. While the Goodson Blogson isn’t sure how this Kentucky court decided on $570, it does know some resources where you can find guidance on valuing other injuries: jury verdict reporters and valuation handbooks.

A popular choice is the book series What’s it Worth? (KF1257 .H3 & online in LexisNexis). This series is sorted into chapters by injury type, and provides brief case summaries along with jury award or settlement amounts. A number of other damage valuation handbooks, like Personal Injury Verdict Reviews, are not available in print by the Goodson Law Library, but can be searched in LexisNexis and Westlaw. On Lexis, follow the link on the Legal tab to “Expert Analysis, Jury Verdicts and Settlements” to view available databases. In Westlaw’s directory, follow the path: Litigation > Jury Verdicts, Settlements & Judgments.

Jury verdicts and settlements are also often reported in legal news sources, such as the New York Law Journal (available online via the library) and other American Legal Media (ALM) publications, which recently moved their full text from Westlaw to LexisNexis (although the library maintains separate web-based passwords to selected ALM titles, which are described in the online catalog records for each).

To learn more about researching jury verdicts and settlement amounts, visit that section of our Court Records and Briefs research guide, or Ask a Librarian.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Ferris Bueller's Day in Court

Over the weekend, the John Hughes class-cutting classic Ferris Bueller’s Day Off turned 25. An intern at the blog Jezebel marked the anniversary of the film’s release like a typical first-year law student whose thought process has been overtaken by legalese: by compiling a video identifying the various laws broken by Ferris throughout the course of the film.

The compilation was partly inspired by a running list from 2009 at the Metafilter discussion board, which came complete with citations to the Illinois Compiled Statutes. But to play the advanced version of this home game, you’d need to determine what the laws in question actually said back in 1986. In particular, relevant statutes about computer tampering (shown in the video as Ferris revises his school attendance record before the principal’s incredulous eyes) likely changed a great deal between the film’s release and today.

How could you accomplish this impossible-sounding task, for this or any other research which requires knowing what a code section said at a particular date in time? You might be tempted to start with the current code, find a relevant section, and then use the history notes to work backwards by reviewing the chronological session laws and piecing together the changes over time. But unless you love jigsaw puzzles, this approach can be tedious and time-consuming, especially if you are dealing with a code section which has been repeatedly amended with minor changes by a long list of session laws.

So, is there a better way? Of course there is. Superseded codes to the rescue! Superseded codes provide a historical snapshot of what the laws in force said on a particular date. Many libraries, including the Goodson Law Library, preserve outdated versions of state and federal codes for their research value. In the Goodson Law Library, print versions of superseded codes can be found on Level 1 (map), organized alphabetically by state. (That floor also boasts a spare set of superseded state codes on microfiche.)

You can also find some superseded state codes on LexisNexis and Westlaw, although the available years will vary by jurisdiction. On Lexis, each state’s listing includes a “Legislative Archive;” for Illinois, the path “Legal > States Legal - U.S. > Illinois > Find Statutes, Regulations, Administrative Materials & Court Rules > By Statutes & Regulations > Legislative Archive” offers a list of databases for IL state codes, but only back to 1992. On Westlaw, browse the Directory for a particular state’s folder and look for a “Historical Statutes” option under Statutes & Legislation: in this case, “U.S. State Materials > Other U.S. States > Illinois > Statutes & Legislative Materials > Illinois Historical Statutes Annotated” dates back a little earlier (to 1988), but still not back to Ferris’s day. (You should also be aware that the superseded versions of codes on these services require you to search for your sections – there is no table of contents browse feature here.)

If your desired year isn’t available on Westlaw or Lexis, you might need to consult a print volume in the library. But don’t you want to confirm that we have the right years before you trek down to Level 1 and crank those compact shelves? Searching the online catalog for these superseded codes can be a bit tricky, as there’s a separate record for every time the titles changed even slightly. Table 1 of the Bluebook can assist with the former titles of codes for each U.S. state.

If you’re still interested in Ferris Bueller’s potential liability, you might peruse the Smith-Hurd Illinois Annotated Statutes from the 1980s, which are indeed available on Level 1. If you’re interested in researching other superseded code sections, feel free to Ask a Librarian for help.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Super-Injunction: It's, Like, One Louder than a Regular Injunction

From political love children to movie star arrests, who doesn’t love a bit of trashy celebrity gossip? As it turns out, many British celebrities, who can spend upwards of £20,000-50,000 to squash would-be scandals with a super-injunction, an exceptionally strict UK gag order which keeps the requestor completely anonymous and prevents the British media from publishing details about either the salacious story...or the existence of the gag order itself.

Earlier last month, an anonymous Twitter user attracted more than 100,000 followers by leaking information about alleged scandals which had been smothered by a super-injunction. Following coverage on celeb-watch blogs like Gawker, that Twitter handle fizzled out almost as quickly as it appeared. But by the end of May, a new username seemed to take its place, and then quieted just as quickly as its list of gossip-hungry followers grew. The popularity of these two accounts illustrated the challenges of maintaining an anonymous legal remedy in the Internet age, and raised some fascinating legal questions (e.g., was every British Twitter user who “re-tweeted” the offending accusations technically in contempt of court?).

Super-injunctions are a curious phenomenon to American readers, who are accustomed to more public legal proceedings than are the norm in the United Kingdom. But the popularity of these Twitter exposés demonstrates that many British citizens find the remedy to be excessive, too. In 2010, the UK judiciary convened a Committee on Super-Injunctions to examine use of the remedy from 2005-2011 and provide recommendations on future use of anonymous court orders. The committee’s May 2011 Final Report gives valuable background on the use of super-injunctions as well as their less-strict cousin, the anonymised injunction.

If all of this has left you curious to learn more about the super-injunction or the UK’s legal system more generally, check out the resources in our research guide on English Law. The Goodson Law Library owns a number of relevant treatises, which can be located by using the subject heading feature in the Duke Libraries Catalog (for example, privacy, right of—great britain). As always, if you have questions about researching this or any other legal topic, be sure to Ask a Librarian.