Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Definition for the Month of May: Negligence

legal definitionEveryday I get hammered with certain words and/or topics.  Some days it's "foreclosure."  Other days it's Landlord Tenant (well, that's two words but it's still one concept so I'm counting it as one word).  Still other day's I get to deal with criminal issues like murder, arson, or underage philandering... Today's word of the day, however, is NEGLIGENCE.  It comes to us by way of the last guy who just stomped out of the library.  According to Black's Law Dictionary (9th Edition), negligence is defined as a person's failure to exercise the degree of care that someone of ordinary prudence would have exercised in the same circumstance.

screaming yelling loud talking freak freaking For example, say you have a person come into your local county law library and start SCREAMING at the top of their lungs at the mild mannered (under paid) law librarian.  Now, we're not talking about talking loud - nope, we're talking about SCREAMING as in it leaves your ears ringing or screaming at your ex or mother-in-law (so that we're clear here, I'm not talking about my mother-in-law because my mother-in-law is pretty cool and has great legs, to boot....uh...not that I...uh...check(ed) out...um...her...um... legs...ah...or...anything...but...well,...uh...there it is!).
Anyway, a person of ordinary prudence would have come into the library and, in a whisper or in a not too loud of a voice, asked their question.  Nope, not this guy - he came in hotter than Texas asphalt in July looking for a fight and the best he could find was a law Librarian who was cool as a cucumber under fire (man, I was in fine form).  Ten minutes of stomping around screaming in general, he runs out of steam and storms out of the library - sans a fight.

Now, what I suspect was the case was that he was just blowing off steam having lost big time in family court and didn't actually intend for anyone's ears to ring.  That and the fact that "Intent" (which is a key component of tortious actions) is not an easy thing to prove.  That said, had he changed tactics and actually thrown a punch or spat in my face (which happens from time to time), today's word would have been BATTERY.  No, not that kind of battery.  A battery is a tort or civil wrongAccording to Black's Law Dictionary (9th Edition) a civil battery is an intentional and offensive touching of another without lawful justification; a criminal battery is defined as the use of force against another, resulting in harmful or offensive contact.  I suspect the difference between the two is who brings the legal action.  If I were to sue the slug to slugged me, it would be a civil battery (and I would be seeking monetary and compensatory damages).  If the district attorney were to pursue legal action, it would be criminal and he'd be seeking that the person sit in jail for a while and think about what he'd done - sort of like "time out" for adults.

So, I guess the moral to this story is - if you don't want to wind up being the focus of today's word of the day, yell outside the library and not at the librarian.  Thank you have you all have a great rest of the day!

Practice, practice, practice

practice makes perfect
Whoever thought practice makes perfect never worked in a law library.  I've been doing this legal research stuff for over 8 years now and I'm still learning something new everyday.  Everyday I have people coming into our law library asking all sorts of questions.  Everyday I have to be on my toes able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.  Everyday I have to deal with questions from Animal Rights to Corporations to Eminent Domain to Forclosures to Personal Injury to Zoning and at all times I have to look like I know what I'm doing all the time.  Well,...uh...actually that's not all that hard given that I'm an information god and all...but sometimes it's like walking on broken glass.

Anyway, back to the practice thing.  So, I've been on vacation for the last week and when I get back today I find that our law library purchased rights to use WestlawNext.  The problem is that for the last 8 years, I've been using Westlaw.  Now, Westlaw is awesome in its own right and is head and shoulders above the competition.  But as Will Rogers noted, "Even if you're on the right track, you'll get run over if you just sit there."  So, here I am learning the intricacies of WestlawNext - the next generation of legal databases.  Thing is, WestlawNext is a significant step up from Westlaw and is infinitely easier and better than LexisNexis or...what do they call it...uh...Lexis Advanced?  Yeah, for the record, Lexis Advanced is not all that advanced or even that much better than Westlaw (which is simple web 1.0).  It's only advanced because Lexis had to come out with something and the best it could do was add the word "advanced" at the end of its old product (it's still the same old boring lexis with a different package job).

So, you want a quick demonstration on WestlawNext without being on WestlawNext?  Imagine sitting down to Google.com.  Now, type whatever it is you're looking for in the search field at the top of the screen.  Dog bite cases?  Foreclosure?  Breach of Contract?  Fraud?  Landlord Tenant?  Roe v. Wade?  Whatever your heart desires - type away and hit enter.  In mere seconds, the WestlawNext algorithm cranks out all possible results to your search and posts them to the left of the next screen.  You can then limit your searches based on whether you're looking for cases or codes or regulations or primary authorities or secondary authorities or whatever.  I mean, this thing is slicker than sliced bread!

Does your university or public law library have WestlawNext?  If your university or public law library doesn't have WestlawNext yet (and is merely hoping you won't notice that it is locked into a long term contract with Lexis - which by all things legal is a sorry excuse for a legal database), stand up and demand that they get WestlawNext post haste.  Faster than a speeding bullet, WestlawNext will do what you've always hoped a legal database could do but was unable to do because, well,...all you had was a second string legal database that wished it had the power of WestlawNext.  Yeah, baby - it is that good!

Monday, May 28, 2012

Donate with Care

book books good read
As is the case with many libraries, our law library accepts donations.  Big books, little books.  Red books, blue books.  We'll take darn near everything.  Darn near.  The thing is that many of those persons seeking to  donate books have a clandestine purpose in that they are simply seeking a tax deduction from the IRS.  The problem is that many of these "donations" have little or no value to anyone except the person making the donation.

eat digest consume booksFor example, we had a retired judge submit a rather substantial donation of books that had been sitting in his storage container for twelve years.  For those not following along, that's 12 years in a dark, dank, insect ridden, wet container. Do you know what happens to wet, insect ridden books that are placed next to books that are not wet and/or insect ridden?  First off, wet books get mildew (which is a disease) and then they start to rot and when placed next to books that are not rotted or mildewed, those other books get infected and pretty soon you have an entire library no one wants to be in because, well, uh...have you ever smelled something that is rotten?  I mean just shoved your nose right up to it and take a deep whiff?!  Start small and sniff a baby's dirty diaper.  Now, imagine an entire building full of dirty diapers.  Yeah,  I get to work with these donations every day.

glue eating silversish Then you have the insects to deal with.  Did you know that there are many bugs (I mean, LOTS of them) that infest books which just love to eat not just the paper pages in the books but also the glue that holds the books together?  Yeah - we've got cockroaches (squished one two inches long last week), silverfish (pictured to the left) and there's this one rather little nasty black bug I keep seeing around the library.  Yeah, we spray for insects all the time but, uh....that one, little black bug keeps coming back in spades (which, as it turns out, is also black - probably a relative or something).  In any event, the retired judge didn't care about mildew and insects or all those little black bugs or what his donated books might do to our entire insect/mildew free collection.  Nope, all he really cared about was getting a tax deduction.  What floored me was that he wanted the deduction to indicate that his books were new and in pristine condition - for the maximum deduction value.  Yeah, a real stalwart of justice, he was.

safe germ-free books I guess, if there is a moral to this story, if you're going to make a donation to the library, donate books and resources that you would put in your own home (if you had the space).  If you think the books are sub-standard, odds are, we do too.  If you think the books would stink up your house, odds are, we do too.  If you wouldn't want those books on your shelves, odds are, we don't either.  So when you're looking for books to donate to your local library, be sure those books are something you (or your children) would like to hold in your hand(s).

Friday, May 4, 2012

For the Love of a (good) Law Librarian

The other day I was confronted with a situation in my profession which, at one time, was an oddity (but is, seemingly, becoming more common).  Seems a county law librarian had quit her position as the Director and in her place the board of trustees (who are usually a bunch of judges and hereinafter identified as "BOT") installed a person who had previously served as a mere clerk at said law library.  No legal education to speak of.  No experience leading a law library.  Nope - just grabbed a warm body (so to speak) and now she's a director of a law library.

What is the problem with this?  I'll tell you what the problem is.  The problem is that this person doesn't know the difference between an annotated code and a non-annotated code.  She doesn't know the ALR (American Law Reports) from CCP (California Code of Civil Procedure).  She couldn't find her way out of the S.Ct. (Supreme Court Reports) to find the CJS (Corpus Juris Secundum) if her life depended on it.  Of course all of these abbreviations stand for standard legal resources but what does the BOT care?  They just want a babysitter of books!  Who cares that the rank and file of the public know even less than this newly installed director does about law.  Who cares that the people of that county don't know a code from a regulation.  Who cares?!  Well, the BOT should, that's who.

For instance, say a person were to come into the law library looking for a motion to set-aside a default judgment.  A seasoned law librarian would immediately take that person to (or suggest they look at) California Forms of Pleading and Practice (Lexis) or California Civil Procedure Before Trial (CEB) or Younger on California Motions (West) as well as have them take a gander at West's Annotated California Codes (if, in fact said person was in California).

If, on the other hand, all you had was a mere babysitter of books, your patrons (i.e. users of library materials) would soon be lost and frustrated because most people (and many attorneys are included in this mix) don't know the index from the table of contents.  In no short order library patrons will stop coming to the library because they can't find anything.  Soon, because no one goes to the law library any more, the judges will close the library and pocket the money in their collective pension funds (that or the state will find a way to waste in on some inane program).

Another reason the BOT should care is that without Law Librarians who know how to help pro se litigants (i.e. persons representing themselves), you're going to have increasing clogged courts dealing with people who really, REALLY don't know what they're doing.  The result, of which will be increasingly frustrated opposing counsel, frustrated judges (who will have to teach pro se litigants what is going on), frustrated court clerks (who have to check the same poorly filled out forms over and over), and a ill trained court staff having to teach the basics to we the people all because the Law Librarian was taken out of the picture.

Yep, eliminate the law librarians (i.e. the people who are actually available to help "we the people" find legal resources) and soon enough free law libraries will be a thing of the past.  The only way people will be able to get anything done is by relying on an attorney and hoping they don't get taken to the cleaners. Replace law librarians with persons who have no legal acumen and law libraries will soon become dusty, old monuments to stodgy judges and attorneys who thrive on an ignorant population (to be fair, not all attorneys are nasty but if they all were great, there wouldn't be so many lawyer jokes).

So, if you want your public county law library to go the way of the dodo, do nothing and let the judges and stodgy politicians have their way.  If, on the other hand, you value truth, justice, and the ability to coherently strings two sentences together, stand up and take a stand against oppressive, stodgy judges/politicians and demand that they provide a public county law library (and law library staff) that can act as a bell weather against ignorance and complacency.