"Nota Bene" means "note this well" or "take particular notice." We at the O'Quinn Law Library will be posting tips on legal research techniques and resources, developments in the world of legal information, happenings at the Law Library, and legal news reports that deserve your particular attention. We look forward to sharing our thoughts and findings and to hearing from you.

N.B: Make a note to visit "Nota Bene" regularly.

-Spencer L. Simons, former Director, O'Quinn Law Library and Associate Professor of Law



Friday, December 18, 2015

Death Penalty Use Declines in 2015


This week, the Death Penalty Information Center released "The Death Penalty in 2015: Year End Report."  The report indicates that in 2015 the U.S. had the lowest number of executions since 1991.  Over the last year, there were 28 executions in just 6 states, including Texas, Missouri, Georgia, Florida, Oklahoma, and Virginia.  Other indicators in the report signal the decline in the use of the death penalty.  For instance, 49 new death sentences were imposed in 2015, which is the lowest number since the early 1970s when the death penalty was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.  The report also indicates that 6 death row inmates were exonerated in 2015, which brings the total to 153 since 1973.  In addition, 70 inmates with execution dates in 2015 received stays, reprieves, or commutations.

To read the full-text of the report, see the report’s website.  For more information about the death penalty, check the Death Penalty Information Center’s website. 

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Paris Agreement on Climate Change


Over the weekend, the almost 200 countries participating in the 21st Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP21) reached an historic agreement regarding climate change.  The agreement contains provisions to limit the rise in global temperatures, to limit greenhouse gas emissions, and for wealthier countries to assist poorer countries with adapting to climate change and switching to renewable energy. However, the agreement will not enter into force until it has been ratified by 55 countries, which must represent at least 55% of global emissions.  The agreement will be open for signing on April 22, 2016. 

To find out more about the conference and agreement, visit the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change website.  The entire text of the agreement is also available on their website.  


Friday, December 11, 2015

Land Use Regulation, 3d

The ABA section of Real Property, Trust & Estate Law has recently published Land Use Regulation, 3d ed. by Peter W. Salsich, Jr. and Timothy J. Tryniecki (now available on the new titles shelf in the law library under the call number KF5698.S243). The book begins with a discussion of municipal power to regulate land use and then covers zoning, land use planning, constitutional limitations, and local approval process. There is a chapter that focuses specifically on both administrative and judicial review of land use decisions. Other topics include regulating specific uses, subdivision regulations, overcoming barriers to affordable housing, and environmental land use regulation. This book has a table of cases and subject index. The library also has the following titles on land use regulation:
  • Land Use Planning and Development Regulation Law, 3d (available on Westlaw Next)
  • Land Use Planning and Development Regulation Law, 3d (Hornbook Series) (KF5692.J84 2013
  • Land Use in a Nutshell (KF5698.Z9N65 2006)
  • Zoning and Land Use Controls (KF5698.R68) (available on Lexis Advance)

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Federal Tax Procedures for Attorneys, 2d ed.

The ABA has recently published, Federal Tax Procedures for Attorneys, 2d by W. Patrick Cantrell. This book, designed for the tax attorney and the tax scholar, provides a real-world approach to tax practice issues. The information is thorough yet well organized and there are numerous practice tips located throughout the book. There are nine chapters covering topics relevant to the tax practitioner such as IRS examinations and administrative appeals within the agency. The chapter on tax litigation  covers deficiency process, tax claims and refunds, and the U.S. Tax Court. Collection enforcement matters such as levies and liens as well as collection remedies and defenses are also covered. Other topics include penalties and interest, statute of limitations on tax cases, ethical considerations, and tax fraud. There is a subject index and the appendices include a list of abbreviations and acronyms used in tax practice, IRS form letters, IRS publications of procedural topics, and IRS forms and notices used in federal tax procedure matters.  This book is available on the new titles shelf (across from the reference desk next to the public computer terminals) in the law library under the call number (KF6320.C36  2015).

Monday, December 7, 2015

Copyright Office Releases Strategic Plan

The United States Copyright Office has released a 5-year strategic plan for 2016-2020. 

Of particular interest to legal researchers is the Office's plans to deploy a public search engine to allow for online patent research, and well as its plans to digitize older (pre-1978) copyrights and place them online in a searchable format.  The Office's plans include the development of metadata standards for the new patent research system, but specific details about these standards are not yet available.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Federal Rules of Civil Procedure Amended

The most recent amendments to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure went into effect this week, introducing several changes to the treatment of discovery.

Possibly the most significant changes were made to Rule 26, which has eliminated the requirement that discovery requests be "reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence" and now explicitly states that responsive materials must be produced even if inadmissible in court.  The new version of the rule also has an increased emphasis on proportionality with a 6-factor test for balancing the interests of the parties to the litigation.

Additional substantial changes were made to Rule 37, which now applies exclusively to electronically stored information.  The rule contains new penalties for failure to preserve electronic information as well as requiring a determination of intent before any penalties can be applied.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Who Represents Them? Researching the Law Firms Major Companies Engage in Litigation

One of the hottest topics in legal information today is the use of data analytics, or harnessing large amounts of data to create assessments and make predictions. Legal research vendors are now offering their own, specialized tools that subscribers can use to take advantage of the copious amounts of data already present within the system’s databases.

One of these vendors, Bloomberg Law, has introduced a feature they call  Law Firm Representation Analytics. This tool uses Bloomberg Law’s popular and expansive database of court dockets to show users the top law firms representing a particular company in federal litigation. 

To use the tool, simply search for the company’s name using the “Go” bar at the upper-right hand side of any Bloomberg Law page.  Once the company’s name appears on the list of Suggested Companies, select it. The federal litigation analytics will display on the company’s page, along with other information about the company and its performance if it is a publicly-traded company. Once you have clicked into the litigation analytics information, you can look at the company’s litigation history, and the firms that represent the company in various types of litigation.


For example, after searching Dallas-based Southwest Airlines and launching the law firm analytics, I can see that Vinson & Elkins has represented Southwest in 108 of 335 appearances in federal court over the last five years. This information can be used by potential hires and competing businesses and firms to understand who represents major clients, and in what practice area. Though one should note that this information is limited to federal court actions, this new tool is unlike any other we’ve seen from other major legal research vendors, and is available to all Bloomberg Law users.

Monday, November 23, 2015

The Greenbook: Texas Rules of Form, 13th Edition

The thirteenth edition of The Greenbook was published this fall and it has a few changes of note that Texas lawyers and law students may find useful. The Greenbook’s editors remind us in the introduction to the new edition that it is neither a complete citation guide nor style guide, but rather a “lens through which Texas legal materials may be cited and understood.”  Or, perhaps, a Texas-sized supplement to the Bluebook , tailored to the Texas practitioner. Some of the more notable changes and additions include:

Citation to Opinions on Court Websites:  Rules 2-4 have been supplemented to provide more guidance for citing Texas court opinions appearing on court websites. Acknowledging that recent cases are most reliably accessed through court websites, the rules provide suggestion for pin cites to unpaginated versions of opinions available online.

Pet. Pending: You may be surprised to learn that a fourteenth citation form has been added for describing the status of a petition for review: pet. pending.  Rule 55.1 of the Texas Rules of Appellate procedure notes that “[w]ith or without the granting of a petition for review, the Court may request the parties to file briefs on the merits.” This designation addresses those situations where the Texas Supreme Court has ordered briefing, but has not granted or denied the petition.

Locating Petition & Writ History: Unfortunately, the 13th edition of the Greenbook suggests West’s Texas Subsequent History Table as the best resource for finding petition and writ history. As Nota Bene reported last October, the Texas Subsequent History Table will no longer be published. Searching by case number on the Texas Courts Online website to find petition notions is suggested as well. This method is reliable and does not require having advance sheets to the Southwester Reporter (Texas Cases) handy.

Enhanced Historical Information: Greenbook users will enjoy the 13th edition’s use of citation to Texas Supreme Court cases discussing the reasoning and use behind citation practices. In previous editions of the Greenbook these matters were announced without any direction for the reader interested in knowing the statements by the court about these issues. This is particularly the case in Chapter 5, regarding the Commission of Appeals, and Appendices A and E.  


The Constitution of the State of Coahuila and Texas: Appendix G, relating to the citation of prior constitutions, now includes guidance for citation to the Constitution of the State of Coahuila and Texas. Texas was part of this Mexican state, prior to the existence of the Republic of Texas, and its 1827 constitution is properly cited to Gammel’s The Laws of Texas. Greenbook editors also make mention of Gammel’s The Laws of Texas’ availability online through the University of North Texas, a helpful tip for practitioners. 

Thursday, November 19, 2015

The History of International Law Timeline


Oxford University Press recently launched a free, interactive History of International Law timeline.  It provides information about over 100 major events in the development of public international law including “the signing of major treaties, the foundation of fundamental institutions, the birth of major figures in international law and milestones in the development of some of the field’s best-known doctrines.”  The timeline covers over 500 years, starting with the Treaty of Tordesillas in 1494 and ending with the Arms Trade Treaty in 2014.  
 
For each event, the timeline allows users to find out more about the topic by providing free access to portions of Oxford University Press resources such as Oxford Historical Treaties and the Max Planck Encyclopaedia of Public International Law as well as blog posts and journal articles.  For more information and to explore this resource, see The History of International Law website. 

Monday, November 16, 2015

New Texas openCourts App


Looking for information regarding Texas courts and judges?  Try the new app from Sutherland Asbill & Brennan LLP that provides contact information and more for Texas courts.  The app, Texas openCourts, provides information regarding both Texas state and federal courts.  It has phone numbers and addresses for the court as well as a map feature to help you get to each building.  In addition, it contains short biographical information regarding the judges such as employment history and education information.  For federal district court judges, it also links directly the local rules for each judge.  

This app is free and available for iOS and Android devices.  For more information or to download the app, visit the iTunes App Store, Google Play, or Amazon.  

Thursday, November 12, 2015

New Report on Federal Agencies' Responsiveness to FOIA Requests


We at Nota Bene have written before about TRAC, the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse. TRAC is a research organization at Syracuse University that uses Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to gather data for its reports on various government activities, including staffing, spending, and law enforcement. These reports are then published on the TRAC website.

Recently, TRAC published the results of its latest FOIA survey, which assesses the responsiveness of 21 federal agencies to FOIA requests. These requests were designed to ask only about information the agencies are legally required to maintain, and to avoid asking about sensitive information that might have to be redacted. The report indicates that two-thirds of the agencies “are now responding and providing usable data,” and this “represents an improvement over just seven agencies that gave adequate responses in April.” Six agencies have failed to provide an adequate response, and one—the Central Intelligence Agency—has flatly refused to process the requests. You can read the full report here.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Treasury Department Launches New Spending Data Website


The United States Treasury Department recently launched an open beta version of its new website for tracking government spending. The Department is asking users to provide feedback on demo versions of new search tools, including live filters, SQL search, and a search builder using drop-down menus to filter on specific fields. The idea is to determine what kinds of functionality users want and to “add new features and functionalities on a rolling basis.” The new site will also allow users to make charts, graphs, and maps from their search results. The final version is scheduled to go live in May 2017. Until then, the Department’s original website for spending data is still available here.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Contract Law: Analyzing and Drafting

The ABA has just published Contract Law: Analyzing and Drafting, which is now available in the library (see the new titles shelf, which is located across from the reference desk, next to the public computer terminals) (KF801.C6135 2015). This book, edited by Karen F. Botterud, contains nineteen chapters (each authored by different attorneys who are experts in contract law) focusing on the concepts of contract law as well as contract drafting. The topics covered include, among others, essentials of contract formation, problems in contract formation, contract formation under UCC Article 2, statutes of fraud, parole evidence rule, contract performance, breach of contract and nonperformance, warranties, disclaimers, and limitations, and equitable remedies. There is even a chapter that covers drafting specific contract clauses in employment agreements. This book is thoroughly researched as indicated from the numerous excerpts from the Uniform Commercial Code, Corbin on Contracts (KF801.C6), Williston on Contracts (KF801.W5 3d), Restatement on the Law, Contracts 2d (KF395.A2C683), statutes, and  court decisions. There are "practice pointers" scattered throughout the book, which highlight important concepts of contract law.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

CasemakerX Database Available for Law Students and Faculty

This post is a reminder that CasemakerX, which is available to members of the Texas State bar, is also available to law students and faculty. This database provides access to primary sources of law at the state and federal level. Statutes and regulations can be browsed easily and all sources are fully searchable (Casemaker X uses boolean connectors and proximity search). Users can locate the following (among other sources) on Casemaker X:
  • United States Code
  • Code of Federal Regulations
  • Federal Register
  • Federal Agency Materials 
  • Federal Case Law
  • Federal Rules of Court
  • Texas Statutes (Texas codes and session laws)
  • Texas Administrative Code
  • Texas Register
  • Attorney General Opinions
  • Texas Case Law
  • Texas Rules of Court
Law students and faculty can register by visiting http://www.casemakerx.com/ and clicking "sign up now." The CasemakerX mobile app is available to those already registered by clicking "available mobile application" link located toward the top of the search page.

Friday, October 30, 2015

New Federal Website for Election Data


Yesterday the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) launched the beta version of a new website for election data, https://beta.fec.gov.  The website is currently a resource for locating campaign finance data, and will soon expand to offer other election information as well.

The FEC's current website for information elated to elections, http://www.fec.gov/pindex.shtml, remains accessible.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Easy Access to Federal Court Opinions Online

This week the Federal Law Librarians Special Interest Section of the Law Librarians Society of Washington, D.C., announced a new online resource available on their site, entitled Quick Links and Sources to U.S. Court Opinions. The new website presents quick links to all major sources for U.S. Court opinions including sites for recent years, sites for recent and historical years, and subscription sites. It also presents direct links to court opinion sites of specific U.S. courts such as the U.S. courts of appeals as well links to opinion sites to those courts before the 1990’s.  Each specific’s court’s abbreviation and city location can also be found and there is an example of how new slip opinions can be cited. Though this list is of most use for finding opinions from the federal courts, it links to Cornell's Legal Information Institute for Texas opinions. Provided this list is updated consistently, it will be a useful bookmark for any practitioner seeking quick access to case law. 

Friday, October 16, 2015

GPO to Digitize the Entire Federal Register


This week, the United States Government Printing Office (GPO) announced that it will be partnering with the National Archives’ Office of the Federal Register to digitize all back issues of the Federal Register.  The Federal Register, which started in 1936, is published daily with rules, proposed rules, and notices from federal agencies as well as executive materials.  The announcement states that this project, which will digitize two million pages, will be complete in 2016.

Digitizing all issues back to 1936 will greatly expand free access to this valuable resource.  Currently, the Federal Register is available through subscription databases such as Westlaw, Lexis, and HeinOnline back to 1936, with HeinOnline being the only database of the three providing the publication in PDF format. While free access to the Federal Register is currently available on the GPO’s FDsys website, the coverage only goes back to 1994.  In fact, many of the document collections available through FDsys only go back to the mid-1990s as well.  The digitization of these historical issues of the Federal Register is a welcome project and is hopefully just the start of more digitization projects covering historical federal legal materials!

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

New Death Penalty Resource From The Marshall Project


The Marshall Project, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization focusing on criminal justice issues, recently launched The Next to Die website, a resource with information about upcoming executions across the country.  This resource was created in conjunction with the Houston Chronicle and six other news organizations including AL.com, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Frontier, St. Louis Public Radio, the Tampa Bay Times, and The Virginian-Pilot.  According to their website, “The Marshall Project and its journalistic partners do not take a stance on the morality of capital punishment,” but see “a need for better reporting on a punishment that so divides Americans.” 

The website focuses on the nine states that have executed people since 2013 including Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Missouri, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas, and Virginia, as well as Arkansas, since it is planning to resume executions.  It provides information about scheduled executions in each state and links to news coverage regarding the cases.  Finally, it also provides data regarding the history of the death penalty, with the information provided by the Death Penalty Information Center.  For more information about the resource, visit The Next to Die website.