"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
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.
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.
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)
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).
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Agency Materials
Federal Case Law
Federal Rules of Court
Texas Statutes (Texas codes and session laws)
Texas Administrative Code
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.