Last week another class action was filed against the government, this one challenging the legality of the PACER fees themselves. The plaintiffs, three nonprofit legal service organizations, claim that the fees “far exceed the cost of providing the records,” and thus violate the E-Government Act of 2002. The Act provides for the imposition of court fees for electronic access to information “to reimburse expenses in providing these services.” The complaint alleges that the Administrative Office has used excessive fees “to cover the costs of unrelated projects—ranging from audio systems to flat screens for jurors—at the expense of public access.” You can read the full complaint here.
Friday, April 29, 2016
Back in January, we wrote about a class action suit involving PACER, the government-operated, online database of federal court documents. The complaint in that case (Fisher v. Duff) claimed that the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts was overcharging users for access to docket reports on PACER, due to an erroneous formula used to count the number of documents accessed.
Thursday, April 28, 2016
The Library of Congress announced today that it will retire the THOMAS.gov website on July 5. Named for Thomas Jefferson, THOMAS was launched in 1995 to provide online access to federal legislative information, including bills and resolutions, treaties, voting results, and the Congressional Record. In 2012 the Library of Congress began the transition from THOMAS to Congress.gov, which features a more modern design and increased functionality. During the transition period, both sites have remained online, but as of July 5 the transition will be complete and THOMAS will be officially retired.
Friday, April 22, 2016
This week, Houston received near-record levels of rainfall (over 13 inches on Monday), resulting in floods that destroyed millions of dollars of property and even took the lives of several residents. Heavy rain is not unusual for Houston, but this type of flooding is far from ordinary. By some accounts, this week’s storms are the most damaging since the city weathered Tropical Storm Allison in June 2001. Though the recent storms did not negatively impact the Law Center and the University of Houston main campus, this was not the case in 2001.
Tropical Storm Allison dropped nearly 37 inches of rain within a 24 hour period, leaving behind five billion dollars in damage. On June 8, 2001 the O’Quinn Law Library’s underground floors were flooded when the campus’s underground tunnels, which connect utilities throughout U of H, overflowed and filled the library with eight to twelve feet of water. Over 170,000 print volumes were destroyed, and some irreplaceable materials were lost forever. The materials lost to the water included the library’s famed admiralty collection and the Judge R. Brown papers. Damages were estimated at $30 million, though some of the materials lost were truly priceless.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) approved $21.4 million for the restoration of the collection. The funds separated into two projects, one for microfiche replacement, and the other for monograph replacement. Replacing a collection under the strictures of FEMA-awarded funds was no simple task, and took years to complete. The replacement effort continued until 2007, when the library completed its restoration, rebuilding, and remodeling. Library books and materials have never again been stored in the building’s lower lever; the space now accommodates student organizations. Visitors to the O’Quinn Law Library today can see photos of the storm’s aftermath, an unbelievable high-water mark, but most importantly- a world class law library.
We are thankful that in the wake of this week’s storms our campus, library, and community members were largely unharmed. We send our condolences and sympathies to those whose lives and property have been affected by the storms, and wish them strength as they begin on the road to rebuilding.
Thursday, April 21, 2016
Last week, Robert Ambrogi of the Law Sites blog noted that the number of startups providing legal services has grown dramatically over the last few years. Using data from Angel List, a site that tracks start-ups, he found that in 2014 the site listed 412 legal startups. Now, only two years later, that number has grown nearly threefold to 1094. Technology continues to have disruptive effects on numerous industries, and many have long seen the legal services market as one ripe for disruption.
The American Bar Association has taken notice of the rapid rise in non-traditional legal service providers, and may in the future seek to regulate these legal service providers and the services they may offer. A recent discussion paper produced by the ABA Commission on the Future of Legal Services asks for comment on whether the ABA should encourage states to develop new regulatory structures for these non-traditional (and currently unregulated) legal service providers. According to the report, the types of legal services providers perform are numerous including: “automated legal document assembly for consumers, law firms, and corporate counsel; expert systems that address legal issues through a series of branching questions and answers; electronic discovery; legal process outsourcing; legal process insourcing and design; legal project management and process improvement; knowledge management; online dispute resolution; data analytics; and many others.”
The ABA’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct, adopted by most states including Texas, govern the actions of the attorney, but not the law firm or legal services provider. The ABA Commission notes that new regulations may be appropriate for protection of the consumers' interests even if the services performed by the provider do not amount to "the practice of law." The Commission suggests as one possible solution entity regulation, where the entity providing the services is regulated, rather than the individual (e.g. attorney). The Commission notes that this type of regulation may also allow states to regulate some legal service providers that have a great effect on the individual consumer (like automated document services marketed toward individuals), but not others (like legal process serving) where the service is already supervised by the attorney engaging the service.
Monday, April 18, 2016
The US Department of State recently released the 2015 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices. These reports include information on the human rights practices of nearly 200 different countries and territories. The reports cover several important issues including Respect for Integrity of the Person; Respect for Civil Liberties; Freedom to Participate in the Political Process; Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government; Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights; Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons; and Worker Rights.
The US Department of State website will allow researchers to view the reports by country or region as well as build reports to compare jurisdictions on the variety of issues listed above. Reports can be viewed and built on this website going back to 2011. However, the Department of State has been compiling these reports for 40 years. Earlier reports can be found on other portions of the department’s website (here and here) back to 1993.
Friday, April 8, 2016
Wolters Kluwer has recently published, Practical Guide to U.S. Taxation of International Transactions, 10th ed. (KF6445.M45 2015), by Robert J. Misey, Jr. and Michael S. Schadewald. This book begins with a discussion of the basic principles such as tax jurisdiction and source of income rules. The authors review the taxation of foreign income by U.S. citizens and the taxation of foreign persons conducting business in the United States. Other issues such as international tax practice and procedure, and tax treaties are also covered. This book, which is now available on the law library's new titles shelf, contains several relevant IRS forms and a subject index.
Wednesday, April 6, 2016
Edward Elgar (EE) has recently published the new two volume set, International Tax Law (K4460.I59 2016) and is now available in the law library. Edited by Professor Reuven S. Avi-Yonah, this source contains articles from renowned scholars dealing with international taxation issues from a global standpoint and U.S international taxation. The twenty seven articles in this source discuss matters such as the structure of international taxation, international taxation of electronic commerce, foreign tax credits, issues related to the OECD, international tax arbitrage, and the issue of fairness as it relates to international taxation. This is perfect for the scholar or student interested in international taxation.