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  • [legal brief]   LISP Co-Sponsors an Amicus Brief with the Social Responsibility Section
    by Amy Hale-Janeke, LISP Chair

    One of the best goals that the Legal Information Services to the Public (LISP) Special Interest Section set for itself this year was to submit an amicus brief in a Florida case, Henderson v. Crosby. This case involves prisoners in Florida who have sued the Florida Department of Corrections for gutting their prison law libraries. This means that Florida prisoners cannot access law books and tools to research and prepare their own legal pleadings.

    After a flurry of intensive writing, we met that goal on Monday, August 25th. Here is the account of that brief's long journey to the Florida courthouse.

    Back in June, I was contacted by Robin Rosenberg, a pro bono attorney at Holland & Knight who represents the prisoners in this case (Gregory Henderson, et al.). She knew there _had_ to be a law librarian association somewhere who would want to know about this issue. She talked to a local Florida law librarian who told her to contact AALL's LISP to see if we would be willing to contribute an amicus brief on behalf of the prisoners. Robin called me and explained the situation. She noted that there is a provision in Florida's state constitution requiring access to the courts and wondered if LISP would be willing to argue that without legal materials, there is no substantive access to the courts.

    After reading the pleadings and Florida's constitution, LISP agreed to make the effort. We knew we'd need to hire someone to do the brief for us so we pledged $1500 from our treasury for this effort and I began looking around for an appellate attorney with some interest in prisoners' access to legal materials. I also discussed the situation with Alison Alifano, current chair of the Social Responsibility Special Interest Section (SR-SIS), and Ann Hemmens, Vice-Chair of the SR-SIS . They were both enthusiastic about this project, and the SR-SIS agreed to donate $1000 from their treasury for this effort.

    I didn't have to look too far to find someone to write the brief! I work with a law librarian who is also an appellate attorney, Michael Kaye. He agreed to do the brief, and even offered to take vacation days in order to write it, but the San Diego County Public Law Library agreed to hire substitutes to work Michael's hours on the reference desk so that he could devote his workdays to the brief.

    Michael ultimately devoted 13 days (and many nights and weekends) to writing the brief. The overall cost, including copying, binding, and postage, was about $3000. Of this, $2,500 was reimbursed to the law library by LISP and SR.

    We knew there would be substantial costs associated with filing the brief and we decided to ask others for funds to support this project, including the South Florida Association of Law Libraries chapter of AALL and AALL itself. They were unable to donate funds, so we decided to take what we had and go forward in preparing and filing the brief.

    Once we had funding secured and an attorney to write the brief, LISP sought approval for the submission of the amicus curiae brief from the president of the American Association of Law Libraries (Special Interest Sections are not allowed to submit amicus curiae briefs on their own and must have approval from AALL Headquarters). Alison and Ann helped in the lobbying effort and there were several discussions at the July annual meeting about writing the brief. But most people just shook their heads and said that we didn't have enough time to write a brief and get it approved through AALL.

    We went home from the annual meeting dejected, but hope was revived by a phone call from Bob Oakley, who works in the Washington Affairs office of AALL. The Washington Affairs office exists to promote and support national, state and local initiatives to advance the policies of the Association and they thought this was an important issue.

    Bob said he had discussed the situation and the severe time constraints with the president of AALL, Janis Johnston. She also agreed this was an important issue but it would be too time- consuming to have each member of the Executive Board of AALL review the brief. So Janis designated Bob Oakley to review the brief to make sure it was in line with AALL's mission and goals, and gave us the "go ahead" to write the brief.

    By now time was almost running out, and Michael Kaye worked twelve and fourteen hour days for three weeks to research and write the brief and get it submitted. Mike e-mailed drafts of the brief to Bob during the writing phase and Bob would make suggestions or corrections. Mike cited the AALL publication, Recommended Collections for Prison and Other Institution Law Libraries (1996), as a main component of the brief asking the court to order the Florida Department of Corrections to supply its prison law libraries according to those guidelines.

    Michael also cited articles from AALL members about collection development, interpretations of case law regarding prison libraries, and prison law library collection development. While reading law review articles about state constitutional law, Mike said he was surprised to see my name in the footnotes of an article by Rachel Van Cleave as her research assistant on that article. I laughed and said, "I told you that I have always been interested in state constitutional law! " I had been Rachel's research assistant during law school and then took her excellent State Constitutional Law seminar. Her article is one of many good ones that were cited that deal with rights under state constitutions.

    Thanks to Michael's diligence and hard work, the brief was filed with the court Monday, Aug. 25th. The brief is now located here on the LISP webpage. We will post updates as to what happens in this case on this page. Thanks to everyone who made this brief possible - the executive board of LISP and members of LISP who voted to fund this project; Alison Alifano, Ann Hemmens and the members of the their SIS who also agreed to use treasury funds for this project; Bob Oakley, Janis Johnston, and most especially Michael Kaye.