Vol. 20, No. 2 (Winter 1997)

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RIPS Law Librarian
vol. 20, no. 2
Winter 1997

Message From The Chair
Kory D. Staheli  

Happy Holidays!  Actually, the Holidays will probably be over by the time you read this.  If so, I hope everyone had a nice holiday.  In my last message I outlined our plan for the coming year, and mentioned briefly that we will be reinstituting roundtable discussions at the Annual Meeting in Anaheim.  I am very excited about the possibilities these roundtables will afford our members, and would like to tell you a little more about what we have planned.

There will be four different RIPS roundtables in Anaheim.  Three will deal with patron services (i.e.; reference, circulation, interlibrary loan/document delivery) and one with research instruction.  These roundtables will provide RIPS members with an opportunity to come together as groups, in specific areas of interest, to discuss common problems, share and generate ideas, and so forth.

Unlike past years, the roundtables have been scheduled for times separate from the RIPS Business Meeting.  And although we do not know specific dates and times for each roundtable yet, our requests have been sent to headquarters.  I should also point out that we have tried to schedule the roundtables so that members with related interests will be able to attend more than one.  For example, the reference and research instruction roundtables will be scheduled at different times.  Likewise, the times for the circulation and lnterlibrary loan roundtables  will not conflict.  Each roundtable will last between 45 minutes and 1 hour.  Specific information will be printed in the Annual Meeting Program.  As we get closer to the Annual Meeting, we will also include specific dates and times in both this Newsletter and on our RIPS web page, which we hope will be up and functional by then.  (By the way, Bobbie Studwell and her committee have been working very hard on the RIPS web page, and Bobbie tells me we should be seeing something soon.)  

The reference roundtable will be led by Mark Silverman, circulation by Mon Ying Lung, interlibrary loan/document delivery by Monica Ortale, and research instruction by Darcy Kirk.  These discussion leaders are in the process of  putting together preliminary agendas for each roundtable, and welcome your input and ideas.  If you have an idea or suggestion, please give the discussion leader in your area of interest a call.

I would like to thank Mark Silverman, our Patron Services Committee Chair, for coordinating the roundtables and arranging for our discussion leaders. Mark's participation has been invaluable.  I would also like to thank the discussion leaders for their willingness to help.

One of the biggest complaints we have received from RIPS members over the last couple of years is that there is not enough time during the Annual Meeting for those working in specific areas to simply come together as a group and talk.  Hopefully this will solve the problem.  We are listening to your concerns, and doing our best to respond.  

Pennsylvania County Case Reporters
by Marc Silverman  

Among the oddities of case law research exist a group of reporters that have been a continuing source of confusion for many non-Pennsylvania reference librarians.  Over half of the sixty-seven counties in Pennsylvania currently publish a case reporter covering decisions issued by their Court of Common Pleas.  These trial level decisions tend to span all areas of state law.  Many of these reporters have been in existence for fifty years or longer with a few going back to the Nineteenth Century.

Situations and issues do arise for which an appellate opinion doesn't exist but a lower court decision can be found. Some of the features that we have long taken for granted in the appellate reports also can be found here.  Thus, most volumes will contain a table of cases and a simple subject index.

Paperback advance sheets also exist for many of these reporters although those from the rural counties tend to report a single case each month and primarily consist of bar news and legal notices.  

Editorial diligence has never been a hallmark of these publications.  Generally there have been problems with consistency in volume numbering and pagination.  That probably was the reason why Shepards, a publisher that relies on accurate citations, stopped providing citation information for the individual county reporters around 1972/73.  West also stopped including them in their case digest around 1975.  There currently is no quick and easy subject access to the opinions in the county reporters. 

There are several other Pennsylvania case reporters that belong in this same context.  The District and County Reports, now in its fourth series, selectively publishes those trial decisions that its editors feel are novel or important. Roughly ninety percent or more of the decisions appearing in this set are also found in the individual county reporters,  but it does include decisions from counties without a reporter and some opinions overlooked by the county reporters.   This title is still included by Shepards and West in their Pennsylvania research tools.  The Fiduciary Reporter contains Court of Common Pleas decisions from all over the state in the estates and trusts area.  Finally, Chrostwaite's Pennsylvania Municipal Law Reporter contains both appellate and trial level decisions dealing with local government law. 

Because these decisions are from trial courts they don't carry much weight.  Still, situations and issues do arise for which an appellate opinion doesn't exist but a lower court decision can be found.  Controversies involving small amounts of money like landlord tenant often don't find their way to the appellate level and it is in these areas that the county reporters are useful.

Marc Silverman is Associate Director for Public Services at the University of Pittsburgh Law School.  

The Wide, Wide World of Reference
by Melissa Serfass

Our reference desk has really been hopping lately.  Well, actually it's the librarians who have been hopping.  The desk remains fairly stable. Recently we have seen our questions from lay patrons outnumber requests from law students or attorneys.  This situation has added some spice to our routine hours at the desk.  Their sometimes unusual, often unanswerable, questions can be more entertaining than explaining the digest system for the thousandth time.

One afternoon a man was wandering around the reference area.  He looked somewhat lost, so I went to help him. I call this one the "Friend in Need."  The conversation went something like this:

Librarian: Can I help you find something?
Patron: My friend is in jail and I need to find out the law on how to get him out.
L: Does he have an attorney?
P: No, he doesn't.
L: Has he had a trial?
P: Yes, he had a trial already.
L: He had a trial with no attorney?
P: Well, there was an attorney there, but it was my attorney.   I have a public defender, but my friend doesn't have an attorney.  I'm supposed to be the one in jail and I need to find out how to get him out.  
L: You're supposed to be in jail?
P: Yes, what happened was, he went to my hearing yesterday because I couldn't go, and he got put in jail and no one knows he isn't me.  I didn't think he would get put in jail.
L: Your public defender didn't know it wasn't you?
P: No, I never met him, I only talked to him on the phone.
L: Have either one of you told anyone yet that the wrong person is in jail?
P: No, because I don't want to get in trouble for missing my hearing.  I just need to find the laws on how to get him out since he's innocent.
L: I can show you the Arkansas Code, but I really advise you to call your public defender and tell him what happened.
P: You think that is the best thing to do?
L: Yes, I strongly advise you to do that.
P: Okay, I'll call him, but I would like to look at the code.  That will have the law in it, right?
L: Yes, it is the Arkansas law, but I don't think you will find anything there that covers your situation.

After I showed him the Arkansas Code, he spent at least an hour looking through it, but never came back to the reference desk.  I don't know if his friend ever got out of jail!

Melissa Serfass is the Computer Services/Reference Librarian at the UALR/Pulaski County Law Library in Arkansas.