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June 26, 2013

Article: Ineffective Assistance of Library: The Failings and the Future of Prison Law Libraries

There is a very interesting article in the June 2013 edition of the Georgetown Law Journal (101 Geo. L.J. 1171) about prison libraries. (available via Westlaw and LexisNexis)

From the abstract:

The prison law library has long been a potent symbol of the inmate's right to access the courts. But it has never been a practical tool for providing that access. This contradiction lies at the core of the law library doctrine. It takes little imagination to see the problem with requiring untrained inmates, many of them illiterate or non-English speakers, to navigate the world of postconviction relief and civil rights litigation with nothing more than the help of a few library books...

This Article uses original historical research to show how prison law libraries arose, not as a means of accessing the courts, but rather as a means of controlling inmates' behavior.

Curious about the meaning behind that last phrase, I took a closer look at the article. It seems that during the 1950's, the law library that served Illinois's prisons became so popular that in just a nine year period "inmates at the 4,400-man Stateville facility shot off 27,890 filings to the courts, not including those filed by their attorneys." This apparently didn't sit to well with some in the legislature and judiciary.

Author Jonathan Abel wondered, "with legislators and judges criticizing the law library, what could have motivated Stateville and Joliet Warden Joseph Ragen to let it grow so big? Not constitutional requirements. Not a sense for the future development of the law. No, it appears the warden had more practical reasons, at least according to the newspaper. Ragen said he was 'not too unhappy' with the situation because 'the job of preparing petitions keeps the prisoners occupied.'" (p 1183)

Here's more from the abstract

By placing the origin of the prison law library in the first decades of the twentieth century-half a century earlier than typical accounts-this Article shows how the law library evolved to take on a new purpose in the 1960s and 1970s, when the Supreme Court and other courts first began to fashion a law library doctrine.

The central argument of this Article is simple: The courts' attempts to graft an access-to-courts rationale onto a law library system that had developed for other purposes led to a law library doctrine riddled with contradictions and doomed to failure. This historical account helps explain a prison law library system that never really made sense in terms of providing access to the courts.

Hat tip to Legal Research Plus

June 18, 2013

Tributes to Three UW Law Profs in Recent Law Review Issues

Three UW Law School Professors, Marc Galanter, Neil Komesar, and Jim Jones, have been the subject of tribute issues of law reviews recently.

  • Jim Jones is the subject of the most recent edition of the Wisconsin Law Review, Volume 2013, no 3. For a complete list of tribute articles, see the WLR website.
  • Wisconsin Law Review, volume 2013, no. 2 looks at Thirty Years of Comparative Institutional Analysis: A Celebration of Neil Komesar. A list of articles appears on the WLR website.
  • The DePaul Law Review volume 62, no. 2 is a symposium issue in Celebration of the Thought of Marc Galanter. Although there is no listing of articles from that issue on their website, most of them are listed in Google Scholar.

TrialPad and Other Apps for Legal Professionals

Last month in San Diego, a local news station reported that the District Attorney's office was beginning to use an IPad app in the courtroom. Called TrialPad, the app allows attorneys to view diagrams, pictures and other evidence from a variety of angles, giving juries a better look at their evidence. The app can also serve as a way to edit video clips, store important documents, view documents side-by-side and includes a whiteboard for note-taking. While the price is hefty for an app at $89.99, the useful aspects and real-world applications of TrialPad make it worth a look if you are wanting to add a new wrinkle to your case presentation.

The San Diego court recently banned poster boards from all cases except for murder cases, so the TrialPad app has helped fill the void of presenting exhibits that once would have been a typical poster board presentation. TrialPad is being used across the country by a variety of lawyers, including the US Attorney's Office, and can be purchased in the Apple App Store.

If you are interested in other iPad apps that can be used by legal professionals, the vast majority of which are either free or less than 10 dollars, check out the Law Library's guide to iPad legal apps. If you prefer Android tablets or smartphones, the Law Library also has an Android legal apps page. Both are updated frequently, so check back for new and useful apps.

Post by Kris Turner

June 5, 2013

Black's Law Dictionary App on Sale Today

If you're thinking of purchasing the Black's Law Dictionary app for your mobile device but are hesitating because of the hefty $50 price tag, you'll be happy to hear that the app is on sale today only (Wed, June 5) for $26.99.