PEOPLE’S COURT — MC Law offering boosts state to top grade in court access
by Wally Northway
Published: January 24,2014
A recent report has Mississippi tops in the nation for public access to Mississippi Supreme Court and Court of Appeals proceedings, boosted by the Judicial Data Project (JDP) offered through the Mississippi College School of Law.
The recent ranking from Virginia Open Law titled “Public Access to the States’ Highest Courts: A Report Card” gave Mississippi an “A.” Only five other states — none in the Southeast — received an “A.”
The report focuses on public access in three areas: opinions; oral arguments; and briefs.
The “A” was earned by Mississippi for offering free online access to all three of those areas “without significant limitations or with features that stand out,” the report found.
In awarding the grade to Mississippi, Virginia Open Law further noted: “Opinions since 1996 are freely available and searchable. A public domain citation format exists for cases since July 1, 1997. Live video webcasts of oral arguments, with an archive since 2004 by the Mississippi College School of Law. Briefs since late 2007 also are available through the Mississippi College School of Law.”
Daniel Cole, MC Law IT director who wrote all the code for the JDP, said, “From the beginning, our goal was to make the judicial project a universally accessible database. Anyone, regardless of what technology they are utilizing, can easily log in and begin a search. In line with that, we also made the search process fairly elementary, allowing people who do not possess a wealth of legal knowledge to find what they are looking for quickly and easily.”
In 2007, the staff of the Mississippi College School of Law Library began collecting and presenting online video files of oral arguments before the Mississippi Supreme Court and the Mississippi Court of Appeals. Prior to that time, the arguments had not been archived. Eventually, the project developed into the MC Law JDP, which launched in 2010.
The JDP provides a comprehensive view of Mississippi appellate cases by combining several sources of information. The various sources include an appellate brief archive, an appellate court video archive and weekly summaries of opinions handed down by the state appellate courts. The JDP also allows users to perform statistical analysis and retrieve specific data related to the courts, such as the number of opinions written by a specific judge, and to perform basic research of opinions by keyword or type of case.
Dean Rosenblatt, dean and professor of law at MC Law, said, “MC Law receives tremendous support from the Mississippi judicial and legal communities in furtherance of legal education. This project, which makes judicial information available to all, is a way that we can give back to these communities and show our appreciation for this support. It also allows us to showcase the work of our law librarians.”
The MC Law staff gave high marks to the courts for their support of the project. Without their participation, the JDP would not have been possible.
Stephen Parks, MC Law research librarian who maintains the JDP, said, “The Supreme Court is a wonderful partner in this work. They provide the copies of the briefs and the videos of the oral arguments, which we archive. For really significant cases they will supply the video the day after the argument. The Clerk’s Office is critical in keeping the JDP current.”
Mississippi Supreme Court Chief Justice Bill Waller Jr. said the JDP supports what he sees as the Courts’ three pillars — fairness, efficiency and independence. He said openness “supports all of those areas,” and the JDP, in turn, supports that openness.
The Virginia Open Law report was not the first recognition for the JDP. It won the American Association of Law Libraries’ Innovations in Technology Award in 2012. And the JDP will be recognized by the Mississippi Historical Society in March, earning an Award of Merit for its archival work of Mississippi case law and legislative materials.
Mary Miller, assistant dean for technology, information and legal research who oversees the work of the MC Law Library, said, “We commit our Law Library to serve the needs of our faculty and students but also the legal community and the general public. This project demonstrates how we can leverage technology to bring information to people that will make them better informed citizens.”
For more on the JDP, visit the site at www.law.mc.edu/judicial.
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