Recently, the Colorado Supreme Court posted a proposal for adding public domain citations to Colorado case law. As part of the proposal, they asked for comments from the public. CALI submitted a response – which includes some suggestions for changes to the proposal – that appears below.
Why do we care about public domain citation in Colorado? The answer is two-fold. One, we’re selfish. Public domain/vendor neutral/media neutral citation formats are a first step in making law open and accessible. The more open and accessible law becomes, the easier it is for us to create CC licensed educational products for our member community. I have a domino theory of Open Law…each time a jurisdiction makes a step towards opening up their legal materials, the more likely it is that some other state will look to them and say, “Well, if Colorado can do it, we can and should too.”
Secondly, CALI works with organizations like the Legal Services Corporation (aka the people that fund Legal Aid organizations) and Chicago-Kent’s Center for Access to Justice & Technology to develop technological solutions to the issues involved with helping the public and increase access to justice. One such solution is our A2J software which helps legal aid attorneys create computer-based, self-guided A2J interviews for use by unrepresented litigants and others in need. The A2J interviews walk users through a step-by-step question and answer process, which, in the end, creates a legal form. Open law is another piece in the Access to Justice puzzle; Justice cannot happen when people are prevented from obtaining legal information. We believe that an individual’s ability to access the law that governs them should not be dependent on their ability – economic or otherwise – to use commercial products. The law should be free and open and readily available. Courts can put up all the PDFs of case law that they want…but if a litigant is required to still cite to the regional reporter citation, they are tied to the commercial publications.
Oh, enough of my ranting…..Here’s the text of the letter submitted to the Colorado Supreme Court and signed by our Executive Director, John Mayer, on behalf of CALI and the CALI Board of Directors:
Justices of the Colorado Supreme Court,
c/o Clerk of the Colorado Supreme Court,
Christopher T. Ryan,
101 W. Colfax Ave., Suite 800,
Denver, Colorado 80202
The Center for Computer-Assisted Legal Instruction (CALI) would like to commend the Colorado Supreme Court and the Colorado Court of Appeals on their proposed adoption of a public domain citation format for its published opinions. CALI is a strong supporter of access to justice initiatives and open legal education; public domain citation of court opinions benefits both of these goals. Unfortunately, the current proposal stops short of being truly public domain and media/vendor neutral.
Meaningful access to justice cannot happen when there are impediments to the citizenry accessing the laws that govern it. The publication of opinions by the court on the free and open web is the first step in providing citizens the information they need to be full participants in their democracy. Rule 10.3.3 of The Bluebook A Uniform System of Citation (Columbia Law Review Ass’n et al. eds., 19th ed. 2010) is referenced as a model in Proposal to Adopt a Public Domain Citation Format For Colorado Supreme Court and Court of Appeals Published Opinions. It can be inferred that the parallel citation requirement of this rule is to be enforced in documents submitted to Colorado courts. If this is true, then those wishing to participate in the court system will still be required to use commercial publications and databases to find the proper citation – an effort that can come at significant, if not prohibitive, cost and difficulty to the average citizen. If the parallel citation to a commercially published regional reporter is not, in fact, to be a requirement of Colorado Courts, it is suggested that this fact be made more clear in the final rule.
Another similar issue with the proposed rule is the stipulation that unpublished opinions receive no public domain citation at all. This links the ability to cite to these documents accurately with one’s ability (both physical and monetary) to access commercial databases. If they are to otherwise be made available for commercial vendors to assign a proprietary number designation and then sell access to, then the Colorado Courts should likewise make them available with a public domain citation. Relying upon Rule 10.3.3 of The Bluebook, the case citation would appear as Smith v. Jones, 2012 CO 22U .
Again, on behalf of CALI, I applaud your efforts to make the Colorado court system more open to all, regardless of access (physical or economic) to print and electronic commercial publications. The proposed changes are a big first step in this process. However, Colorado could become a gold standard in open legal information and access to justice with just a few changes to the proposal as outlined above.
John P. Mayer,
Center for Computer-Assisted Legal Instruction
On behalf of the Board of Directors
If you’d like to submit comments of your own, you still have time. Details appear here. For more information about Public Domain citations, check out:
- Public Domain Legal Citations by Courtney Minick of Justia
- UniversalCitation.org, a grassroots effort to create open legal citation
- Neutral Citation, Court Web Sites, and Access to Authoritative Case Law by Peter Martin of Cornell
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