Category: 'Legal Tech'
March 8th, 2013 · Comments Off
I was puzzled the first time I saw opposing counsel attach a formal word-count certificate to a very simple one-page letter to a court. No word limits apply to those letters. (Don’t get any ideas!) So, why would that be required?
His reasoning was that the governing rule was a little unclear about what was required. At that time, it said “A computer-generated document must include a certificate … stating the number of words…” So, thinking like a good appellate lawyer, my opposing counsel included a certificate on all filed documents as a matter of course.
This week, the Texas Supreme Court has clarified the rule. Its short set of amendments to the word count rules now specifies that only those documents that are actually “subject to a word limit” need attach a certificate of compliance.
Tags: Electronic Briefs
July 18th, 2012 · Comments Off
This week the Court has rolled out the first public part of the TAMES system, its docket pages and the search window you use to reach them.
The new format for docket pages includes electronic versions of motions and orders, as well as an impressive amount of detail about things like which dates attorneys are listing on vacation letters.
The case search window allows you to filter by characteristics such as county, court of appeals, or even attorney name. Let the vanity searches begin…
The window includes an option to “Exclude Inactive Cases.” Based on some poking around, it looks like TAMES draws that line exactly where DocketDB does — when a case file has been closed and stored.
A glimpse of things to come is at the bottom of this new menu, with an option to see “Causes Set for Oral Argument.” The page displays a list of upcoming arguments, linked back to the Court’s docket information.
Tags: Legal Tech · News and Links
July 9th, 2012 · Comments Off
SCOTXblog will be undergoing some major construction this summer.
The timing is driven by the imminent launch of TAMES in the Texas Supreme Court. The Houston courts have already launched the system, and so I have a better sense of how these changes will affect the websites that I’ve built to follow the Court.
As you’d expect, I will be watching the TAMES rollout as closely as anyone. It will include many of the features I built for DocketDB — along with some others that no one outside of the courts themselves could have implemented (like copies of motions and letters).
They call the internet a “web” for a reason
Here’s a rough sketch of how my Texas court-watching projects fit together:
On this chart, the blog you’re reading is near the middle. My personal court-tracking database is at the bottom, and you can see how some of those connections flow through to public sites (like the blog or the public areas of DocketDB).
As crazy as this chart looks, it seems to work. Some of the scrapers have been running for more than five years with very little modification.
The future of DocketDB and SCOTXblog
While TAMES is a great deal for the public, it has a cost for me. My private court-tracking system is built on a foundation of “scrapers”, tuned to understand the old website. When the new site goes live, the Court’s docket information will be shifted to new pages and put in new formats. The existing scrapers will not know how to find or work with this information, so data will stop flowing into my private database, which in turn will freeze the public version of DocketDB.
For that reason, I anticipate that the public version of DocketDB (including registered accounts) will also wind down soon after the Court switches over to TAMES. That site needs a consistent flow of accurate data, and I won’t have that until I build a new set of scrapers for my own tracking system.
My first priority is fixing SCOTXblog. The easiest approach would be to cut the connections between the blog and my court-tracking software, leaving just a basic blog in place. But that’s not my style.
I’d much rather build a new platform for SCOTXblog that can better support the kind of case updates and articles that I’d like to write — and that, I hope, you’ll want to read.
I’ll update you as I make progress. In the meantime, you may see some longtime blog features start to disappear or stop working (like the feed of news articles or briefing requests). If you see something that looks more broken than usual, please let me know. And, of course, please stay tuned. I look forward to sharing the new site once it’s ready.
Tags: DocketDB · SCOTXblog Announcements
June 13th, 2012 · Comments Off
Now a majority of federal judges are using iPads
Judge David Nuffer (District of Utah) wrote a guest post on 3 Geeks and a Law Blog with some thoughts about the use of iPads by his colleagues on the federal bench.
The post begins by citing a recent report that 58% of federal judges “use an iPad for their court work.”
Judge Nuffer explained that they “have replaced laptops for many judges.” In particular, they are used not only for email but also for reading PDFs filed through the e-filing system.
Most judges also use an iPad for general reading because electronically filed documents are all PDF format. Apps such as PDF Expert, iAnnotate and Goodreader work well with these PDF documents. The documents can be annotated while reading and the annotations persist when the document is returned to chambers storage servers. Judges appreciate the ability to take voluminous documents with them in the same device they use for email. This results in less printing of electronically filed papers.
This echoes some of what Texas practitioners heard at the UT appellate conference two weeks ago. In 2010, the theme across the judicial panels panels was “e-briefs.” This year, it was “iPads.” The panel of Texas Supreme Court Justices noted that they are using a variety of devices, including the iPads that they have been issued. At least some of Texas’s intermediate appellate courts have also bought iPads for the use of the judges. And the panel of federal Fifth Circuit judges also mentioned that some judges are starting to review the parties’ briefs on iPads in preparation for oral argument.
Justice Guzman goes to summer school
Justice Eva Guzman is among the enrollees in the inaugural class of Duke University’s Master of Laws in Judicial Studies degree program.
She was quoted in an article in The Herald-Sun about the new program and how it fits into the schedule of a working judge:
Committing to the program, explained Eva Guzman, a justice of the Texas Supreme Court, has required some juggling and some very full days.
“While you’re here, you have to keep up with your full-time job back home,” Guzman said. “After your classes and dinner, you then begin your second eight-hour job.”
According to this list of enrollees, the class also includes Justice Frost of Houston’s Fourteenth Court of Appeals.
Source: The Herald-Sun, “The judges take a seat”
The challenge to Justice Hecht’s ballot eligibility has been dropped
Michele Petty, who is the Democratic nominee to run against Justice Hecht in the fall election, has dropped her challenge to his ballot eligibility.
According to the Statesman article, Petty concluded that any technical defect in the petitions had not actually confused any of the voters:
In a motion to dismiss her lawsuit, Petty told the Travis County District Court that her investigation revealed that voters “understood what they were doing” when they signed the petitions.
“Petty felt it would not be fair to invalidate their signatures because of error on the part of the circulators or notary,” said the filing.
In the filing, Petty also encourages the Legislature to revisit the requirement that judicial candidates solicit these signatures at all. Currently, state law requires potential judicial candidates who would run as Republicans or Democrats to obtain 50 signatures from each of Texas’s fourteen appellate districts. It does not impose the same requirements on third-party candidates.
Tags: Legal Tech · News and Links
December 1st, 2011 · 1 Comment
This seems as good a day as any to talk about the Justices’ output last Term.
We know how many signed opinions each Justice wrote as soon as they’re published. But the per curiam opinions are a mystery. It’s not until the Texas Office of Court Administration (OCA) releases its year-end report that we get a count of how many were credited to each Justice.
Now that OCA has released its report, I’ve updated my chart of opinion authors, which shows:
Justice Hecht led the way with 27 deciding opinions — 15 signed and 12 per curiams.
Justice Johnson (19 deciding opinions) and Justice Wainwright (16 deciding opinions) also exceeded the Court’s average of slightly more than 12 per Justice. (Justice Medina and Chief Justice Jefferson were very close to that mark.)
The most frequent author of concurring opinions was Justice Willett with 7, almost half the Court’s output of 16 concurrences. Chief Justice Jefferson was a strong second with 4 concurrences.
The most frequent author of dissenting opinions was Justice Johnson with 6, closely followed by Justice Lehrmann with 5. Justice Wainwright also had 5, if you fold in opinions that were both “concurring and dissenting.” Every Justice authored at least one true dissenting opinion.
No Justice wrote more per curiams than signed majority opinions. Only Justice Hecht authored more per curiams than separate (concurring or dissenting) opinions. The focus was very much on clearing out the signed opinions from the Court’s docket.
These OCA statistics focus on opinion authorship — the traditional (albeit imperfect) measure of output for appellate judges.
We might soon have some new measures, thanks to recent legislative demands for details about how individual Justices have been meeting the Court’s internal deadlines. And as it turns out, those reports are due on December 1st of each year.
Tags: DocketDB · Practice Notes
August 12th, 2011 · 1 Comment
If you found this blog with the search term “Supreme Court blog” (which a surprising number do), you’re in special luck today.
I’ve been working on a project to track the U.S. Supreme Court, much like my DocketDB project tracks the Texas Supreme Court. The site is CertPool.com. I put a simple version of it online late last year, and I’ve made improvements as I had time. The process has been quiet. I’m not sure that I ever mentioned it on this blog, although it has been noticed by the Volokh Conspiracy, and then by Crime and Consequences blog and a handful of others.
Read more about CertPool.com
Tags: Legal Tech · US Supreme Court
I will not be posting about the Friday orders list this week or next. You are on your own until June 22nd, when I return to the blog.
As blog readers know, the Texas state appellate courts are shifting toward electronic briefs. Unlike the federal system, the Texas rules permit advocates to make use of hyperlinks and encourage the use of internal bookmarks to ease navigation. The focus is on making the briefs more useful to the ultimate readers — the judges and law clerks who will use them to decide cases and write appellate opinions.
Last Thursday, I gave a presentation about electronic briefs with Blake Hawthorne at the UT Conference on State and Federal Appeals. We covered quite a bit of ground for a thirty-minute talk — the basics of how to make these briefs, some survey results from judges and staff members who have been using them for the past year, and some clips of video interviews with Texas Supreme Court Justices on the same subject.
See the video interviews and get the slide deck
Tags: Electronic Briefs · News and Links · Practice Notes
May 26th, 2011 · Comments Off
So, how often do counsel botch an e-filing by leaving in redacted information?
Tim Lee has done a study of redaction failures using a nice-sized subset of the federal PACER database. More specifically, he looked at the documents donated to the “RECAP” database, assembled as volunteers donated copies of PACER filings as they downloaded them.
Tim wrote a program that analyzed each PDF file, looking for the tell-tale hand-drawn rectangles that are a hallmark of poor redaction.
In a sample size of 1.8 million PACER documents, he found about 2000 documents with these rectangles. He narrowed that set to documents where these rectangles sat on top of text — and after checking the best candidates by hand — found 194 with failed redactions. Most of those (“about 130″) were from commercial litigation. In addition to the redaction mistakes caught by this program, there were about 1700 other redaction failures that had been caught before the documents were donated to RECAP. An overall ratio of 1 redaction failure per 1000 filings seems pretty low to me. I am curious how many of those 1.8 million documents were scanned from paper rather than generated as native PDFs. Native PDFs can be more challenging to redact, and the newer federal rules require them.
How courts can avoid this problem going forward
Tim has graciously donated this code to the public domain. As things stand, it requires a little technical savvy. But it’s available to any court officials who might want to fold it into their e-filing systems or to anyone else who wants to build a more user-friendly interface.
How you can redact properly
Redaction is covered in the blog’s resources page about how to make e-briefs that satisfy the Texas rules. There is a deeper discussion about strategies for redaction in the document called “Workflow for E-Briefs,” beginning at page 15 of the PDF.
Tags: Electronic Briefs · News and Links
May 10th, 2011 · Comments Off
I’ve been rolling out a steady stream of updates to the DocketDB site. I shared some of these at the recent Practicing Before the Supreme Court of Texas CLE. Since that time, I’ve added a new way to present the Court’s opinions.
The DocketDB home page now has a search box in the top right. Just start typing part of the name of a pending or recent case — and autocomplete will find the docket number for you.
It’s a small feature, but even I am finding it much easier to use DocketDB as the first stop in looking up a pending case. Once there, you can quickly find the slip opinions, the relevant court of appeals information, briefs from the case, or the most recent events.
A persistent question is how to track what issues are pending. This is a project that all court-watchers do in our own ways. But I realized that the DocketDB engine would be a good platform for a community effort.
If you go to http://docketdb.com/issues/granted, you’ll see the early results. This collects keyword tags about the pending cases in which the Court has granted review. (It’s focused on the granted petitions and those that have been submitted after oral argument.) Click on a tag, and you’ll be taken to a list of the relevant cases, with the usual links to news articles, briefs, and the most current status of the case.
My hesitation in rolling out this feature is that I don’t want to create a job for myself. So, as I said at the Practicing Before the Supreme Court seminar, I’m approaching this “Issues/Granted” page as a community feature. I am happy to supply the platform and to keep the underlying data about each case fresh.
But the keywords require a human touch. Anyone registered with DocketDB can help tend this garden by adding relevant tags, and I hope you will participate. If enough of you pitch in just a little time, we all benefit.
To help everyone stay on the same page, there is now an autocomplete feature when you enter a tag — just start typing a new tag, and you’ll see what related keywords are already in the database.
An integrated version of the Court’s opinions
As you know, the Court publishes its opinions both as raw HTML files and as PDF slip opinions. In the past, I have linked to the HTML version on the Court’s website, which redirected your browser to that page.
Starting this week, DocketDB is now republishing these opinions. Here’s an example or two. And here’s why:
Readability: The Court’s HTML version is generated by a word processor, and the result is text that wraps edge-to-edge on the screen. It’s often frustrating to read; I find myself re-sizing the browser window nearly every time. I opted to have a single-column of text that’s a more readable width.
Related opinions: My version collects all opinions from the same case along the sidebar — so you can quickly access a concurrence or dissent.
Faces: Everybody likes faces.
Warnings for withdrawn or at-risk opinions: My version gives you a warning if an opinion has been withdrawn (or rehearing has been granted). It gives you a gentler warning if a rehearing motion is still pending. These notices are kept up-to-date by the DocketDB database.
Link to the PDF: If you want to download the PDF version, there’s a direct link from the HTML page. You no longer have to backtrack to find it.
Quicker access to other DocketDB resources: You are now just a click away from links to related news stories, the underlying court of appeals information, or a list of the electronic briefs.
Those are the initial benefits. I’m also excited about the other, more advanced features that this should make possible. Your input is appreciated and, as always, you’ll be the first to know.
Tags: DocketDB · Legal Tech · Practice Notes
April 28th, 2011 · Comments Off
If you’ve been following the blog, you know that Texas appellate courts are moving into the e-filing era.
For trial lawyers, this may seem like no big deal. “How hard can it be to make a basic PDF?” But as both sides of the appellate divide know, trial briefs are not used like appellate briefs. Appellate briefs become dog-eared research tools for the law clerks and judges as they write the Court’s opinions. The Texas move toward appellate e-filing seems driven by a desire to make judges’ and law clerks’ lives better, and the new rules permit enhancements such as internal bookmarks and hyperlinks.
Last year, I spoke with Blake Hawthorne about the new electronic brief requirements at the Texas Supreme Court. This year, we’re back to give a more in-depth talk, with some practical tips and — here’s why I’m writing this post today — some practical answers from Texas appellate judges about how they’re using your briefs, what they find helpful and appreciate seeing, and what they find to be a waste of time or even a distraction.
So what are your questions? What issues have come up in your firm as you try to decide how to approach this process? If you’re a skeptic of this change, what questions might change your mind — or do you think might persuade the rest of us if only we knew the answer?
Please feel free to send me an email or give me a call, if you’d rather have a little privacy for your questions.
Tags: Electronic Briefs · Legal Writing
According to a notice posted on the Texas Supreme Court’s website, true electronic filing of appellate briefs is now available in that court:
Effective March 28, 2011, you may electronically file documents, pay your fees, and serve opposing counsel using the Texas.gov electronic filing system.
Using this e-filing system is, at this time, still voluntary. I look forward to trying it out.
Some paper is still required
Please be aware that the electronic-filing order still requires counsel to send two paper copies of the brief to the clerk’s office.
As things stand, counsel in the Texas Supreme Court have two choices — both of which require some mix between electronic and paper copies:
Use the electronic-filing portal to file and serve a PDF that counts as the official original, plus submit two paper copies to the clerk’s office.
Submit an original paper version plus eleven more paper copies to the clerk’s office, serve them on opposing counsel, and also submit the required PDF by email to the clerk’s office.
So while this new e-filing order isn’t strictly paperless, it is a big step in that direction. As a solo appellate lawyer, I certainly look forward to simplifying my workflow on the days briefs are due.
Tags: Electronic Briefs · Practice Notes
March 8th, 2011 · Comments Off
I got an email today from the Clerk of the Court noting that the voluntary e-filing the Court announced last week had hit a small technical problem with the Texas.gov system.
The program was supposed to start on March 14, 2011. This technical problem will, as I understand it, push the schedule back by a few weeks.
I’ll let you know when the voluntary e-filing goes online.
Until then, counsel are still required to submit an electronic version by email (as before), along with the required number of paper copies.
Tags: Electronic Briefs · News and Links