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Today in Government Information: Why you still want a library

Anyone who has looked for government information in the past several years knows that most of it is available online. As long ago as 1998, when I started working with government documents, the word was spreading that “soon” everything will be online. I’m not sure we even knew what a PDF was in those days, nor authentication, but we knew which way the wind was blowing. Close to 15 years later, not everything is online, but many government information sources are not distributed in print any more. The trend towards putting more and more online continues.

That raises an obvious question which troubles some in the government information community. If virtually everything is available online – and in the realm of government information, almost free of charge – why on earth do we still need depository libraries? When a researcher can sit in the comfort of his own home, in his bunny slippers, and find all the information through a Google search, why maintain the depository system?

The Modern Researcher

The answer is expertise from librarians, particularly government information specialists. Each depository library is required to designate a staff member as a “coordinator” who is charged with maintaining the collection, ensuring access to the public, and assisting researchers in need of assistance. While it is true that a simple Google search can turn up a wealth of information, can it verify that you’re looking at the most recent edition? Can it suggest an agency’s other publications that might be useful? And if the search is too successful, can it help you weed through thousands of results, by suggesting additional terms to include or avoid? A government documents specialist can do all of that, and more. The depository system is not just a distribution method for print documents, it is also a network of specialist librarians across country. These librarians are often the best gateway to information aside from an agency itself, and they are so much more convenient – wherever you happen to be.

Map of Depository Libraries

Map of Depository Libraries

I don’t think depositories are going anywhere. I think they bring value to researchers and the general public, and as the Government Printing Office says, they keep American informed.

Edwards’ Trial a Buffet of Legal Issues

June 22, 2012 Leave a comment

It is the rare person indeed who has not heard at least something about Johnny Reid Edwards‘ marital affair and  brush with the law.  Although not convicted of misusing campaign donations, Edwards will never regain his golden boy status.  Edward’s entrepreneurial mistress, Rielle Hunter, released a book telling her side of the story on June 26th.   While this latest literary effort on a tawdry topic is likely to cover Edwards’ affair and the resulting child from these assignations, I feel confident in predicting that the publicity-savvy paramour will not have given the legal issues from the debacle the same degree of attention.  Despite her omission, the array of legal topics throughout the Edwards saga reads like an exam question in issue spotting and may well be of interest to those with an interest in the law.

The legal issue that received the most press, and was of greatest concern to Edwards (as a possible sentence of 30 years does tend to get one’s attention), was the alleged violation of campaign finance laws.  After a hearing before the Federal Election Commission, Edwards was required to return over 2 million in federal election funds.  However, the FEC also found that donations Edwards used to pay expenses of his mistress and to hide his affair were not campaign contributions and therefore, did not need to be reported.  Despite the determine of the FEC, the Justice Department was not convinced and chose to move forward with charges of conspiracy and false statements in addition to receiving illegal campaign contributions.  After much sturm and drang, including a two month trial delay for Edwards to undergo heart surgery, a jury eventually found Edwards not guilty on one count and were deadlocked on the remaining five.  The Justice Department has announced that it will not refile the case.

Family law issues also abounded. Along with the commonplace matters of separation and divorce, the Edwards legal extravaganza included issues of paternity and the use of an archaic law. When Edward’s initially admitted to his affair, he still denied that he was the father of his mistress’s child.  In fact, he claimed that his former aide, Andrew Young, was the actual father and asked the aide to support this story. In a disclosure worthy of Maury Povitch, it was later determined that, JOHN EDWARDS, YOU ARE THE FATHER OF THE CHILD!  In addition to the matter of paternity, Elizabeth Edwards added another legal twist when she threatened to sue Young  under the concept of “alienation of affection,” based on his role in covering up his former boss’s affair.  Not only did she threaten to use this archaic cause of action, she chose not to use it against “the other woman,” but  instead she chose the more unusual, yet legally permissible, option of suing a third party who facilitated the marital breakdown.   Allegedly, Elizabeth Edwards was using this threat to force Young to stop speaking publicly about the Edwards’ marriage, and to either give her or destroy voice mails that she had left him during the 2008 presidential campaign.

Voice mails were not the only recordings to play a part in the saga.  When Andrew Young released his tell-all book about the events, it was discovered that he and his wife were in possession of an alleged sex tape featuring  Hunter and Edwards.  The Youngs claimed to have found the tape in the trash at a house they shared with Hunter, and claimed that they could not be sure that the tape belonged to Hunter.  Hunter alleged that she had stored the tape containing “matters of a very private and personal nature”  at the house along with other personal items.  Hunter sued the Youngs to recover the  videotape and  was initially granted a temporary restraining order to prevent the Youngs,  from selling or otherwise distributing the tape.  Eventually Superior Court Judge Abraham Penn Jones held Young and his wife  in contempt  and ordered that the “items … be produced and turned over to the court [or the couple would be put] under lock and key — and under seal — until the lawsuit is resolved.”  The couple claimed difficulty in complying due to the fact that the  tape was “in a safety deposit box in Atlanta that required two keys to open, and one of the keys was in possession of a lawyer undergoing medical treatment in New York.”  Despite these concerns, the promise of jail time proved an effective motivator.  The contempt charge was issued on a Friday and  Andrew Young , with an escort from a court appointed private security guard , managed to retrieve the original  tape from the safe deposit box in Atlanta on the following Tuesday and turn it over to the court the next day.

These are only the most notorious of the legal issues.  Consider yourself invited to join in this legal “Where’s Waldo” game and share any legal issues that this post overlooked or that you think should have been brought.

Where’s Johnny?

 

Amendment One: last minute update

Hopefully it comes as no surprise to people that the North Carolina primary election will be this Tuesday, May 8th.  One of, if not the most debated measures on the ballot is Amendment 1.   This hotly contested issue was discussed generally on an NPR’s segment Friends And Foes Of Gay Marriage Woo Voters In N.C.  and in a detailed look at the amendment’s languageFamily law professors from North Carolina law schools (including our own Professor Reynolds) have uniformly expressed their opposition to passage of the amendment, while North Carolina business owners are divided on whether passage of Amendment 1 would harm business or have no effect.

Newspapers across the state acknowledge that the advocacy is strong on both sides and positions tend to vary with the state’s geography.  For a sampling of letters advocating both  sides, click the links below the respective images.   If you have questions about voting, such as where you should go to vote, visit the Forsyth County Board of Elections page (the polling place locator link will allow you to search all counties in North Carolina).  You can also use the Board of Elections page to view a sample of YOUR specific ballot based on party affiliation.  You might also wish to visit  Ballotpedia for a general explanation of voting and to see potential measures.

Green Scene

April 24, 2012 1 comment

From it’s humble beginnings in 1970, Earth Day has become an international event organized by the Earth Day Network. Over 190 counties participate, almost as many counties as ABA accredited law schools.  Just last year documents, photos and videos from the first Earth Week were released to the public.   The North Carolina archives has also made pictures available on Flikcr and they are worth looking at if merely to amuse yourself with the vintage the clothing and giant sideburns.  You can also view the initial Earth Day proclamation or read the 2012 proclamation.

The first  Earth Day in the U.S. was scheduled to fall on the Vernal Equinox (either March 20 or 21) and many counties still keep this date.  However,  due to a wish to maximize participation on college campuses it was determined that the “week of April 19–25 was the best bet as it did not fall during exams or spring breaks…, did not conflict with religious holidays, and was late enough in spring to have decent weather.”  The late April dates are also close to when many states celebrate Arbor Day, another earth conscious holiday.

Earth Day has grown into Earth Week and activities and celebrations go on both  before and after the official day. The 42nd Earth day was this Sunday, April 22nd, but you still have the opportunity to attend the Piedmont Earth Day Fair  at the Dixie Classic Fairgrounds.  It doesn’t matter if you are a fully committed green activist or just someone who struggles to remember to toss plastic bottles and paper in separate bins, there will be something for you to enjoy.  Parking and admission is FREE and there will be  exhibitors, hands-on-demonstrations, and variety of live music.  In addition to a solo folk singer, there will be bands offering everything from including  Bluegrass and Soul to the intriguingly named,  “Appalachian Punk.”  In contract to what one may expect of “fair food” you will have the opportunity to try vegetarian and vegan offerings. However, carnivores should not worry, there be plenty for you too, as well as sugary sweets.  If you happen to own any outdated electronics there will be a place in the parking lot to drop them off.   Did you know that of  the over 30 million computers discarded last year, “only 15-20% were recycled, while the rest ended up in landfills posing the threat of becoming hazardous waste?”  Cannot part from your E-waste for free?  Even if it is broken, you can resell it on eBay.

Want to do more than go to the Fair?  Visit the EPA’s website to learn how to make every day Earth Day.  Or you could treat yourself and splurge on a “prize winning light bulb” that is supposed to last 20 years; the only problem is that it costs $60.  However, there may be some opportunities for large rebates so stay alert for offers that will let you been green while still having some green in your wallet.  zif you can get away for day or two, take advantage of National Park Week and the free access to all of the national parks.  If none of these options suit you, check out some ideas provided by the Earth Day Network , sing the Earth Day anthem, or try out some of these 16 ideas  (pictures included) from wikiHow.

Worth $60?

Iceberg, right ahead!

The Titanic disaster of 1912 has long fascinated the American public, spawning thousands of historical books and documentaries, and providing the setting for a plethora of fictional stories on page and screen. But have you ever thought about all of the legal ramifications of the disaster? Here’s a look at some of the ways law has played into the Titanic story.

A print of the alleged iceberg in question

The alleged iceberg in question, titanic-iceberg.com

The earliest cases to appear in United States courts are admiralty petitions, merely captioned “The Titanic.” One from 1912 was involved with settling the estate of a passenger who went down with the ship (204 F. 295). Two more, from 1913, dealt with technical questions regarding the tonnage of the ship and the possible limitation of liability for the White Star Lines. The question of tonnage was an issue at British law, not United States law, and the judge in that case declined to declare the tonnage (204 F. 298). In the second case, the judge declined to limit White Star’s liability (209 F. 501). Exciting – such is the stuff movies are made of! Hm, or not.

Believe it or not, there is much more recent litigation involving the doomed ship. The more recent cases tend to deal with salvage issues, raised by the “salvor,” R.M.S. Titanic, Inc. Since the ship’s resting site was identified in the 1980s, rights to the property have been at issue. In 1998 R.M.S. Titanic, Inc., tried to prevent anyone else from visiting & photographing the wreckage. While the lower court’s opinion was affirmed in part, and remanded, the Fourth Circuit reversed the District Court “insofar as they purport to prohibit the visiting, viewing, searching, surveying, photographing, and obtaining images of the wreck or the wreck site.” 171 F.3d 943 (4th Cir. 1999). A 2002 case, also in the Fourth Circuit, held that the salvor of the items did not have the right to sell them. (R.M.S. Titanic, Inc. v. The Wrecked and Abandoned Vessel, 286 F. 3d 194 (4th Cir. 2002) (see the gift shop at the R.M.S. Titanic, Inc., web site, featuring “artifact replicas,” “replica china” and “authentic coal”). While probably any authentic artifacts from the Titanic would sell at a huge price, some of what went down was already priceless. For more about the international aspects ownership of art and cultural property and salvage, see the PCL’s Art Law research guide.

Titanic on the Ocean Floor

Titanic on the Ocean Floor, from National Geographic

In addition to the maze of case law surrounding the Titanic, there were of course Congressional publications. Hearings were held in April and May, 1912 – totaling nearly 1200 pages of text, maps and tables. Six weeks after the sinking, a much shorter Senate Report investigating the tragedy was published, and includes lists of the crew and passengers, as well as speeches by two Senators. And on June 4, 1912, the captain and crew of the rescuing vessel Carpathia were officially thanked by Congress (H.rp.830), and given medals of honor (62 H.J.Res.306).

This is only a taste of the many official documents involved with the legal aspects of the Titanic disaster. Because remember – for each action, there is an equal reaction!

Flying High:

March 9, 2012 1 comment

After traveling during Spring Break you may have come back wondering “is there any way to get a decent flight; one that doesn’t make you feel like a bovine herded onto a cattle car.  For the  last minute person planning your break get away, and for all of you who will return and/or travel this summer,  you might want to visit some of these helpful travel related websites.

Do you share a name with a terrorist?  Is it  causing problems with the TSA?  If you have been placed on the “no-fly”  list by mistake, the friendly and helpful Department of Homeland Security has provided a handy “One-Stop Travelers Redress process” to allow you to fix their mistakes.  (Am I the only one who considers the term “redress” an unfortunate choice from people permitted to do body cavity searches?)  Not seeking an intimate tête-à-tête with an overenthusiastic gate agent?  Visit TSA:Travel Assistant, to discover how to dress and what to carry or not carry in order to be “checkpoint friendly.”

Do you want to increase you chances of arriving on time?  Chronically late flights is provided by the Bureau of  Transportation and contains detailed statistics compiled by the Research and Innovative Technology Administration (RITA).  You can discover which flights are at least 30 minutes late 50% of the time or more, and book around them or, in the alternative, bring a long book and be prepared to read.

Ready to make your flight reservation?  While everyone has a favorite  travel site or two, at TopTenReviews  you can view side-by-side comparisons of the top travel sites and read comprehensive reviews before deciding which is the best travel site to use for your trip.

The website Hipmunk provides you with a unique way to sort your flights, by “‘agony [as] measured via a combination of price, duration and number of stops.”  Results are displayed in horizontal bar graphs that include the length of layover times.  According to one travel site reviewer “compared with older search engines like Kayak, it’s much quicker to find the right flight as the pain factor of multiple stops and long layovers is shown graphically. Intuitive filters automatically hide terrible flights to aid the decision making process.”

Once you have decided what flight to take, your next step is to choose your seat.  How do you know which ones are in front of the wing, in the emergency exit row, or close to, but not immediately in front of, the rest rooms?  Check out SeatGuru or SeatExpert to get the lowdown on best and worst seats on your flight.  Sorry, but neither site can tell you in what seat the screaming baby will be located. 

Do you  travel frequently or plan on doing some site seeing over break?  Check out Travel & Leisure’s Best websites & Apps.  This article reviews and provides links to over 30 travel websites and apps, as well as tips and technology updates.  Some apps reviewed include Room 77  that lets you choose the best hotel room according to your criteria and iFly, a comprehensive, online guide to airports including maps and parking information.

Once your trip is complete, take a few moments to share your opinion of the travel experience at Skytrax.  Describing itself as “the worlds’ leading airline and airport review site  for over 681 airlines and 725 airports,” this site lets you read other reviews of  airlines, airports, seats and seating maps as well as leave your own reviews.

So what happens when you use all these sites and, despite your best plans, your flight is late, you are groped by TSA agent, and you had to sit in the middle seat of the last row?  At that point you just have to laugh about it.  If you need help, visit Flight Humor for some airline related jokes.  And safe skies for those of you flying next week.

Arthur Miller and The House Un-American Activities Committee … in the Limelight

Say “Arthur Miller” to a lawyer or a law student and most think of Arthur R. Miller, eminent scholar on civil procedure and co-author of Federal Practice & Procedure (aka “Wright and Miller” to many), and star of the Sum and Substance Civil Procedure recordings. But this week two Wake Forest Law professors will be shining a light on another Arthur Miller – playwright, Tony-award winning author of The Crucible and Death of a Salesman, and one-time husband of Marilyn Monroe.

The Crucible dramatizes the 17th century Salem Witch Trials, a real-life “witch hunt” that exemplified the metaphorical use of the term. It was written in 1952 and premiered in 1953, and was first produced as a motion picture in France in 1957. (More readers are probably familiar with the American film from 1996, starring Daniel Day-Lewis and Winona Ryder.)

The Crucible is often seen as a denunciation of McCarthyism. Miller had worked on several projects with Elia Kazan, who had in 1952 testified and identified members or former members of the Communist Party, and Miller reportedly broke with Kazan over his “friendly” testimony. Miller was under some suspicion of being a Communist or sympathizer himself, based on petitions signed and meetings attended dating back to the 1940s. In 1954, Miller’s passport application was denied by the Department of State in 1954, for being a “fellow traveler.” On June 21, 1956, about the time of his marriage to Monroe, he was subpoenaed and subsequently appeared before the House Committee on Un-American Activities (commonly referred to as HUAC). Miller refused to “name names” and was convicted of contempt of Congress (152 F.Supp. 781 (D.D.C. 1957)). His conviction overturned in a one page per curiam opinion, 259 F. 2d 187 (D.C. Cir. 1958).

Intrigued? Come to the CLE at noon on March 1st. Want to read more about Congressional investigations, HUAC, McCarthyism, or  17th Century Witch Trials? Check out these resources from the Professional Center Library!