Congress.com for Election Season

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPerhaps this election season you would like to be a little more astute about your voting choices.  Rather than taking information from the vague blaze of election attack ads, become familiar with the free information available through Congress.gov.

As the official website for U.S. federal legislative information, this tool provides access to accurate, timely, and complete legislative information for Members of Congress, legislative agencies, and the public.  It is presented by the Library of Congress (LOC) using data from the Office of the Clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives, the Office of the Secretary of the Senate, the Government Printing Office (GPO), Congressional Budget Office, and the LOC’s Congressional Research Service.

Congress.gov allows you to look at both legislation and members (plus their biographies) both present and back to 1973.  You can use the member feature to view not only committee assignments and legislation sponsored or co-sponsored by a member in question, you can also access remarks they may have made on the floor. Congressional records going back to 1996 are also available, as are links to congressional audio and video coverage.  If timeliness is essential to your research, Congress.gov is usually updated the morning after a session adjourns.  See also the new alphabetical Resources link if you are searching for an answer to a unique question.

Congress.gov is intended to replace THOMAS, which is nearing the end of its life cycle and will soon be retired.  In short, it will remain your federal legislative go-go link long after election season ends.

 

Minding your Manners in Court

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What attorneys are allowed to say and do in court might be subject of common discourse, but less discussed is the courtroom decorum expected of spectators and litigants.   The Minnesota General Rules of Practice  enumerate what is required of court attendees, namely that “[d]ignity and solemnity shall be maintained in the courtroom.” (Rule 2.01)  Specifically, this Rule prohibits not only unnecessary talking but other behaviors as well.  Think you are going to quietly read a newspaper in back of the courtroom?   Expect the bailiff to nudge you and tell you to put it away.  The Minnesota Courts website offers even more detailed instructions for those making pro se court appearances, namely to dress conservatively (not in shorts, t-shirts, plunging necklines or torn clothing) and to not bring children.  Chewing gum, eating, wearing hats, talking on cellphones are also out.  Think you’re going to wait quietly in the courtroom and listen to music with your device and headphones while you wait your turn?  This is also a no-no. (Transgressors can likely expect the same result as for reading a newspaper in court, see above.)

Also, Rule 2.02 states that “[t]he judge shall be responsible for order and decorum” within the courtroom.  Wright County District Court Judge Steve Halsey (blogmaster of Jurors Behaving Badly) advances the cause with his own version of decorum guidelines for those making court appearances.  Most courtroom participants are presumably quiet and courteous, but some extreme bad behavior stands out.  Swearing at a judge, for instance, can get one called into contempt of court and result in jail time.  You may be attending a court hearing to support a friend or family member, but disruptive behavior won’t do your friend any favors with the judge.  More likely it will only get you thrown out of the courtroom.

For those wishing to explore in detail the deeper due process implications of courtroom decorum issues, check out these articles:

  • Jona Goldschmidt, ‘Order in the Court!’: Constitutional Issues in the Law of Courtroom Decorum,  31 Hamline Law Review 1 (2008)
  • Laurie L. Levenson, Courtroom Demeanor: The Theater of the Courtroom, 92 Minn. L. Rev. 573 (2008)
 

Legal Research in International Law

CAP INTL SERIESYou may not need to research international law on an everyday basis in your law practice, but when it comes up you will appreciate a logical starting point.  That is where International Law Legal Research (Carolina Press) comes in.  This is a “concise yet comprehensive” tool meant to be accessible for beginners and more experienced researchers alike, with each type of search tool and search strategy covered in detail with explanations to provide background comprehension.  This book gives you an idea of how non-concise the area of international law is, and lets you chart your research course with as few obstacles as possible. Read more about this book here. If you think you might be interested, this book is available in the Law Library.

Mary Ann E. Archer, retired Associate Director of the Warren E. Burger Law Library at William Mitchell College of Law, is co-author of this book.

 

file000891404027Last week’s post touched on “mothering” by folks who may not technically be mothers (or fathers), and how this can give rise to third party actions for custody or visitation of children involved.  The alternative custody and visitation area of law is certainly not as clear-cut and established as is the parental custody area.  It is good news that parties and potential parties can now seek advice and assistance (including forms) from the Ramsey County Family Court Self-Help Center, but people might still have questions and need more information.  What can a person expect in such a court action?  What kind of parenting realities does a non-parent seeking custody have to be aware of?  Fortunately there are a few resources to help with these informational needs. 

 

There’s Probably a Department for That

9780160919510_0Even if you think you are a whiz at knowing what makes up our federal government with all of its moving parts, it never hurts to have a review source.  Better yet, it never hurts to have a more detailed source of contacts than what you find at public government websites.   Here is where The United States Government Manual 2013 (Federal Register) comes in.  Since it’s not always what you know so much as whom you know, this resource actually shows you both.

The United States Government Manual is quite simply the official handbook of the Federal Government. What if you need the phone number of the department that’s in charge of keeping snow shoveled from the Capitol sidewalks?  What if you want to submit a resume and cover letter to the Smithsonian, but need to know the name of the human resources director?  Or who would you need to subpoena in order to obtain documents previously held by the now-defunct Coal Mines Administration Department?  Hundreds of names and phone numbers come together in this handy manual.    In addition, there are complete lists of federal acronyms and abbreviations, organizational charts, and the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution for quick reference.  This resource is also available online, but flipping through the pages lets a user actually see the depth and detail of information possible.  This book is on our reference shelf, so come in to look it over and decide if this is something you need on your own bookshelf.   Meanwhile, check out its Table of Contents.

 

If it’s a small or solo practice, most likely it does not. If this is the case, you might at least want to consider purchasing the Legal Information Buyer’s Guide & Reference Manual (2013 ed.). New England LawPress publishes this book “…to address the needs of the solo practitioner and the attorney in the small or medium-sized law firm operating without a law librarian.” (p. 5)

This 857 page resource contains extensive history of the legal publishing industry, with the publishers’ developments and mergers noted along the way. It also explains what the most bare-bones law office needs for its core collection of legal information, and how best to evaluate the extras. Guidance is provided on managing the time, money and mess of supplementation. It identifies the best authoritative sources in each of numerous legal specialties, as well as the appropriate published codes, court reports and research guides for each state. The book concludes with addresses, phone numbers and websites for publishers and representative prices for used law books.

“When are online services or subscriptions a better deal than the hardcopy versions?” you ask. A chapter on services and pricing of computer-assisted legal research is also provided, with the options going far beyond the market-dominant standbys of Lexis and Westlaw. (Sometimes a very good, and most affordable option is plain old free internet and Google.) Stop by the Law Library if you would like to take a look at this useful reference tool.

 

A question that often comes up at the Law Library is whether a worker is an employee or independent contractor.  Proper classification is essential in determining the tax and benefit responsibility of the employer.  If a worker is classified as an employee, the employer must withhold taxes, pay unemployment taxes and carry workers compensation insurance. 

The Minnesota Department of Revenue Fact Sheet does a good job of explaining the classifications, offers examples and provides contact information for determination requests.

 

With tax day just around the corner, now is a good time to visit us if you have any tax issues or research.  The law library has a number of resources to help with tax law, including:

  • Six computer terminals where you can print out tax forms and research Tax Court rulings and memoranda, regulations and receive practice tips from our newest online resource, CCH Tax Research Consultant.  This fantastic online resource is free to the public and not only offers tax law, rules and regulations, but also advice from practicing tax attorneys.
  • Nolo Press publications designed to assist laypeople.
  • Bloomberg/BNA Tax Management Portfolios , which are pamphlets that go into depth on specific tax topics.
  •  Continuing Legal Education publications:  Minnesota CLE published materials that accompany legal education courses, which address a full range of tax related issues
  • U.S Master Tax Guide:  A great resource for tax preparers.

For a more in depth record of our tax resources, make sure to review our Ramsey County Law Library Tax Resources Guide.

The Ramsey County Law Library is located on the 18th floor of the Ramsey County Courthouse.

Above image by Robert Cochrane
 

In Tom Mighell’s new book, iPad in One Hour For Lawyers, an attorney can truly learn how to use the iPad in under an hour.  Clocking in at 81 pages, Mighell provides a good introduction to many of the legal uses for the iPad.  In six short lessons, reading this book will teach you how to navigate the iPad interface, setup mail, calendar and contacts, create folders, learn to multitask, add files, view and manage documents, pleadings, case law, contracts and other legal documents, take notes and find the best apps for legal research and trials. 

Mighell also promises to keep the book updated via his own personal blog.

This book can be viewed and borrowed at the Ramsey County Law Library.  Come visit us on the 18th floor of the Ramsey County Courthouse.

 

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Hot off the presses, the 19th edition of the Bluebook has made it’s way to the Ramsey County Law Library. Otherwise known as the “authority in legal citation”, the new edition of the Bluebook has expanded from 415 to 511 pages with a number of key updates and changes.

Visit the Bluebook website to view the major changes to the 19th edition, which includes an overhaul of the “blue pages” and significant updates to Rule 18, which deals with Internet and electronic media.

This book can be viewed and borrowed at the Ramsey County Law Library. Come visit us on the 18th floor of the Ramsey County Courthouse.