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Law Library News for January 29, 2001

Ann Hemmens, editor

Law Library News Archive


On the Virtues of "Plain"

by Scott Matheson, Reference Intern

I was at my favorite newsstand/coffee bar the other morning and while cheerily putting a lid on my coffee I heard the person behind me in line order a plain scone. This struck me as odd, that someone would, on purpose, choose a plain scone when there are a wide variety of berry and citrus flavored, iced, or sugared confections available. This led me to consider the virtues of "plain" -- in both baked goods and legal materials (yes, my mind is a little warped).

In legal research, sometimes we get too caught up in the berry-laden, sugar-frosted sources and forget about the attributes that can make the "plain" sources a better choice. In Washington, we have two different fancy sources for statutory law:

  • the Annotated Revised Code of Washington. KFW30 1994.A43 at Reserve & Washington Alcove
  • West's Revised Code of Washington Annotated. KFW30 1961.B3 at Reserve & Washington Alcove

Each has its virtues, but a third source of statutory law, the official unannotated Revised Code of Washington (RCW)(KFW30 1951.A2 at Reserve, Washington Alcove & Reference Office) can sometimes be the best choice.

You may find the plain, unadorned RCW to be the best choice when you are beginning to research a topic that you know little about. This code allows you to skim the statute and grasp the entire scheme quickly, without having to turn past all the annotations. The very layout of the statutes, in two columns on large pages, allows the reader to see more of the statute at once. The index is different too, so you may have luck finding things in one index when you've struck out in an annotated source.

When searching in an online database, the file containing the unannotated code can be the best choice because only actual code sections with your terms will be returned -- you won't get every annotation that contains your terms along with the code sections. The smaller number of results can make evaluating them faster and easier.

United States statutes are also available in annotated and unannotated versions. The official United States Code (KF62 .A2) is available in the Reference Stacks while the annotated versions, the United States Code Annotated (KF62 1927.W45) and the United States Code Service (KF62 1972.L38), are found in the east end of the Reading Room as well as the Reference Stacks. For a striking comparison between the annotated and unannotated versions, look up 42 USCA � 1983 (it is most of a volume), 42 USCS � 1983 (two full volumes!), and 42 USC � 1983 (about 6 column-inches or a quarter of one page).

Of course, once you are familiar with the statutory scheme and you have specific questions about what a term or clause means, the annotated codes can help you determine how the courts have interpreted your statute and whether there are American Law Reports (KF132 & KF105 at Reference Stacks) annotations or significant law review articles that discuss your statute. Whereas a researcher who is not familiar with the 42 USC � 1983 might benefit from reading all of the 1980s sections together in an unannotated version to understand the overall scheme.

The next time you're looking at a statute, state or federal, take a moment to look in the annotated version and the "plain" version to see the difference. Just like with coffee-break treats, you might discover that plain is sometimes better than fancy.

Trivia Contest: Courts

by Jonathan Franklin

Too many lawyers? How about too many courts!

Match the courts and their meanings. Submit your answers in the Reference Office (2nd floor) or to hemmens@u by Friday Feb.2 and WIN PRIZES - t-shirts, timers, and coffee mugs!

Hint - there are several legal dictionaries available in the Library including Black's Law Dictionary (KF156.B53 1999 at Reading Room, Reserve & Reference Office) and Ballentine's Law Dictionary (KF156.B3 1969 at Classified Stacks, Reference Stacks & Reference Office).

1. piepowder court A. A court in which principles of law and justice are disregarded.
2. diocesan court B. A court that adjudicates sea captures in time of war.
3. hundred court C. A court with jurisdiction over a bishop's realm.
4. kangaroo court D. A court with jurisdiction over amounts in controversy of 40 shillings or less.
5. prize court E. A court for all inhabitants of an area larger than a manor.
6. court baron F. A court having jurisdiction over a fair or market (from the French for dusty feet).

Bonus Question: What is a stannary court?