News From the Courts: Oral Argument Recordings, Historical Archives and New Websites

A portion of a 1734 court record from Rhode Island's new digital archive.

A portion of a 1734 court record from Rhode Island’s new digital archive.

There has been a flurry of recent activity related to court information on the web, with the launches of two resources for oral argument recordings, two historical archives of court documents, and two court websites, including one designed specifically for self-help litigants. Here’s the round-up.

2nd Circuit starts posting audio recordings. All but three of the federal circuit courts post audio recordings of oral arguments. The holdouts have been the 2nd, 10th and 11th circuits. Now we can take the 2nd off the list. On June 15, it announced that it had approved the posting of audio recordings to the court’s website starting Aug. 15, which is the first day of its 2016 term.

To implement the change, the court has published for comment a proposed amendment to its local rules. The proposed amendment would simply add “audio recordings of oral arguments” to the list of items the court publishes on its website. Comments are due July 15.

The folks at the Free Law Project — which makes courts’ audio available through its own site — are asking legal professionals to join them in encouraging the court to publish not just new recordings, but also historical ones. It has posted its own letter as a guide to others who may want to submit comments.

California Supreme Court creates archive of oral arguments. In May, the Supreme Court of California began live webcasting of oral arguments in San Francisco and on June 24, it launched a temporary archive for those webcasts. Each archive contains a full day of oral arguments but provides the ability to click on a particular case and view its video. The archive also includes Los Angeles arguments, but only with audio. The court will create a permanent archive for its webcasts in September, it said.

Washington appellate opinions now available free back to territorial days. The Washington Supreme Court and Court of Appeals have made available for free online all of their published opinions dating back to 1854 — 35 years before Washington became a state. The opinions are available through the official judicial opinions website, which is operated by LexisNexis.

Prior to the June 2 launch of this website, official opinions were available only through paid, commercial legal research sites. Although Washington appellate opinions were also available through free legal research sites, the court’s announcement said that the free sites “didn’t have fully updated and reliably accurate versions of all opinions.”

The opinions on this new site are “no cost, no frills,” the court said, and while they are intended to mirror word-for-word the opinions that are printed in the Washington Reporter, they are not considered “fully official.”

Rhode Island court records back to 1729 now online. The Rhode Island Historical Society has launched a free digital archive of early court records ranging from 1729 to 1812. The earliest records are from 1729 to 1741 for the Providence County Justice Court at Warwick and from 1730 to 1739 for the Kings County (now Washington County) court. The latest documents are the Providence County Justice Court dockets from 1809 to 1812.

A new website for Delaware’s courts. With a website that was 12 years old and that had not had any kind of major upgrade since 2009, the Delaware court system has rolled out a replacement. The new site has a fully responsive design to make it mobile friendly as well as a cleaner, more visually appealing layout. Everything that the former 1,20o-page site included remains available on the new site, but it is now better indexed and organized, the court says. The site also now includes four user portals to reflect the site’s different users — the public, attorneys, the media and prospective jurors.

A self-help site for people in Virginia. The Supreme Court of Virginia and the Virginia Access to Justice Commission have launched a new website to provide help and information for self-represented litigants. The Virginia Judicial System Court Self-Help site provides information on common legal topics such as divorce, custody, guardianship, traffic tickets and landlord-tenant issues. It also provides resources to help individuals find a lawyer or mediator, find the right court, locate a form and understand filing fees. (H/T to Virginia Lawyers Weekly.)