We here at the Harris County Law Library are proud to present our latest five year report, "Five Years of Progress: 2013-2017." On January 1, 2013, we opened our doors to our new space on the first floor of Congress Plaza here in downtown Houston, and the transformation has been tremendous. Since that day, our foot traffic has doubled, and our digital resource usage has increased more than 400%, while our cost per patron has plummeted. As our robust public education programs continue to grow, we could not be more excited for the next five years - and beyond!
The Judicial Committee on Information Technology (JCIT) has established technology standards to ensure the "systematic implementation and integration of technology in Texas' trial and appellate courts." The current JCIT Standard, which is available in its entirety on the website of the Texas Judicial Branch, includes guidelines for proper e-filing in Texas courts and specifically states that documents be submitted as PDF files for long-term preservation. It further states that PDF documents be created with a PDF distiller, thus saving the converted document for preservation and retaining its printed appearance. With this requirement, the JCIT addresses the practice that some attorneys still routinely engage in -- printing a document created in Microsoft Word, for example, and scanning it to create a necessary PDF file. Using a PDF distiller not only allows users to avoid wasting paper, but, by converting the file digitally, the resulting document is JCIT Standards compliant.
To save your MS Word document as a PDF, simply click File > Save As > Save as file type. By default, your document will be saved as a plain Word document with the file extension .doc. Simply click on the Save as type drop-down menu to view your options, and scroll down to select PDF. Just that easily, your document will be saved as a .pdf. Mission accomplished! However, to make your document truly standards compliant, you must take one additional action.
Once you select PDF as your file type, you will see an Options button in the dialog box. Clicking on this button opens yet another small window, which is pictured here. At the bottom of the Options menu is a list of three items related to the saving of PDF documents, including an option to select the ISO 19005-1 compliant (PDF/A) version. Once you've checked the box for this selection, your document will be entirely compliant with the JCIT Standards, which require all documents e-filed in Texas to conform to the specifications of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), which has established standards for writing, reading, displaying, and interacting with PDF documents.
To learn more about what makes the PDF/A file type so special, visit the Library of Congress online to read about their use of PDF/A documents for preservation. Two additional sources about the PDF/A format are PDF/A in a Nutshell and PDF/A - the standard for long-term archiving, a white paper published by the PDF Association. Finally, the Harris County Law Library has a new handbook called The Ultimate Guide to Adobe Acrobat DC which is shelved at the Reference Desk in our Legal Tech Collection.
If you ever need assistance with this or any other tech topic, join us on Thursday afternoons at 2:00 in the Law Library's Legal Tech Lab for hands-on legal tech training, brought to you the Legal Tech Institute at Harris County Law Library.
The newest edition to the space law collection at Harris County Law Library is Conflicts in Space and the Rule of Law, a selection of papers that had been presented at the 4th Manfred Lachs Conference on Conflicts in Space and the Rule of Law held in Montreal, Canada. An interdisciplinary look at issues facing the exploration and commercial exploitation of outer space, Conflicts in Space and the Rule of Law examines technological developments that provide greater accessibility to the far reaches of the universe and the new threats that emerge with the advent of these advances. In this regard, the papers cover such topics as anti-satellite technologies, security concerns in and regulatory control of the Proto-zone, and conflicts relating to radio frequency interference. The participants also considered areas of potential conflict, such as those involving space weapons, active debris removal, and the selling of lunar resources. From a legal standpoint, some of the issues tackled included the intersecting challenges of space security and cybersecurity, the legal challenges arising from the action of non-state actors in outer space, and the rules of engagement for military space operations. Lastly, Conflicts in Space and the Rule of Law looks to the future by analyzing the prospects for space arms control and global space governance.
If the future of outer space is of interest to you, have a look at Conflicts in Space and the Rule of Law. Another book in the Monograph Series that might pique your curiosity is NewSpace Commercialisation and the Law, which was featured in a previous Latest & Greatest blog post.
By the way, in case you were wondering, the conference is named for Manfred Lachs, a Polish diplomat and jurist who was a great influence on the development of international law following World War II.
The Harris County Law Library is highlighting LGBT legal resources throughout the month of June. Visit the Law Library to view our exhibit, currently on display, where you can learn more about the following
- Lawrence v. Texas; 539 U.S. 558 (2003);123 S. Ct. 2472; 156 L. Ed. 2d508; 71 U.S.L.W. 4574
- Obergefell v. Hodges; 576 U.S. ___ (2015); 135 S. Ct. 2584; 192 L. Ed. 2d 609; 83 U.S.L.W. 4592
- Don't Ask, Don't Tell Repeal Act of 2010; Pub. L. 111–321, Dec. 22, 2010, 124 Stat. 3515
along with selected resources from the Law Library's print collection including:
- Transgender Persons and the Law
- Sexual Orientation and the Law
- Estate Planning for Same-Sex Couples
- The Impact of Marriage equality on Texas Law (State Bar of Texas CLE)
Additional LGBT legal resources are available via our electronic databases. In particular, the HeinOnline Law Journal Library contains a number of scholarly legal publications, including the Dukeminier Awards Journal, which recognizes the best sexual orientation and gender Identity law review articles of each year, dating back to 2001. A full archive of back issues is available on HeinOnline and on the journal's website at the University of California Los Angeles Law School.
More resources will be highlighted here on Ex Libris Juris throughout the month. Check back often to learn more about other LGBT legal resources and landmark documents in the civil rights battle for LGBT equality.
New to the library is the updated and revised Fifth Edition of Rights of Prisoners by Michael B. Mushlin. This four-volume set incorporates the sweeping changes in prison law that resulted from the more than dozen cases before the United States Supreme Court dealing with prisoners’ rights as well as federal and state legislation dealing with the treatment of prisoners. Mushlin begins his treatise with an historical overview of prisoners’ rights and a discussion of the standards used to determine whether a prisoner’s rights have been violated. He then focuses upon specific violations of constitutional amendments, such as the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. In this regard, the author raises such issues as solitary confinement, use of force by prison personnel and assaults by other inmates, and prison conditions. The Eighth Amendment also comes into play when there are allegations about the inadequacy of medical care. Mushlin details the specific types of care required and the right of an inmate to refuse treatment. Other constitutionally-based issues discussed include discrimination, free speech, religious freedom, privacy rights, prison labor, and due process rights in disciplinary proceedings.
The author also devotes several chapters to topics that involve the management of prisons, such as classification decisions, transfers, and detainers. Other rights addressed include a prisoner’s right to access the courts, visitation rights, rights to send and receive written correspondence, and the right of access to the media and the corresponding right of prisons to limit or restrict such rights . Mushlin also looks at the civil disabilities imposed upon prisoners during their incarceration and any attendant constitutional issues raised by the laws that impose such disabilities. He also analyzes the Prison Litigation Reform Act and the impact it has had on jail and prison litigation. He looks at its most important provisions like the standards for prospective relief, the exhaustion requirement, the physical injury requirement, and in forma pauperis.
Mushlin ends his treatise with an examination of the private prison industry, its history, and the arguments surrounding the issue of whether the government can delegate the authority to operate prisons to a private entity.
Rights of Prisoners is a wonderful resource for those seeking to protect the rights of incarcerated clients or to keep abreast of the evolving law governing prisons. Find it here at the Harris County Law Library in our criminal law section.
June is Continuing Legal Education Resource Month at the Harris County Law Library. Explore our new collection of 2017 State Bar of Texas CLE resources, in the Law Library's print collection, for research and self-study.
If you're in search of free CLE opportunities online, take a look at our On-Demand Learning resources on the Harris County Law Library's Legal Tech Institute web page. Here you will find live recordings of our LTI CLE programs on topics such as Legal Practice Technology, Finding & Formatting Legal Forms, The Robot Lawyer: Artificial Intelligence in the Practice of Law, and Excel Essentials for the Practice of Law. Note that the courses can be viewed free of charge, and attorneys can earn MCLE credit for watching them.
The Texas Young Lawyers Association is providing another valuable resource for those seeking free CLE credit and an opportunity to improve communication with Spanish-speaking clients. Spanish for Lawyers CLE Course just launched on June 1st. The program, which was produced at the Texas Bar CLE Studio, is comprised of 10 web-based classes which are 35-45 minutes each for a total of 9 hours of instruction. The course is approved for 5.25 hours of MCLE credit and includes beginner Spanish instruction focused on the use of legal vocabulary in various subject areas, including employment law, family law, civil law, criminal law and immigration law. Class 6, which is focused on engagement and providing advice to Spanish-speaking clients is eligible for .5 hours of ethics credit. In addition to the video instruction, each class is accompanied by a presentation, a pre-class vocabulary list, post-class homework and an MP3 file for oral vocabulary practice.
Don't forget that the State Bar of Texas CLE offers some free CLE courses online, and the Texas Young Lawyers maintain an extensive library of short videos on their website, Ten Minute Mentor. Legal experts in specific areas of the law provide short instructional presentations, which, after viewing, can be reported for self-study CLE credit.
Finally, the Harris County Law Library offers a weekly, one-hour CLE program on some aspect of legal technology as part of its Hands-on Legal Tech Training series. Courses are offered at the Law Library in the Legal Tech Lab every Thursday at 2:00 pm. For the month of June, we will offer Find and Format Legal Forms, MS Word for Legal Work, and Free Legal Tech for Legal Professionals on a rotating basis. For details and to register, please visit the Legal Tech Institute website.
The Harris County Law Library provides access to several legal research databases including Westlaw, Lexis, O'Connor's Online, and the State Bar of Texas Practice Manuals. We also offer access to HeinOnline, a rich source of legal content including legal history, secondary sources, and, most notably, the Law Journal Library. This library of scholarly legal publications has always been a terrific resource, but it just got even better with the addition of nearly forty Cambridge University Press journals, including the following, to name just a few:
- Business and Human Rights Journal
- Health Economic Policy and Law
- International Journal of Legal Information
- Journal of Law and Religion
- Law and History Review
- World Politics
The Harris County Law Library has expanded is subscription even further by subscribing to the U.S. State Package, a supplemental subscription, which brings together six databases of state-specific content, including more than 30 million pages of text covering all 50 states, as well as Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. The six databases, which you can read about in detail on the Hein website, are listed below.
- Session Laws Library
- State Statutes: A Historical Archive
- Bar Journals Library
- State Attorney General Reports & Opinions
- State Reports: A Historical Archive
- Prestatehood Legal Materials
Finally, one more enhancement to the HeinOnline database deserves recognition. That enhancement is a curated collection of materials called Gun Regulation and Legislation in America. HeinOnline is offering this package at a time when reliable information about gun control and ownership rights is so desperately needed. Contents include the publications listed here:
- Nearly 500 scholarly articles
- CRS Reports
- Congressional hearings
- Legislative histories
- Extensive bibliography plus links to external resources
- Briefs filed in Supreme Court cases regarding gun control
All of this new content, along with so much more (United States Congressional documents, federal legislative histories, state session laws, legal classics, treaties and agreements, and restatements of the law), is available while you're visiting the Law Library, but you can also access HeinOnline remotely from your own mobile device via the HeinOnline app.
- First download the program to your device. Click here for Android or here for the iPhone.
- Visit the Harris County Law Library to authenticate your device through our HeinOnline subscription. Once IP authenticated, your device will be able to access the database from any location for 30 days.
- At the end of the 30-day period, visit us again to re-authenticate and never be without access to MyHein and HeinOnline!
As summer approaches, requests for information about the supervision of a child by a non-parent caregiver are on the rise. Fortunately, TexasLawHelp.org and the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services have the forms and information that grandparents, aunts, uncles, older siblings, and other blood relatives may use to establish their rights as caregivers. These rights, which are put into place as part of the Kincare program*, allow a voluntary non-parent caregiver to enroll a child in school or daycare, make decisions regarding his or her medical well-being, sign school permission slips, and take other steps to ensure the child's welfare and safety.
To learn more about the Kincare program, TexasLawHelp.org is the perfect place to start. Download a copy of the Texas Kincare Primer to find answers to commonly asked questions about the authorization agreement for non-parent or voluntary caregivers. Also available on TexasLawHelp.org is a form for consent to medical treatment by a non-parent or voluntary caregiver. Take a look at both forms to determine which will best meet your needs and the needs of the child in your care.
As always, if you have any questions about the Kincare program, we recommend that you consult an attorney. The Harris County Law Library partners with the Houston Volunteer Lawyers, who provide free legal assistance for this or any civil legal concern five days a week in the basement at 1019 Congress. Volunteer lawyers are available Monday through Friday from 9:00 am - 12:00 pm and 1:00 pm to 5:00 pm on a first-come, first-served basis.
*Please note that the Kincare program is different from the Kinship Care program, which is designed for children in CPS care. For information about the Kinship Care program, please visit the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services website.
Some time ago, we at the Harris County Law Library raised a question: Coding for Lawyers - Novelty or Necessity? We revisited that question a while later in Techno-Legal Practitioners and Lawyers Learning to Code. Now it's time to return to this topic again as the growth of do-it-yourself learning tools has expanded opportunities for lawyers to acquire the skill that some call the new literacy.
There is no shortage of easily accessible, user-friendly, free or low-cost resources for developing the knowledge you need to call yourself a coder. Support from other aspiring coders is also widely available and finding a tribe of lawyer-programmers who share your goal can be very helpful. Joining local Meetup groups is an excellent way to build and stay connected to a coding community as is participation in networks of fellow lawyers who code, such as Legal Hackers or similar civic tech organizations. But where should a would-be coder begin? For a good introduction to coding, try What is Code? and then dive in using the resources below where you'll find help, advice, and support from others who are self-taught coders, including those who have transitioned to coding as a second career -- or as a career builder -- in later life.
There is a commonly held, but incorrect, belief that Judicial Review in the United States began with Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. (1 Cranch) 137 (1803). While this ruling marked the first time the Supreme Court held a law passed by Congress to be unconstitutional, the roots of Judicial Review in our land go even deeper, stemming beyond the Constitutional Convention, beyond Federalist No. 78, and even beyond 18th century British colonization in North America.
Jamestown, the first successful, permanent British settlement in North America, was established by the Virginia Company of London in 1607. Puritan separatists landed near Plymouth Rock in 1620. Judicial review existed in some form or another in 17th century England until William of Orange overthrew James II in 1688, but remained in the collective consciousness of the geographically separate North American colonists. By the time the Constitutional Convention rolled around in 1787, a majority of the newly formed states had already witnessed the power of Judicial Review exercised by their own supreme courts.
Though the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists argued over the level of power the Federal Judiciary should be able to wield over the co-equal Executive and Legislative branches, the record is clear that Judicial Review was a foregone conclusion on both sides, and the question was one of limitation. Jefferson fretted that the Judicial Branch would become the ultimate arbiters of what is or is not Constitutional, and would rule like oligarchs. Hamilton argued that the Judiciary was the weakest branch, and that its existence would ensure its own continued weakness by encouraging the Legislative and Executive Branches to preemptively conform their works to Constitutional restraints.
While concern has always existed that judges would be able to enforce the opinions of a tyrannical minority, some scholars argue that centuries of Congressional intransigence has been offset by the Judiciary’s ability to apply majority consensus to the laws of the land when the other branches are unable to act. One example of this is Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, 347 U.S. 483 (1954), which aimed to desegregate American public schools. Majority opinion within the nation supported desegregation, but political considerations hamstrung both Congress and the President.