Friday, February 27, 2009

Mentoring BLS Students

A report in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle features the efforts of BLS alumna Hemalee J. Patel, Class of 1991, the current president of the Brooklyn Women’s Bar Association (BWBA), in developing a mentoring program for BLS law students. This week, the BWBA, a chapter of the Women’s Bar Association of the State of New York (WBASNY), held a special event where about 25 BLS law school attendees were able to speak with several attorneys during one-on-one sessions of eight minutes each. The program allowed participants to discover how their mentors developed their careers. Attorneys offered advice on how to build a network of contacts within the legal profession. Membership for student in the BWBA is free.

“WBASNY, or the Women’s Bar Association of the State of New York, does long-term mentoring, but this is a little different,” Patel said. “It’s important for law students to understand early on what the bar association does and to get law students involved without a big commitment.” Patel was admitted to the bar of the State of New York in 1991 and to the Supreme Court of the United States in 1998, one of a few South Asian lawyers in the history of the Court to receive this honor. Last year, the Brooklyn Women’s Bar Association celebrated the 90th anniversary of its founding in 1918 with the 90th Annual Dinner which was held at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle article, True to Tradition, Hemalee Patel Leads Brooklyn Women’s Bar, by Samuel Newhouse explains in greater detail the community efforts of one of Brooklyn Law School’s most active local graduates.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

206th Anniversary of Marbury v. Madison

On the 206th anniversary of the landmark US Supreme Court case of Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. 137 (1803), a Newsweek article Why Marbury v. Madison Still Matters lists important lessons from the case. Among them is first, the genius of the American system with an independent judiciary having the last word on the law and the Constitution; second, the fact that the Court was able to rise above being a predictable political player in a highly partisan cause and lastly, that greatness may arise from the messiest of political circumstances. Further timely reading is the WSJ Law Blog interview with David McKean, co-author of a soon to be released book The Great Decision: Jefferson, Adams, Marshall and the Battle for the Supreme Court.

Recently, HeinOnline announced the results of its Hein ScholarCheck analysis on the U.S. Supreme Court Library with a list of the 50 Most-Cited Supreme Court Cases in HeinOnline. Marbury placed 13th on the list being cited 6,835 times.

The BLS Library has in its collection several items on the landmark case. They are:

The Activist: John Marshall, Marbury v. Madison, and the Myth of Judicial Review by Lawrence Goldstone (Call No. KF4575 .G65 2008) which traces the events surrounding the 1803 decision regarding judicial review that ultimately gave the Supreme Court the right to determine how the Constitution and its laws are interpreted.

Arguing Marbury v. Madison edited by Mark Tushnet (Call No. KF4575 .A965 2005) which includes the transcript of the oral argument and the intellectual background of the case.

Marbury Versus Madison: Documents and Commentary by Mark A. Graber and Michael Perhac (Call No. KF4575 .M367 2002) with documents and essays timed for the bicentennial in 2003, this work explains: the constitutional, political and philosophical background to judicial review; the historical record leading to this landmark case; the impact of the decision since 1803; and its impact on the world stage.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Prof. Karmel on Securities Regulation

In an article in last week’s New York Law Journal, BLS Prof. Roberta S. Karmel describes some of the challenges facing the Obama Administration, in particular, Mary L. Schapiro, the 29th chairman of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). In the current financial crisis, the SEC, commemorating its 75th Anniversary this year, is confronting some of the most daunting challenges in its existence s leaving some question whether it will survive as an independent agency.

Prof. Karmel notes that, under the Bush Administration, the SEC faced heavy, if unfair, criticism for its lack of regulatory oversight regarding the Madoff scandal and the collapse of the major broker-dealers. Looking forward to financial regulatory reform to restore confidence in the financial sector, Prof. Karmel questions how such regulation will take place and whether the SEC is the appropriate agency. There is certainly enough grist for the regulatory mill: broker-dealer holding companies, over-the-counter (OTC) derivatives, credit rating agencies, investment advisors and hedge funds. Efforts to bring these entities within the regulatory scope of the SEC, which have faced opposition in the past described in detail by Prof Karmel, may be easier given the current economic meltdown. The article ends by asking:
“Are the Obama administration, the SEC and Congress up to meeting all of the new challenges discussed in this column, as well as many other challenges on the table of financial regulatory reform? History teaches that most regulatory reform has occurred in an atmosphere of crisis and scandal, but that statutes drafted under such conditions are neither thoughtful nor even coherent. Hopefully, the new chairman of the SEC will be able to exert a salutary influence on such legislation.”
For the 75th Anniversary of the SEC, the SEC Historical Society will conduct a Fireside Chat on Tuesday, February 24th. Registration is at with no cost. The event is the first in the sixth season of Fireside Chats and will look at the work of the SEC Division of Corporation Finance. Topics will include the changing financial markets, working under legislation that does not change, using safe harbors, no action letters and rule-making.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

New Databases Added to BLS Catalog

Thanks to Maria Okanska, Manager of Bibliographic Operations at BLS Library, for adding 14 new databases that many library users probably don’t know. They are:
  1. The Forms Catalog provides citizens and businesses with a common access point to federal agency forms. --
  2. Statistics gathered and projected by the United Nations regarding the world population covering 1950-2050. --
  3. Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) System Search --
  4. Information on almost 35,000 slaving voyages that forcibly embarked over 10 million Africans for transport to the Americas between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries. --
  5. The collection presents exact reproductions of major United Nations legal publications, including the complete collection of the United Nations treaty series. Also included are the Monthly statement of treaties and international agreements, United Nations legislative series, United Nations juridical yearbook, Official records of the First, Second, and Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea with Final Act , International Court of Justice reports, advisory opinions and orders, and more. --
  6. Nineteenth-century serials edition is a collection of six full-text British 19th century newspapers and journals: Monthly repository (1806-1837), Unitarian chronicle (1832-1833), Northern star (1838-1852), Leader (1850-1860), English woman's journal (1858-1864), Tomahawk (1867-1870), and Publisher's circular (1880-1890). Digitization was a collaboration between Arts and Humanities Research Council, Birkbeck College, King's College London, Centre for Computing in the Humanities, the British Library, and Olive Software. The titles were chosen for their emphasis upon social issues, political reform, and women's rights issues. --
  7. An information database used for trade negotiations and general research on international trade. --
  8. Easy Access to NIBRS: Victims of Domestic Violence allows users to analyze state-level data on victims of domestic violence based on information collected by the FBI's National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS). With EZANIBRSDV, users can explore the characteristics of domestic violence victims, including demographic information of the victim (age, sex, and race), victim injury, and the victim-offender relationship. --
  9. Records of the parliaments of Scotland to 1707. --
  10. Google patent search. --
  11. Legal information archive. --
  12. Illinois digital newspaper collection. --
  13. The WomanStats Project. --
  14. OECD.Stat includes data and metadata for OECD countries and selected non-member countries ... access by keyword, by theme, by country via the selection of key indicators. --

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Remembering Prof. Sara Robbins

Last month, the law school held two events to honor the memory of the late Law Librarian and Professor Sara Robbins. The first was the Third Annual Sara Robbins Memorial Spelling Bee held on Thursday, January 29 in the Subotnick Center. A Brooklyn Daily Eagle article by Samuel Newhouse gave a full account of the event reporting that of the 38 contestants “the last speller standing was Professor Marsha Garrison, who went home a winner after correctly spelling amanuensis (defined as a stenographer, or one who transcribes dictations).” By the end of the night, about $3,000 had been raised for the Sara Robbins scholarship, which is for a Brooklyn Law student.

The next day, Friday, January 30, Dean Joan Wexler hosted a luncheon prior to the Sara Robbins Portrait Dedication on the third floor of the library. In addition to members of the faculty and the library staff, Prof. Robbins sisters, Anne Robbins, Kay Ehrenkrantz and Marlene Robbins were in attendance to dedicate the portrait painted by award-winning artist Linda Tracey Brandon of Phoenix, Arizona.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Open Access to Gov Docs

There is more news about open access to government documents in today’s NY Times article An Effort to Upgrade a Court Archive System to Free and Easy. The article highlights the efforts of Carl Malamud of the Public Resources.Org to make court proceedings and legal records freely available to citizens and taxpayers and to overcome barriers to open access to documents published by the government. Malamud has been a long time advocate of open access to government documents with successes in posting online free CRS reports as well as the records of the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Patent and Trademark Office. For more, see the December 12, 2008 Wired Magazine article Online Rebel Publishes Millions of Dollars in U.S. Court Records for Free about Carl Malamud and his open access efforts.

Malamud’s most recent open access efforts deals with Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER), the fee based and outdated electronic public access service of United States federal court documents. PACER is managed by the Administrative Office of the United States Courts and allows users to obtain for a fee case and docket information from the United States district courts, United States courts of appeals, and United States bankruptcy courts. Malamud, using $600,000 in contributions in 2008, bought a 50-year archive of papers from the federal appellate courts and placed them online. He was ready to take on the larger database of district courts, which, with the help of the Government Printing Office (GPO), had opened a free trial of PACER at 17 libraries around the country. Mr. Malamud urged fellow activists to go to those libraries, download as many court documents as they could, and send them to him for republication on the Web, where Google could retrieve them. One of the activists managed to download an estimated 20 percent of the entire database consisting of 19,856,160 pages of text before the GPO suspended the program. For now, the 50 years of appellate decisions remain online and Google-friendly with the 20 million pages of lower court decisions available in bulk form, but not yet easily searchable.

The open access movement is gaining strength. Last year on October 14, Open Access Day, at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society, Stephen Schultze conducted a presentation on Open Access to Government Documents with some statistics about the income the PACER system generates for the courts. A PDF version of the slides used in that presentation are available here.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

BLS Freezes Salaries to Avert Tuition Increase

Brooklyn Law School has announced it will freeze faculty salaries, in order to keep 2009 tuition increases low. Dean Joan G. Wexler discussed the issue in a letter to students:

… I am writing to let you know that when the School sets tuition for the next academic year, we will be mindful of the current difficult economic times and the financial pressures that you face.

Over the past five years, annual tuition increases have been approximately 6.2% for entering students and 5% for upperclass students. I anticipate that any increase for the 2009-10 academic year will be substantially lower…

… All departmental budgets will be carefully reviewed, but we will be able to keep our tuition increase to a minimum by foregoing salary increases for deans and almost all administrators, faculty, and staff in the coming year. The savings will be passed on to you.

… We are imposing this limit on our tuition increase not because we have to, but because we are able to, and because we know it will help you deal with these challenging economic times.

Brooklyn Law School’s faculty includes 68 full-time professors and five emeriti faculty as well as adjunct faculty consisting of practitioners, public officials and judges who teach specialized courses. BLS is not the only law school feeling the economic pinch. Paul Caron at TaxProf Blog provides a list of other law schools responding to the economic downturn. But none of them has tied budgetary cutbacks to student tuition as clearly as BLS.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Wikileaks Adds CRS Reports

Wikileaks, a website that has been publishing anonymous submissions and leaks of sensitive governmental, corporate, or religious documents since December 2006, has been described as a Wiki for Whistle-Blowers in an article in Time magazine. Like Wikipedia, the content on the site is posted by users and must be evaluated for authenticity. The site, if used with a healthy dose of skepticism, could become as important a tool as the Freedom of Information Act.

In this week's announcement Wikileaks says that it has published an extensive database of Congressional Research Service (CRS) reports. The Congressional Research Service is an arm of the Library of Congress devoted to providing research and analysis on legislative issues for Congress. The 6,780 reports now posted on Wikileaks date back to 1990 and have an estimated value of US$1 billion. The reports may give the public a better idea of the information Congress has had at its disposal, and perhaps push lawmakers into making future reports publicly available.

"Legally, they belong in the public domain," Wikileaks spokesperson Daniel Schmitt said. "It is very important for anyone who is doing research as well as the general public to have access to this information, and see what the congressional research services is [producing]." In the past few years, there has been increasing demand to make CRS reports open to the public. Open CRS is another website whose aim is to make CRS reports public. While it is legal to make these reports public, historically members of Congress and their staffers have done this at their discretion. Schwartz estimates that Open CRS was publishing between 80 and 90 percent of all reports being produced. The reports are also sold by data collection services such as Penny Hill Press.

A number of libraries and non-profit organizations have sought to collect as many of the released reports as possible. Such collections include:

Friday, February 6, 2009

DTV Delay Act

This week, by a vote of 264 to 158, the House of Representatives approved the DTV Delay Act to postpone the transition to digital television until June 12, 2009. The House Committee on Energy and Commerce on its web site states that “This delay will grant millions of households the chance to be prepared for the transition and retain access to an important information resource." The Chairman of the Committee, Rep. Henry Waxman (D. Cal.), in a statement in support of the bill, suggested that the delay is necessary because of lack of preparation in the Bush Administration:

Unfortunately, we are not yet prepared for this transition. The prior Administration assured the Committee on Energy and Commerce repeatedly that the transition effort was on track. But on December 24, 2008, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) notified Congress that the converter box coupon program would run out of funding the first week of January and that it would need an additional $250 to $350 million to meet projected demand.
As part of the effort to delay conversion, Rep. Waxman sent a letter to his colleagues with an updated list of households on the waiting list, organized by congressional district noting that there were over 2 million households on the DTV Coupon Waiting List.

The conversion project dates back many years and culminated with the enactment of the Digital Transition and Public Safety Act of 2005 on February 8, 2006 when it was signed into law by President Bush. The multi-year effort was aimed at driving broadcasters from some of the choicest frequencies in the airwaves to make room for advanced wireless broadband services. The Digital Transition and Public Safety Act of 2005 was part of a much larger bill dealing with the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005.

The issue of funding the cash-strapped converter box coupon program, which provides up to two $40 coupons per household for DTV converter boxes (which cost anywhere between $40-$60), is not addressed in the DTV Delay Act. However it has become a point of controversy in the pending economic stimulus bill. Title III of the stimulus package dealing with the Department of Commerce provides for $650 million to be available until September 30, 2009 for the Digital-to-Analog Converter Box Program.

As the DTV Delay Act awaits President Obama's signature, a new feature on the White House web page asks for public input. According to the White House, all non-emergency legislation will be published to the Web site for five days, allowing the public to review and comment before the president signs it. The page, DTV Delay Act of 2009 on, includes the full text of the bill and offers a form for users to send in their thoughts.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

African American History Month 2009

This month, the Library of Congress, along with other US Government institutions like the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, honors African American History Month. This year’s theme, “The Quest for Black Citizenship in the Americas”, is a tribute to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) which marks its 100th anniversary on February 12. The centennial of the NAACP, formed in 1909 by a group of men and women — whites and blacks, Jews and Gentiles — is an occasion to highlight the problem of race and citizenship in American history, from the experiences of free Blacks in a land of slavery to the political aspirations of African Americans today.

The idea for African American History Month dates back to 1925 when Harvard educated historian, Carter G. Woodson, an early member of the NAACP, conceived and announced Negro History Week. The event was first celebrated during a week in February 1926 that had the birthdays of both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. This year, Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) will deliver the keynote address kicking off the Library of Congress celebration of African American History Month on Wednesday, February 4.

This past year, with such notable firsts as the first African American President, Attorney General and New York Governor, is a good time to look back at the first African American lawyers. The Just The Beginning Foundation, a multiracial, nonprofit organization comprised of lawyers, judges, and other citizens, is dedicated to developing interest in the law among young persons from various ethnic backgrounds underrepresented in the legal profession and supporting their continued advancement. Its long-term goal is to increase racial diversity in the legal profession and on the bench. On its web page of First African American Lawyers, George Boyer Vashon is listed as the first African American lawyer to be admitted to the practice of law in New York in 1848. He followed Macon Bolling Allen who was the first African American licensed to practice law in the United States (Maine, 1844) and the first Black American Justice of the Peace.

The BLS Library has in its collection Fire from the Soul by Donald Spivey (E185.86 .S65 2003) with chapters on Race first: an introduction to black history -- The destruction of a people -- Democracy contradicted -- Outright violence -- The new slavery -- Urban blacks: new consciousness and new voice to the American dilemma -- Seeking salvation during more hard times -- Battling on every front -- Race to the future: toward a conclusion.