Bookmark this page on your mobile

QR Code image

What is this?

Daily Court Reporter - News Legal Ease


Legal Ease

Kathleen Maloney, Supreme Court of Ohio

Erin Waltz relishes how her job as a librarian and public services manager at the Ohio Supreme Court is different every day.

“It’s never the same question,” Waltz said. “Being a librarian, you get so much variety.”

Her voice percolates with enthusiasm, for example, about putting together a comparison of Australian and U.S. legal systems earlier this year for the chief justice. The Supreme Court’s librarians love a novel and challenging request.

Talented staff inhabit legal libraries statewide that are specifically dedicated to the needs of the bench, bar, and public. Their curiosity and persistence – and that of librarians serving in more than 100,000 libraries throughout the country – are acknowledged and honored during National Library Week each April.

Researchers Extraordinaire

At the Ohio Supreme Court Law Library, the staff focuses, not surprisingly, on research for the justices, including digging up the history of legislation or an earlier version of a statute as background for the cases the Court considers. Lesser known, Waltz said, is the work the library is willing and able to do for judges and courts throughout Ohio.

Among the projects the Court library has taken on: collecting bond schedules from every municipal court in the state; compiling information about each judge who served on one court throughout its history; and assembling data for a statewide task force about in-court and out-of-court hourly fees charged for appointed counsel.

“We will dive deeply for them,” she said, yet many judges don’t realize the extent of services available.

Awareness is growing, though. Last year, the Court’s library staff completed its own version of a 5K, fulfilling more than 5,000 in-depth research requests. They also answered 1,853 questions for judges and court employees in Ohio – a ninefold increase over 2014 when they responded to 202 questions. Waltz enjoys the opportunity to share the possibilities when she speaks at conferences or talks to judges.

“I tell them, ‘We can save you so much time and energy,’” she said.

Delving into the Law

County law libraries provide another valuable resource for the legal profession. The Hamilton County Law Library responds to many requests from solo and small firm lawyers, said Lauren Morrison, the library’s director. Most practice in the municipal or common pleas courts, which are housed in the same building as the library. Morrison said their primary request is for sample legal documents, including complaints, answers, leases, and trusts.

“The forms provide a good starting point so lawyers aren’t reinventing the wheel,” she said.

Lawyers also frequently ask for treatises covering specific fields of law, court decisions, and statutes that include annotations of relevant history and case law. Hamilton County offers these services as part of an annual subscription, which includes access to the library’s print and electronic collections, continuing legal education seminars, and video conferencing, among other benefits.

At the Delaware County Law Library, chief administrator and librarian Judith Maxwell said lawyers typically want law review articles or legal handbooks on topics such as juvenile law, basic evidence, or operating a vehicle while under the influence.

Maxwell and Morrison are both attorneys. Morrison, who is on inactive status, noted that she had good research skills as a lawyer, but her research chops are much better now as a librarian.

“Librarians play an important role as search experts because we have a full grasp of the resources available,” she explained.

Law library staffs often notice legal trends as they develop, too. Long before appeals wound their way to the Supreme Court, Waltz said they saw inquiries about the state’s Dormant Mineral Act escalate as natural gas drilling disputes began to crowd the dockets of eastern Ohio trial courts.

Guiding the Public

Law librarians also devote significant time to serving the public. It’s a central and essential mission for the libraries, not only as a basic civic duty but in support of access to justice efforts throughout the courts.

Maxwell finds herself frequently assisting people trying to handle a domestic relations issue or charged with a crime. Without providing any legal advice, she may direct them to the Ohio Revised Code, Ohio Administrative Code, or Ohio Jurisprudence. She has pointed out that certain crimes come with possible jail time and referred patrons to legal clinics or lawyer locator services.

“A lot of what I do is triage,” Maxwell noted.

Popular areas of interest for non-lawyers contacting the Hamilton County Law Library involve search and seizure rights, custody issues, and landlord/tenant law, Morrison said.

“We can guide people to potentially helpful resources,” she said. Her staff helps the public navigate various online databases, look up citations and cases, and find overviews describing the law on a specific topic. Several times each year, the library also presents education events on legal issues for the public.

Waltz said the most frequent requests at the Supreme Court are for forms, especially in the probate and domestic relations areas, and for help fixing legal problems. Although they can’t give legal advice, the Supreme Court’s librarians spend considerable time educating patrons about how the state and federal court systems work, she said. The staff members do what they can to ensure the public’s access to the library’s extensive resources. Besides in-person assistance, the staff will email information, mail it to a physical address, or deliver it to any public library for the patron to pick up locally.

“Regardless of who you are, we’re here to help you,” Waltz explained.

Disparate Funding

State law mandates that county law libraries supply research and reference services to county, municipal, and township officials and to the courts. Because the libraries are funded by court, traffic, and liquor fines and penalties, resources fluctuate widely from county to county and from year to year. In 2015, the statutory revenue generated to operate the state’s 88 county libraries ranged from $28,000 to $1.16 million for the year, with the median hovering near $139,000, according to a survey of the county law libraries.

Some law libraries, like Hamilton County’s, have a handful of staff, while others can afford only a part-timer, as in Delaware. Maxwell, who also serves as executive director of the Consortium of Ohio County Law Libraries, said she knows of law libraries that consist only of a few shelves in a judge’s chambers. The Delaware law library is located in an old but ornate house that was once the sheriff’s residence connected in the back to the local jail. The Hamilton County Law Library, established in 1834, has resided for the last century in the Hamilton County Courthouse in downtown Cincinnati. Hours vary, too. Certain county law libraries open their doors only a few days each week and have limited hours, while others operate during business hours on weekdays.

The statewide consortium strives to fill in the gaps so each library can adequately serve its patrons, Maxwell said. For law libraries that are lean on funds, the consortium has purchased materials, such as Ohio Jury Instructions and legal handbooks. Maxwell turns to the consortium to obtain law review articles and access to pricy online databases for her patrons. The libraries also share and swap materials, she said.

“Even for a county with only a few thousand dollars a year from fees, the consortium can still help locate information that wouldn’t otherwise be available,” she said.

Not Without Levity

Despite any struggles, the librarians seem fueled by notably high spirits and a commitment to sharing knowledge. They’re far from the staid and serious stereotype associated with their profession.

When bats descended some time ago from the library’s tower, Maxwell regularly carried a catcher’s mitt and a cardboard box to the office to capture the pesky creatures. A constant companion in her library is “Flexible Fred,” a plastic skeleton that’s used in trials at the nearby courthouse. Attorneys dress up Fred and place him in the library’s windows. In March, he donned a green fedora for St. Patrick’s Day. Last year, it was Cleveland Indians’ garb.

The Supreme Court’s librarians are renowned, at least among those in the building, for their clever arrangements of the abundant books at their disposal. They annually build a green book tree for the Christmas holidays and create colorful book displays each month to commemorate events such as Constitution Day and Ohio’s statehood.

Morrison’s team in Cincinnati likes to adorn the busts of historical figures that sit in the library’s main room. During Mardi Gras, masks appeared on statues of former Ohio governors Edward Follansbee Noyes and Salmon P. Chase (who also served as chief justice of the United States). The staff shares these playful moments on the library’s humorous and informative Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram feeds.

“We’re not so straight-laced and stoic that we can’t have a little fun,” Morrison noted.

The librarians hope these lighthearted efforts draw people in to raise awareness of the vast and treasured resources waiting to enlighten and inform their patrons.

“We try to serve as many people as we can the best we can,” Morrison said.

Date Published: April 19, 2017


Supreme Court of Ohio


Justice was once an Army officer, television reporter

Ohio Supreme Court Justice William O'Neill came to the high-court bench as the proverbial renaissance man.

Ohio Inspector General investigates three complaints regarding correctional facilities

The Ohio Inspector General issued three reports of investigation recently involving Ohio correctional institutions.

Estate claim must be presented directly to court-appointed representatives

Ohio law requires a claim against an estate to be filed on time and in writing to the estate’s executor or administrator. Delivering the claim to a person not appointed by the probate court who gives it to the executor or administrator does not meet the law’s requirements, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled recently.

Governor’s Award for Excellence presented to 23 employees

Ohio Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor and Ohio Department of Administrative Services Director Robert Blair recently honored 23 employees from four state agencies with the Governor’s Award for Employee Excellence for extraordinary public service.

Secrets smart investors use year-round to save on their taxes

(BPT) - Come tax time, many people work to locate tax breaks. While this is always a smart financial move, a little-known way to help build your net worth is to keep taxes top of mind throughout the entire year.

Justice Kennedy's experience as police officer provides unique perspective

Supreme Court Justice Sharon Kennedy began her career in justice as a police officer at the Hamilton Police Department.

Ohio Wildlife Council approves 2017-2018 hunting regulations

The 2017-2018 hunting and trapping seasons were among the regulations approved by the Ohio Wildlife Council at its scheduled meeting on Wednesday, April 12, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR).

Cleveland women indicted for fraudulently claiming $313,000 in tax refunds

Two Cleveland women were indicted on charges of conspiracy to make false claims for fraudulently claiming false tax refunds for more than $300,000, said David A. Sierleja, Acting U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio, and Frank S. Turner II, Acting Special Agent in Charge, IRS Criminal Investigation, Cincinnati Field Office.

Tips to reduce your health care expenses

(BPT) Health care costs are in the news all the time. You hear about them at work and when you're with friends and family. The comments are always the same. Health care is getting more and more expensive and it seems to be outpacing the money you make.

Ohio man sentenced for securities crimes, ordered to reimburse victim and complete community service

Jeremy Moser sentenced to three years of community control after paying restitution of $10,000 to the victim.

Ohio lawmaker wants to make EpiPens more accessible

The media firestorm that resulted last summer when it became widely known that pharmaceutical company Mylan hiked the price of its life-saving EpiPen-brand epinephrine autoinjector by at least 400 percent has subsided.

Americans for Prosperity honors Secretary of State Husted with Taxpayers’ Torch Award

The Ohio Chapter of Americans for Prosperity (AFP) recently honored Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted with the Taxpayers’ Torch Award at their Path to Prosperity event. The award recognizes those who have shown exceptional stewardship of taxpayer dollars and demonstrated conservative leadership in bringing about a more efficient, more effective government.

Registration opens for Ohio Business and Career Expo

Free event targets minorities, women and disadvantaged job seekers and business owners

Justice brings executive, legislative experience to bench

Ohio Supreme Court Justice Pat DeWine arrived at the highest court in the state with broad governmental experience.

Ohio Department of Agriculture announces new assistant director

Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) Director David T. Daniels has appointed former State Representative Tim Derickson as the department’s assistant director. Derickson most recently served as executive director of the Ohio Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors. One of his many accomplishments in the legislature was sponsorship of HB 89 in March 2011 that established Ohio Agriculture Week, an annual week of recognition dedicated to the state’s largest industry.

Forensic facial reconstruction created for 1989 John Doe

(Marion) Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine and Marion County Sheriff Tim Bailey recently released the facial reconstruction of a man whose skeletal remains were found more than 27 years ago.

Fact: Ohio Tuition Trust Authority administers Ohio’s Direct 529 Plan

CollegeAdvantage. Ohio Tuition Trust Authority. Ohio’s 529 Savings Program. Ohio’s 529 Plan. The myriad of terms may have complicated research being done on 529 college savings plans, especially for Ohio residents. For an explanation on what these names describe, let’s start at the beginning.

OSU study shows inability to successfully juggle identities can hurt job performance

According to a new study, if someone has different work identities, their job performance may suffer.

New bulletin to bring additional clarity to AG opinion on health insurance reimbursement

One of the more common findings in township financial audits relates to the improper reimbursement of out-of-pocket health care costs.

Allegations that judge’s harsher sentence is vindictive must be supported with evidence

If a criminal defendant gets a harsher sentence than one offered in a plea bargain, any allegation that the judge imposed the sentence as a “trial tax” must be supported with evidence that clearly and convincingly demonstrates the judge acted vindictively, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled recently.