Jan Bissett is a Reference Librarian in the Bloomfield Hills, Michigan office of Dickinson Wright PLLC. She is a past president of the Michigan Association of Law Libraries and has published articles on administrative and research related topics in the Michigan Association of Law Libraries Newsletter and Michigan Defense Quarterly. She and Margi Heinen team teach Legal Information Sources and Services for Wayne State University’s Library and Information Science Program in Detroit, Michigan.
Margi Heinen is the Librarian at Jaffe, Raitt, Heuer & Weiss in Detroit, Michigan. She teaches Legal Resources at the University of Michigan’s School of Information and is team teaching with her co-columnist, Jan Bissett, at Wayne State University’s School of Library and Information Science. She regularly does Internet training of legal staff at her firm and recently collaborated with Kathleen Gamache on an I.P.E. presentation, Internet Stategies for the Paralegal in Michigan. She is active in the Law Librarians of Metro Detroit and is a member of the American Association of Law Libraries.
The attorneys that come most prepared research personalities as well as the law before a trial, mediation or arbitration. Knowing something about the preferences or background of one who is going to read a brief or hear arguments can give an attorney the opportunity to present material in the way most likely to be significant to that judge. Law students may seek similar information when applying for clerkships; the public may be curious about high profile cases. For these reasons, as librarians or researchers, we often encounter queries such as “What do you know about Judge XXXX?” These requests reflect the need for current practical information not a full blown biographical treatment. Resources including traditional directories, legal news publications’ compilations of judicial profiles, materials from court and administrative offices of the courts, and civic organizations are available to help answer those questions.
Research guides from several law libraries as well as LLRX highlight traditional sources as well as web offerings. Duke University School of Law Library’s Directories of Courts & Judges is an annotated bibliography of federal and state court judges. Although a reflection of that library’s collection, it covers many well known and familiar print sources including nominations and appointments, historical directories, individual states as well as internet directories. Hastings Law Library’s Judicial Directories is a helpful research guide which includes annotations to some of our favorite sources. Zimmerman’s Research Guide – Judgesprovides brief annotations on the basic sources for judicial biographies as well as tips on search strategies for judge’s decisions on appeal.
The availability of information on a particular judge may depend on – you guessed it! Jurisdiction. More readily available commercial information focuses on the federal system, appointments for life being more conducive to information stability. The Almanac of the Federal Judiciary, published by Aspen, is one of our all time favorite print resources for biographies of the Federal judges. The inclusion (in print) of “lawyers’ evaluations” and “media coverage” makes for good reading as well as providing practical suggestions and an idea of the jurist’s most publicized cases. (Please note that the lawyers’ evaluation, media coverage and lawyers’ comments are not available on the Westlaw version). You may find it necessary to retain the superseded biographies – judges can and do come out of retirement. This retention strategy may apply to other print directories as well – we’ve often had more luck with older versions of The American Bench when seeking information on a current sitting judge. The Federal Judicial Center’s Judges of the United States Courtscontains the service record and biographical information for all judges who have served on the U.S. District Courts, U.S. Circuit Courts, U.S. Courts of Appeals, and the Supreme Court since 1789. Compiled from government sources, this database maintains brief biographical information as well as dates of appointment, confirmation and termination. If you are in doubt about how the Federal Judicial system is structured or you are interested in only current United States Supreme Court Justices biographies, InfoUSA has a convenient collection of links to descriptions of the court system, specific Federal courts, administrative offices of the Federal courts and Supreme Court biographies. Information may be available from Federal Bar Association’s Federal Bar Journal“Judicial Profiles” column. An online index from the 1998 through 2000 issues lists those profiled under the subjects “judicial profiles” or “judges profiles”. Local chapters of the Federal Bar Association may also provide practical information for litigators. For example, the E.D. Mich Chapter of the Federal Bar Association publishes the Practice Manual for the United States District Courts, Eastern District of Michigan which includes biographical sketches and pretrial and trial practice for all district judges, bankruptcy judges and magistrates. In addition to these sources, a check of the court’s website may yield biographical gold.
State and local judicial profiles can be found in traditional judicial directories such as The American Bench or the Judicial Yellowbook but valuable information is often found in regional legal publications from commercial publishers or local bar associations. A subject search of OCLC or local catalogs using “judges – [desired state] – directories” or “judges – rating of – [desired state]” may help you to identify titles in an unfamiliar jurisdiction. James Publishing, Law Bulletin, The Daily Journal, the Chicago Council of Lawyers and New Jersey Law Journal publish judicial profile materials. The Daily Journal also provides judicial profiles at its website for an additional fee. See Carol Levitt’s The Los Angeles Daily Journal on the Web for further discussion of the coverage. The Massachusetts, Michigan, Virginia, and Rhode Island Lawyer’s Weekly web publications provide subscribers with access to Judicial Profiles. In Michigan Lawyer’s Weekly, the name, address, bench service, education, publications, faculty status, legal employment history, associations and reported decisions summarized in Lawyer’s Weekly are all possible inclusions in the judicial profiles of both Michigan state and federal judges. The Ohio and Missouri Lawyer’s Weekly have a “Judicial Interviews” column. Law.com also provides access to judicial profiles to subscribers of their New York and California state websites. You may also search Law.com by limiting your content type to “profiles”. Other sources which may provide judicial directories and/or profiles are state and local bar associations, court, county or state judicial conference websites. Coverage varies from directory type listings to complete biographical information.
Civic and political organizations provide background information on political candidates, which often include judges. If you’re not sure if judges in a particular jurisdiction are elected or appointed, check out the American Judicature Society’s Judicial Selection Methods in the States. You may find information at The League of Women Voters’ DemocracyNet, remember to check the archive for any information on past elections since 2000. Profile information is provided by the candidates. The entry includes office sought, election date, candidate’s profile, and endorsers. Watchdog organizations may also provide information as well. For example, the Illinois Civil Justice League launched Illinois Judicial Watch to monitor the Illinois judiciary.
Lexis and Westlaw offer both biographical and news sources which may help you in your search for a particular jurist. News or legal newsletters may often be the only source of information about local or retired judges. The Westlaw Directory includes the following categories: “Biographical Directories and “Directories and Reference Materials” which may lead you to an appropriate database. Two of those databases are the Almanac of the Federal Judiciary (AFJ) (please note differences in print and online coverage) and the West Legal Directory-Judges (WLD-Judges) which offers profiles and office data on Federal and State judges. Lawschool.westlaw.com offers search documentation Law School 2001: Finding the Right Job Using Westlaw which presumably addresses researching available clerkships and corresponding judges in the WLD-Clerk database. You may also want to give West’s Legal Directory – PeopleCite (WLD-Peoplecite) a try. Please note coverage includes caselaw from 1990 forward, so if you’re looking for a particular judge’s rulings on specific issues, you may also want to do a field search in the appropriate jurisdiction. Consult the Database Directory or IDEN database for additional information.
Lexis includes the Judicial Staff Directory (EXEC; JUDDIR) which covers Federal judges, magistrates, court executives and clerks. Information on judges is included in the NALP Judicial Clerkship Directory materials (CAREER;JCLERK). There are also a number of biographical sources drawing on news sources and biographical directories. A segment search in caselaw from the appropriate jurisdiction will lead you to a particular judge’s rulings on specific issues. Check the Source Directory for more information.
With these sources available, those of us seeking to market our research expertise should leap at the chance to answer the “what do you know about the judge” query. The professional researcher can provide solid details about the judge to supplement the stories told in the war room.
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