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While it’s not a statistic we actively track, none of us here can remember a time that individual statutes and regulations dominated the list of our most visited pages like they have for the past few weeks. Since January 20th, 8 USC 1182, 1187 & 1152 (all immigration statutes), 50 USC 3021 (National Security Council), and 5 CFR 2635.702 (“Use of public office for private gain”) have all been among our most-visited individual pages. Over the same three weeks of 2016, for example, there were no individual statutes or regs among the thirty most-viewed pages, while all five listed above cracked the top twenty this year.   

This is our starting point for an article meant to be the next installment in our occasional series spotlighting how traffic arrives to our site. In May of 2016, for example, we wrote about hyperlinks from news websites. In October, we put the spotlight on social media. So, what’s new this time?

Whether it’s presenting the statutes and regs, explaining legal concepts in Wex, or writing about the Supreme Court in our Bulletin Previews or over on our Oyez website, we always strive to be viewpoint neutral above all else. We want to be the place where folks of any political stripe–or with no stripes whatsoever–can come and read what the law actually says for themselves. And for the past few weeks, that is exactly what’s been happening.  

On these sections of primary law in particular, we’ve seen on balance a lower percentage of traffic coming to us from search engines and a higher percentage from social media and other web traffic. Sure, there’s the New York Times, the Washington Post, Business Insider, and US News in the normal spots as high-volume referrers of traffic. And we always see a lot of links (and traffic) from Slate.com and Huffingtonpost.com.  But, in those same materials during the same time, there is an awful lot of traffic from Fox News, The National Review, Theblaze.com, and Theconservativetreehouse.com. For folks who are unfamiliar with and unlikely to visit some of those sites, we’re also seeing traffic from Palmerreport.com, Occupydemocrats.com, and Thinkprogress.org.  

We see that and we think we’re doing something right. (A lot of things, actually, but we’re trying to stay humble.) People (A LOT of people)–regardless of how they think or how they vote–are reading about laws discussed on their favorite news websites and coming straight from there to our website to read those law for themselves. We think that’s good. We think that’s important. We love that you do, too, and that you support us in our efforts.   

Lastly, no discussion of recent hyperlinks is complete without noting that some of our Bulletin Preview students were particularly excited to see this snarky shout-out to us as a “super untrustworthy source” on GQ’s website. On one hand, the 181 referred users coming from that link would otherwise be insufficient to warrant mention in this article. On the other hand, we feel we should mention it because we always assumed our Dean would make Gentleman’s Quarterly before we did.  🙂

The LII served over 30 million unique visitors last year, but back in 1992 that number was a lot smaller. Paul Manson, now a researcher at Portland State University’s Center for Public Service, is one of a few who has read our publications from the very beginning. When he recently showed his appreciation by making a donation, we were curious to know more about what he does and why he has found the LII useful these 25 years. So we asked him!

Can you share with us a little bit about Portland State’s Center for Public Service, and what your role is there?

The Center for Public Service at Portland State University is a community oriented center that provides technical services and training to federal, tribal, state and local governments. It also has a strong international series of programs. The Center connects practitioners with the academic and research efforts of the Hatfield School of Government here at PSU. I am a researcher with the Center and work with partners in agencies and NGO’s to help through applied research. In my work I try to bridge the science and policy communities to help craft community tools to prepare for an uncertain future. My focus is on disaster and resilience research – though I also support our elections research and leadership development programs. Projects I have led include developing planning tools for coastal communities facing tsunami and earthquake risks.

What would you say influenced your interest in this kind of research?

I grew up in coastal communities in Alaska and the lasting effects of the 1964 Good Friday Earthquake were still visible. This was the largest earthquake the United States has experienced. Sunken forests, images of crumbled downtown buildings, and remnants of damaged homes remain today. I was always intrigued by the science behind these events, but I also enjoyed the policy side of the discussions. How do we interpret science and integrate it into decision making? How do we understand uncertainty or rare events when we face so many pressing needs in society? This brought me to my research at the nexus of science and policy – trying to span to two spheres.

What do you find most challenging about your work? Most rewarding?

Today our efforts to make our communities healthy and prosperous face so many challenges. We live in an era of economic uncertainties, challenges from climate change, and a growing distrust in government. With declining public revenues, increasing public costs, and many vulnerable communities – we face a concerning future. I am optimistic that we can rebuild faith in how communities can come together to become better together. But we face many political, cultural and economic challenges to get there.

Thank you for your recent donation to the LII. Could you tell us why you made that donation?

I should have given sooner considering how long I’ve been a reader! But I was motivated recently by the mix of political news and changes on the Supreme Court. If ever there was a need for independent resources to make sense of the legal and political landscape – it’s now!

When did you first learn about the LII, and in what ways has it been useful to you since then?

As a high school student in Alaska I became interested in the law – maybe I can blame all the television procedural dramas focused on law firms in the 1990’s. But a fellow student suggested I join him at an organization focused on helping students learn about the law and also help provide a valuable service of youth in my community. This organization was Anchorage Youth Court (AYC), and it provides a diversion for juvenile criminal defendants in Anchorage, Alaska. The youth court processes their cases from charging to trial to sentencing. All of the officers of the court are high school students, the juries are also students. AYC provides the training for high school students to be the lawyers and judges in the process. Through that I found LII to learn more about constitutional and criminal case law (and that was early internet years for all of us!) During high school I interned for the Alaska Court System and Alaska Attorney General’s office. I continued to actively rely on LII to be informed.

Ultimately I decided against a career in law directly – but now over 20 (!) years later I still read LII and appreciate the emails. I have since returned to academia in public administration and I still suggest colleagues and students follow LII to stay atop of the news.

Can you recall any specific situations where finding legal information at the LII had an important or interesting impact?

To be honest – the main value for me with LII is first the email bulletin and previews. I am able to peruse the issues and just be a little more aware. My main areas of interest are administrative law and environmental law. But I always scan through and often become curious about some other case that is in a new part of law for me. I’ve even been known to post previews on Facebook as a law nerd…

What legal information would you most like to see published that is currently unavailable or hard to find?

Because of the work and research I do, administrative rule making is my primary area of interest. I subscribe to the Federal Register table of contents email service, but there are many issues to follow and the rulemaking process can be done in fits and starts making monitoring harder. [editor’s note: stay tuned!]

If you were to tell others about the LII and why it’s worth supporting, what would you say?

It is remarkable that LII has been going for so long – other internet startups can’t claim such a long track record! But I recommend it to new students here at Portland State who come into political science or public administration. I think the recent news about the Oyez project coming to LII is exciting and also requires us to continue supporting the Institute. I hope others join me in making sure this part of our legal education and knowledge continues growing into the future!

It was a pleasure getting to know yet another incredible donor that helps contribute to what the LII is today. Not a subscriber? Stay informed with us!

The first words Brian Hughes ever said to me were, “Hello, I’m Brian Hughes”. He was starting work on a project I was doing with the Harvard Law School Library. He has greeted me that way every time I’ve seen him, for nearly two decades. I later found out from his wife that those are the first words she hears from him each and every morning.

The Harvard project was called LEDA, and Brian was to be its principal programmer. The idea was — in 1999 — to build an institutional repository for working papers and other gray literature, one that could operate across multiple institutions. Harvard’s law-library director had proposed it, I was a consultant on it, and Emory and Duke were on board to participate. It was pretty advanced stuff, and full of a million details of metadata, document conversion, foreign-language support, and so on. Brian was exactly the kind of careful soul needed to compensate for my more cowboy-ish approach, and it was a good collaboration. Unfortunately, it was also more than a decade ahead of its time.Though quite viable, it could not survive a storm of inattention from academic law libraries.

But Brian is quite a find, and we brought him here to work with us at the LII. For over 17 years, we have been glad we did. He built our first shell around the CFR, a raft of software to support donations, and a lot of the software that supports our publishing of Supreme Court opinions and the LII Bulletin. Linguist by training, librarian and programmer by experience, Brian is, at the end of the day, a craftsman.  

Like a lot of craftsmen, Brian has eccentricities. It is hard to know how many are real and how many are jokes that he is playing on the world. He insists that plants with variegated foliage have no reason to live. He claims an exaggerated fear of deer. He labels his spice jars with the Latin names of the plants. I once saw him order rice pudding in a restaurant, only to greet its arrival by saying, “But this has rice in it”. He has the finest collection of 20th century classical music I’ve ever seen, and he is a fierce advocate for women composers. He is one of only two people that I have ever heard use the word “hosie”, which is evidently some kind of weird New England slang for “call dibs on”. He knows more about trees than anybody.

Brian retired at the end of January. He was the second-longest-running employee at the LII after myself, and a big part of its soul. We are going to miss him, out among the trees, warily looking for deer.

The LII relies on financial support from individuals to fund a substantial portion of its applied research and publication. We try to follow up with everyone to find out why they gave, and for constructive feedback on our work. Every so often, one of those responses leads to a longer conversation. John Reed, Manager of Procurement and Compliance at Food Gatherers, a food bank and food rescue organization serving Washtenaw County, Michigan, relies on the LII for quick and easy review of operational regulations. When he showed his gratitude by making a donation in December, he mentioned who he worked for, and we couldn’t resist asking him a few questions.

Could you tell us a little bit about Food Gatherers and who it serves?

Food Gatherers is the food bank and food rescue organization serving Washtenaw County, Michigan.  Started in 1988, we were the first food rescue in Michigan and also the first hunger relief organization in the nation to be founded by a for-profit business, Zingerman’s Deli.  We’ve received Charity Navigator’s 4-star rating for twelve consecutive years, placing us in their top 1% of all rated charities nationwide.

In addition to providing simple hunger relief, we strive to connect the dots between hunger and health by providing healthy food options for our neighbors in need.  Nearly 40% of all the food we distribute is fresh produce, and we have met Feeding America’s Foods to Encourage metric with 71% of our distributed food so far this fiscal year.

We work with a network of about 150 non-profit distribution programs across Washtenaw County, including soup kitchens, emergency pantries, meal assistance for seniors and children in need, and organizations whose primary function isn’t hunger relief but who also provide food and can use help with their food budgets in order to focus their own resources on their missions (e.g., substance abuse recovery programs, shelters and programs for homeless or at-risk youth, free health clinics)

What is your role in the organization?

My title is Manager of Procurement and Compliance, which includes specifically:

  • purchasing food to supplement the donations that come in (food donor relations are handled by someone else) so that we have a consistent mix of healthy food options for our network to access
  • purchase supplies and equipment needed for operations
  • manage written programs and training activities related to operational regulatory compliance (e.g., FDA, DOT, OSHA, etc.) – I’m not responsible for compliance with financial regulations (e.g., IRS)
  • act as the point of contact for operational regulatory inspections and audits
  • manage the maintenance of our facility and the leasing of our fleet of 7 refrigerated trucks
  • manage the relationship with our IT services provider

Also, since I have the second-longest tenure on Food Gatherers’ staff at 14 years (and because I have a tendency to stick my nose in everyone’s business anyway), I sit on multiple interdepartmental committees to help provide historical context and high-level views of emerging and ongoing issues.

How did you get into procurement and compliance?

I have worn many different hats at Food Gatherers over the years: driver, warehouse assistant, inventory control, operations manager.  My current role was designed to fill gaps in other staff roles that match my skills.  I tend to be a bit of a “utility player”. My skills and knowledge have been mostly self-taught and on-the-job.

It must take a lot of hands to move 6.4 million pounds of food each year. What kinds of partners does Food Gatherers work with, and how do you evaluate and manage the supply chain?

Indeed, our operation has a lot of moving parts.  We receive food from dozens of retail donors (supermarkets, etc.) on daily pickup routes, hundreds of food drives throughout the year, thousands of individual walk-in gifts, a dozen or so purchasing vendors, and the USDA via The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP).  We also receive food as a benefit of our membership in the Food Bank Council of Michigan and Feeding America, the national network of food banks.  Once received, each donated item is inspected here in our warehouse for quality and food safety by staff or trained volunteers.

Our staff then combines the food resources described above (donated, purchased, and USDA) to fulfill the distribution needs of our individual partner agencies – relying on a combination of push-and-pull strategies: agencies can choose some items themselves (pull), and we fill out the rest from whatever we have on-hand (push).  Many agencies receive free delivery service by our paid staff, while smaller partners usually come to our warehouse to pick up their orders.

Our staffing needs are met with 30 full-time paid employees and more than 7,000 volunteers annually (individuals, families, corporate groups, church/school/civic groups, etc.).

What are the biggest legal and regulatory compliance challenges facing Food Gatherers?

Food Safety probably presents the greatest challenge to our work.  While internal policies and procedures work fairly well to meet most regulations, keeping food safe relies heavily on forces beyond our immediate control – food donors handling food appropriately before we pick it up; partner agencies handling it correctly once they receive it from us.  We work continuously to proactively manage and document our safe food handling practices and to provide training and feedback to our donors and agencies to make sure the food resources ultimately making it into the hands of our needy neighbors are safe and wholesome.

Do you have any specific, interesting compliance situations that you’ve anticipated or resolved?

There tends to be a misconception in the community that since we are a food bank, food safety regulations don’t apply to us.  Of course, the truth is that we are held to the same standards as any food business and in many cases even stricter regulations than most because the people we serve are considered “vulnerable populations” within the FDA regulations.

How has the Legal Information Institute (LII) helped you do your job?

The information at the LII tends to be more easily searchable and navigable than other sources of the same information, so it saves me time in researching any particular topic.

You made a donation to the LII. Could you tell us why?

Working for a non-profit myself, I recognize the need to financially support those institutions I value.  It was just a small gift amount, but I see myself being a regular supporter in the future as long as I continue to find value in what the LII has to offer.

At the LII, we believe that everyone should be able to read and understand the laws that govern them, without cost. That’s fairly analogous to the belief at Food Gatherers that “in a land of plenty, no one should go hungry.” Food Gatherers exists to alleviate hunger and its causes in Washtenaw County; what could the LII learn from that example to alleviate ignorance of legal information and its causes?

I’m not familiar with everything that the LII does (so maybe you already do some of these things), but off the top of my head, here are a few ideas:

  • Encourage rule-making bodies to use language that leans toward plain-English whenever possible
  • Provide resources to explain the differences between, key characteristics of, and interactions between the various primary sources of law
  • Develop portals for specific industries to help newbies learn all the stuff they didn’t know they didn’t know about their business – e.g., when I first started tackling regulatory compliance here at the food bank, I had no idea that having big lead-acid batteries in our forklifts could require registration and regular reporting to government agencies; I still occasionally run into smaller food banks or pantries who have no idea that their truck drivers are likely subject to DOT regulations

Food Gatherers uses a carrot in its logo because “it’s nutritious, practical and has deep roots.” What would you say could be the LII’s equivalence of a carrot?

Perhaps an open book?

I wish I could say that it seems like only yesterday… but it’s been a quarter-century.  We started the LII in 1992, just Peter Martin and I,  and, a little later, a student employee who became our first full-time sysadmin. There were 30 web servers in the world then, and I got excited when we got more than 100 page views in a day.  All those numbers have increased a lot since then — there are nine of us, and we serve as many as half a million pages on any weekday.   We’ve come quite a distance, and we’ve accomplished a lot along the way

During the coming year, we’ll be doing a few special things to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the LII.  We’re not extravagant — these will be low-key events, but we think you’ll like them.  The longest-lasting and most interesting will be the dedication of our popular VoxPopuLII blog to a series of articles by 25 leading thinkers and doers in the field of legal information — a collection of academics, publishers, scientists, librarians, and government officials who collectively represent the history of the field from then until now.  The series — published on an irregular schedule averaging twice a month — is called “25 for 25”.   We hope you’ll enjoy it.  I’ve kicked off the series with a first article here.

A short but unusual message appeared in my email a few weeks ago. It ended: “Veel succes met het onderzoek.”

This wasn’t a case of someone typing too quickly on his phone. It was Dutch. And the story of why I found myself cutting and pasting it into Google Translate is worth re-telling.

It begins just after Thanksgiving, when LII Director Tom Bruce and I took a meeting with two members of the Board of Directors of the Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial Email, or CAUCE for short. CAUCE is an internet end-user advocacy group. You can read more about them here. From time to time CAUCE funds Cornell law students to research and write about laws and regulations pertaining to commercial email and privacy both in the United States and abroad. We call this collection the Inbox Project, and it is its own little neighborhood within Wex.  

CAUCE asked us to explore what might be written about regulations in the European Union since our last update in 2013. My first task was to find a student. As it so happened, we had several working for us in various capacities, including a couple of former LLM students who remain in the US on their student visas performing Optional Practical Training (OPT). With finals and then holidays approaching, it made more sense to use one of them than a current JD student.

I chose a young woman named Rachel for this project, as her resume showed some prior familiarity with the issues. Her first task was simple:  to read the 2013 article, ensure the hyperlinks were still valid, and find new hyperlinks for any that weren’t. She found and updated about a half-dozen defunct hyperlinks that same day, and so it was time to expand the assignment.

Meanwhile, Tom had sent an email to a number of his European colleagues seeking experts who might provide us with research leads. One responded right away, the Dean of the PPLE College at Universiteit Van Amsterdam, Dr. Radboud Winkels.  

I asked Rachel to contact Dr. Winkels to follow up, and to copy me. She did.  In Dutch.  By sheer coincidence, she is Dutch and has two degrees from the University of Groningen in the Netherlands. (The last line of his response to her begins this article.)  

And it’s moments like that when it’s easy to see how the expansiveness of the internet, Cornell, and the LII all complement each other. Sitting in tiny Ithaca, New York, by sheer coincidence we found a Dutch law student who could correspond with a Dutch academic in their native language to discuss European email privacy regulations. That student will turn those conversations into research, and that research into content for the website. And we’ll publish that content for everyone to read, free of charge.

In English.  🙂

 

johnsflagFrom time to time, we travel to Washington DC to meet with friends, supporters, and collaborators.  Last month, Sara, Craig and I visited collaborators at 18F (the Federal team dedicated to improving government websites), the National Archives (our collaborators on the Oyez project), the Justice Department, and the House of Representatives, and some of you,  as well as with friends and helpers among the Cornell Law School’s many alumni who work in the city.   As always, we got a ton of useful suggestions about things we can do to help people find and understand the law — either new things, or things we already do that can be improved.  And it seems that the subject of law and cybersecurity is very much on everyone’s mind — that was good news, as we are planning a few special events on that theme for our 25th-year celebration in 2017.

For me, the centerpiece of the trip was a day spent at the Fourth International Conference on Legislation and Law Reform, held at the World Bank’s headquarters.  I had the honor of being the first person to speak to that group about use of online legislation by the general public.  Non-lawyers are now a majority of the users of every web site that publishes legislation (at least, of the ones that measure such things), and those who draft and publish law are beginning to take note.  For example, legislation.gov.uk and the UK Office of Parliamentary Counsel have created the “Good Law” project to make legal language easier to understand, and here at the LII we’ve done a joint study with researchers at the Australian National University to study readability of legislation.   The most gratifying part of the experience for me was that the conference organizers — who thought the topic experimental when it was proposed — are now planning future sessions on making legislation more understandable for the public.

The Puzzler

I thought it might be fun to challenge our readers with a puzzle I posed for the audience at the conference.  After all, what else do you have to think about during the holiday season?  

Here is the current, valid version of 4 USC 1:

The flag of the United States shall be thirteen horizontal stripes, alternate red and white; and the union of the flag shall be forty-eight stars, white in a blue field.

That’s right. 48 stars, in the most current version of the law.  We get several e-mails each year loudly telling us just how dumb lawyers must be if they don’t know there are 50 states in the US — and they sort of have a point. There’s nothing confusing or unclear about that language — but it creates an enormous amount of confusion.

The first person to write to me with a convincing explanation of how this can possibly be good current law wins a shout-out in the next newsletter and the eternal gratitude of any number of teachers of legal research who will have a lot of fun using this in class.  Extra credit if you manage to figure out what happened to Alaska… and why someone thought all this confusion was necessary in the first place.

logoBack in June we announced our involvement in taking over control of the popular Supreme Court audio website Oyez.  We were a logical choice for Oyez because our missions of public access to the law aligned perfectly, and our affiliation with Cornell will provide both stability and notoriety for Oyez.  That June article ended with a promise to update you when we had more to  report.  Happily, that time has come.

As of December 15th, we officially became co-owners of the Oyez.org domain and website.  Though the paperwork is just now getting wrapped up, we at the LII and our partners at Justia have been operating Oyez for several months.  We spent the summer working with Oyez’s two full-time employees (as well as Professor Goldman himself, of course) to make sure we understood all the data sources, processes, and related workflows so that we could provide uninterrupted coverage of the Court when oral arguments began again in October.

One big decision we had to face early in that process was who would do the work creating the case pages for each case in the new term.  Rather than add something new on short notice for Supreme Court Bulletin students (though the substantive overlap is obvious), we approached some of the returning students at Chicago-Kent who had done the work during the previous term.  They were all thrilled to remain on the Oyez team (and to continue to get the paychecks)!    So, they’ve been busily and happily summarizing the facts of each new case when the Court grants cert and the opinions in those cases as they’ve already begun to trickle in.  If you’d like to help offset our costs in paying them to provide this public good, please consider donating.  

LII Staffer Craig Newton also recently met with employees of the National Archive in suburban Washington DC to discuss Oyez.  The Archive has been supplying audio to Oyez for several years, and this was our chance to introduce ourselves along with Justia, explain our mission, and assure them that we had every intention to keep the audio collection free and open to all.  (We learned that they are big fans of Oyez, as “something like 95%” of all people requesting Supreme Court audio from the government are satisfied when directed to the Oyez website).  

While we continue to exercise some new muscles as we work through the Court’s current term, the LII and our partners at Justia already have an eye toward improvements.  We’ll be re-branding the Oyez website with our own logos and updating the “About” pages to reflect the new management structure, expanding the selection of available blogs, transitioning the authoring of case-related content to our own students, and possibly seeking out sponsors who wish to attach their name to the Oyez project.

We hope in another six months we will have more news to share about this exciting project.

headshotKimball Bighorse chose Stanford University because its well-known Native American program draws students from many tribes.

However, he didn’t study Native Americans; he studied Symbolic Systems. That includes, he explained, “philosophic questions, natural language, and cognitive psychology.” And computers. Bighorse is now a web developer for the LII.

But his Native roots remain strong. His father is Navajo, his mother Cayuga, and he’s the oldest of four children. Bighorse and his siblings grew up in Utah, Santa Cruz California, and Albuquerque. His mother taught elementary school; his father taught high school—including computer classes.

“Our mother always told us where we were from, so it’s always been our aspiration to return here,” Bighorse said. That’s because many Native tribes are matrilineal. “Here” is the area surrounding Cayuga Lake, which once belonged to the Cayuga tribe, part of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Confederacy. Two of his siblings also live in the area. His brother works for a Cayuga Nation enterprise, and one sister lives in Seneca Falls. (His oldest sister lives in Hawaii.)

Not only is Ithaca the center of his Native roots; it feels comfortable in other ways. “Being here reminds me of Berkeley. It’s a mini-Berkeley.”

“I’m here because I want to be here,” Bighorse added. “It’s a critical time for the tribe. It’s the first time we’ve needed to govern ourselves; there was always some other government. I’m a crazy activist,” he adds calmly. Bighorse played football in high school and still looks the part—which is not that of a crazy activist.

He did, however make a trip to Standing Rock, the weekend of December 3rd and 4th. “When we got out there, things were getting heated,” he said. “The camp was pretty well organized. There were a lot of different interests there, environmental activists, tribal people. The veterans were just coming in. At sundown we went up on Facebook Hill, where you could see everything; the security lights, the campfires.” (“Facebook Hill” is where the media camp was, because there’s no phone service down below.) Bighorse was there when the Army Corps of Engineers announced that they would not approve an easement to allow the proposed Dakota Access Pipeline to cross under Lake Oahe. “We were all celebrating. It was a great moment.”

Before moving back to Cayuga territory, Bighorse worked for several Silicon-Valley startups. “My first job was for a company that recruited for hedge fund and private equity jobs. We built and maintained a technology platform to track candidates’ applications by skill set, all the way through the interview and hiring process. I did everything, including fixing problems in the middle of the night. It was a great introduction to Internet work.”

The founder of a competitor startup left to create an e-commerce company, and Bighorse joined him. “He built an audience, I built the tech. I didn’t get paid; I was part-owner of the company. We worked out of my co-founder’s bedroom. Building something from scratch was a great experience.”

Then Bighorse got married, and he said, “I needed a more stable lifestyle.” He also wanted to move back to his Cayuga Nation roots. His wife, a nurse from the state of Washington, takes care of what he calls his “two-and-a-half children:” a three-year-old girl, a two-year-old boy, and a new one expected in April. “I try and give her a break whenever I can,” he said.

Once his family was settled in Ithaca, he worked for a travel startup. “We had developers in Thailand, San Francisco, Washington D.C., and the Ukraine, all in different time zones. We had a lot of meetings at 11 p.m.” But as a father, such long hours were difficult.

Last year, he joined the LII. “If you’re doing Internet work anywhere in this area, the LII has industrial strength traffic,” he said. “It dwarfs all other Cornell Internet traffic.” Unlike his startup experience, he explained, the LII has a “legacy system.” That means the technical underpinning has been around for some time. After all, the LII was a startup back in 1992.

Because the LII does a lot with a small staff, his startup experience is helpful. “I’m used to limited resources and time, and having to prioritize,” Bighorse said. We discuss the iterative process that both writers and software engineers use. “Coding is writing,” Bighorse said. “I think of it as literature. You create a strong architecture, then you get it to work, then you do new and better iterations.”

The LII, and the Law School, offer other opportunities for Bighorse. Last fall, John Dossett, the General Counsel to the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), was in residence at Cornell Law School. “He visited us in our office,” said Bighorse. “Then he gave a talk. I had lunch with him afterwards. It was great to hear from him about the law in general, and what his needs are.”

Bighorse enjoys his work with the LII. “It’s fun to re-invent something that’s been around. In a startup, you build from scratch, but there’s no one to use it. But tons of people use the LII,” said Bighorse. “My task is to reinvent it and make it better. When it started, it was the only way to read law online, but that’s no longer true. What problems aren’t we solving? What can the LII do to meet users’ needs? That’s the charge I see myself playing a role in.”

 

wagnerFrank Wagner, the longest-serving and most prolific Reporter of Decisions for the Supreme Court of the United States, passed away unexpectedly on August 28.  He was a good friend to the LII.  

The first time I met Frank he scared the hell out of me. Peter Martin and I were meeting with the Supreme Court’s Director of Data Services to talk a bit about what we were doing with Supreme Court materials at Cornell.  At that point, sometime in 1996,  the Court did not yet have a web site; we were urging them to add digital watermarks to the electronic copies of the decisions they were distributing via Project Hermes.  We ended up meeting with Frank.  In a tone that I suspect he had perfected solely to freeze the blood of unwary clerks, he said, “If the public wishes an official version, they may refer to the bound edition.”  And that, it seemed, was that.

Except that it wasn’t.  Frank went on to guide the Court’s publication process into the online era, as part of the team that built the Court’s official website.  And nobody was more concerned than he was about public access to — and understanding of — the Court’s work.  I met him the second time at the Association of Reporters of Judicial Decisions in New York a few years later.  He had just given a talk in which referred to the work of the Reporter of Decisions as “an exercise in serial nitpickery”, a happy phrase coined by an earlier Reporter.  In the break after his talk, he came up to me and said, “I bet you could tell me what the ratio is between the number of people who read the syllabi in a case and the number who read the majority opinion”.  It so happened I could — it was, and is, about 7 to 1 in favor of the syllabus.   Apparently there was a difference of opinion between two of the Justices as to the value of the syllabi.  Frank wanted to bring facts to the argument.  Ever discreet, it was three years or more before I could wheedle him into telling me which two Justices were involved (out of respect for Frank’s discretion, I’m going to keep that to myself).  He was, more than anything, concerned that the public be able to understand what the Court had said, and he saw the syllabi as the best official vehicle for that.  And, though he never really said much about it, Frank was fiercely proud of that work — of its importance and of its precision.

We had many encounters after that; I remember after one lunch in DC telling my wife that I had just spent 90 minutes with the biggest grammar geek on the planet; another time, over a grilled cheese sandwich in the Court cafeteria, Frank told me about the night that Bush v. Gore came down, about the suspense and the hurry and the frantic cite-checking. The way he told it, it was as if they’d done the edit with bullets flying over their heads.  It was a great story.   Much later, I found that we shared a love of science fiction and some of its stranger byways.

When Frank retired, I had the good sense to ask him if he’d work with us and our students on the Supreme Court Bulletin and he had the bad judgement to accept.   He was a tremendous resource for the students and a terrific mentor.   He worked directly with the students whose work was scheduled to appear in the Federal Lawyer magazine, ensuring that we always put our proverbial best foot forward in that publication.  More importantly, though, because we try to ensure that every team of students has a chance to appear in that magazine, it meant that every team would also get the chance to work with Frank.  Frank frequently attended the orientation for our new Bulletin associates each August, and the Q & A he held was full of the great stories and even better advice that those of us who knew him had come to expect.  

Frank once said of his job that “I do not kid myself that it has brought me even 15 minutes of fame in the wider world.”  In our part of the world, where saying things clearly and cleanly is important, he was a giant.

I will miss him.

-t.