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f/k/a archives . . . real opinions & real haiku

April 20, 2004

The Right to Information Literacy in the Justice System

Filed under: pre-06-2006 — David Giacalone @ 10:11 pm

computer neg  In an important position paper released on April 14, 2004, entitled Supporting Information Literacy (draft), the Washington State Access to Justice Board asserts that “Access to justice requires that all people must be able to recognize when they have a legal information need and must be able to locate, evaluate, and effectively use that information.  This skill is called “Information Literacy.” 

  • The Paper declares that “The justice system has the dual responsibility of offering or otherwise assuring availability of both physical access (computer literacy) and intellectual access (information literacy) to legal information” and that the justice system must design programs to meet both responsibilities.”

This must-read 7-page document is loaded with seminal ideas.  Here are a few concepts that seem most important for assuring that all Americans have ready access to legal information and services — and that all members of the judicial and legal communities, and all information experts, form a partnership to achieve the goal of computer and informational literacy:

  1. “In order for everyone to have full access and use of the justice system, the justice system must further examine the nature of legal information that may be sought, the nature and demographics of the people wanting to access and use it, and not only provide it in the language read or spoken by the user, but in a manner relevant and understandable to the user. 
  2.  Efforts to create better web portals, sites, and tutorials of legal information are key to proactive legal information dissemination.  
  3. !key 2  When new legal information is created, it must be composed and disseminated using and accommodating the perspective of the first-time, inexperienced or unskilled user.

  4. The Justice System should foster the development of information literacy skills for everyone, especially to those who may be vulnerable or are on the wrong side of the digital divide.

  5. Partnerships must be formed with information providers such as librarians and legal clinics that assist individuals in sifting through materials, deciding which are most relevant and useful, and determining options and next steps. Public libraries and law libraries are especially important leaders in this area.

  6. Libraries and other information providers and legal service providers must continue to play a critical role in teaching computer and information literacy skills, and should be supported in their efforts to do so.

check red Finally, there is one recommendation the legal community should especially heed:  

“Because legal information is a very specific piece of the larger universe of government information, the legal community is obligated to identify a baseline necessary for understanding and using legal information.  A dialogue between past, current and potential legal consumers, individuals who seek or may seek legal information, and the justice system is needed to determine baseline legal information literacy skills that are necessary to create true legal literacy standards.” 

[Thanks to for pointing to this Paper.]


Best wishes & thanks to cyber-friend and colleague, B. Janell GrenierEsq, who is celebrating her first anniversary bringing us the benefit of BenefitsBlog!!

Lawyers Liable for Continuing a Bad Case

Filed under: pre-06-2006 — David Giacalone @ 9:21 pm

just say no  It seems obvious to me, but, the California Supreme Court finally got around yesterday to declaring that “an attorney may be held liable for malicious prosecution when he commences a lawsuit properly but then continues to prosecute it after learning it is not supported by probable cause.” See Zamos v. Stroud, 04-19-04 (New York Lawyer, Lawyers Can Be Sued Over Bad Cases, 02-20-04).  George Wallace covered the case at length yesterday at Declarations & Exclusions

  • Personal War Story: Circa 1990, here in the NY Capital Area, I won a motion for sanctions against a personal injury defendant for trying to shift blame in an auto accident to a motorist who was stopped 200 feet behind the struck car.  The lawyers continued the claims for four years after their client had pled guilty to vehicular manslaughter (caused, after he had downed approximately 14 beers and then drove a U-Haul truck over a hill, across to the opposite lane, striking a disabled auto pulled off on the shoulder, killing two and badly injuring a third victim).  Soon after winning almost $20,000 in sanctions for frivolousness, I was congratulated on the victory by a prominent local plaintiff’s personal injury lawyer, who was not connected to the case.  However, he shook his head and added that it was a bad result — bad policy to sanction lawyers for not withrawing a claim after they find there is no basis in fact or law for the allegation.   I bet my favorite p/i lawyer, Evan Schaeffer would disagree, good guy that he is.

yabut v. ellipses (why prof. yabut can’t . . . retire)

Filed under: pre-06-2006 — David Giacalone @ 11:59 am

prof yabut small I was born a yabut, and it looks like I’m going to die one.  There’s just too much to do to retire any time soon.  Lately, ellipses are the problem — or, more precisely, the misuse of ellipses, omission of ellipses, and the use of deceptively elliptic speech.

  • I was reminded to write on this topic yesterday, when I saw Judge Kevin S. Burke’s statement: “[T]oo often the current method of policy disagreement is to take the other guy’s idea, mischaracterize it and announce your profound disagreement and outrage.” And, I knew it was in the stars this morning to post on it, when the Quote of the Day at May It Please the Court was Mark Twain’s remark “Get your facts first, then you can distort them as much as you please.”

dotkeyn So, listen up, quote-benders and word-weasels:  An ellipsis (according to the American Heritage Dictionary) is “1a. The omission of a word or phrase necessary for a complete syntactical construction but not necessary for understanding. b. An example of such omission.”    Ellipses are not an ethical way to justify a quote that has been taken out of context or stripped of important information or modifiers.  Using an ellipsis allows the skeptical (that is, wise) reader to check up on you.  As Ronald Reagan aptly quipped about the Soviet Union, “Trust, but verify.”

  • Am I being too cynical?  The Curmudgeon Online says, quoting F. W. Nietzsche, “Joyous Distrust is a sign of health. Everything absolute belongs to pathology.”
While I abhor the misuse of ellipses, I detest even more the failure to use them when needed.   To wit, when one makes an omission from a quote, one is supposed to indicate such, by means of “a mark or series of marks” that makes clear an ellipsis has been made.  This is not difficult stuff, but you sure would think so from the way a lot of lawyers — and even just plain folk — argue or discuss issues and respond to the statements of others.
  • Again, am I being too cynical?  The Curmudgeon Online says, quoting Robert Benchley, “The surest way to make a monkey of a man is to quote him.”

dotkeyg Just when did the first lawyer use an ellipsis to show he or she had omitted part of a quote?  Problably, right after he was held in contempt of court for a truncated quote that misled the judge.  Almost immediately, I am sure, the “tactical” advantages of ellipses became apparent to the profession.

Another highly annoying habit that is indefinitely postponing the retirement of Prof Yabut is the use of the elliptic form of speech in general — that is, using a deliberately sparse or obscure style or expression in order to mislead.  That often means leaving out important modifiers from one’s own speech or taking them out of another’s when disagreeing.  Admen, politicians, and lawyers do a lot of this, and lately I’ve seen it in the weblogiverse far too often.

So, here are some representative examples from the “Yeah, but” Man . .  dotKeyS:

  • Don’t say “it works” when you mean “it might work” or “I hope it works,” or “it has been known to work.”
    • And, when your opponent says “it might not work very often,” or “there’s no proof it works,” don’t answer as if he said “it never can work.”
  • When someone says “X is more likely to do Y,” don’t go into a snit and respond as if the quote was “X is likely to do Y.”
  • Similarly, if a humble editor says “you haven’t shown the connection between a and b,” don’t accuse him of saying “there is no connection between a and b”, and please don’t just keep repeating that the connection exists.
  • Adverbs and adjectives are very important words — they make lots of statements more honest and truthful, so use them when appropriate.  On the other hand omitting them from a quote or a paraphrase can often be deceptive when trying to counter an argument.

This campaign is not likely to end any time soon.  As Fyodor M. Dostoyevtsky noted, “Lying to ourselves is more deeply ingrained than lying to others.”  Nor, as Plato knew, is it a pleasant task: “They deem him their worst enemy who tells them the truth.”  Thus, the Professor has quite a few more semesters ahead of him.

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