Friday, January 28, 2005

Opportunity for Feedback on Proposed Court Rule

As reported on, a proposed new rule in the Federal Courts would make electronic filing mandatory. You can submit written comments on this proposed rule until Feb 15 by visiting the Federal Courts Rulemaking website.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

New DCLRC Website Launches!

A brand-new, updated website has been launched for the Dane Co Legal Resource Center, with this new address: so please take a look and update your bookmarks!

Many, many thanks to Elaine Sharp at the State Law Library for doing the legwork on programming and formatting the site.

WisTAF Petition and Decision

Update 3/24: The decision (2005 WI 35) is now available online.

Though it's not news, here are a couple takes on a recent Wis. Supreme Ct. decision requiring attorneys to pay into a fund to help fund legal services for the poor.

Link from the Garvey Blog by Ed Garvey
Link from the State Bar News Center
Link to WisTAF Petition
Link to interesting article that says Illinois ranks dead last among the 10 most populous states in spending on legal aid for the poor.

Top Consumer Complaints in Wisconsin

From the Dept of Ag, Trad, & Consumer Protection's website:
In Wisconsin there are more than 200, 000 consumer complaints each year. Here are the top complaints from 2004:

1. Violations of the No-Call law. This topped the list last year as well.

2: The telecommunications industry

3: Landlord/tenant complaints.

4: Home improvement's bad contractors.

5: Travel and tourism ... especially bogus offers for cheap vacations.

This story is also on the Channel 3 (WISC) website.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Internet Tip 11

Welcome to the next issue of the DCLRC E-Newsletter "Internet Tips"! There are three sections to this email: a beginner's tip, an advanced tip, and a useful internet link. Enjoy!

Beginner's Tip: § Symbol Shortcut
There is an easy way to insert the section symbol (§) into your documents. Regardless of whether you are using Word or WordPerfect, this little trick works. Simply hold down the ALT key and then type the numbers "2" and then "1" in that order using the number pad on the righthand side of your keyboard. (Make sure the number lock key isn't on when you do this or it won't work!)

Advanced Tip: Google Raises Search Term Word Limit
For more information, see the ResearchBuzz article at:

Useful Internet Link: DCLRCBlawg!
The DCLRC Blawg keeps you informed about news in the Dane County Courts and legal world, as well as tips to help you with your own local legal research. If you're reading this, you've found the DCLRCBlawg! Make sure to either check it often, or sign up to get notifications of new content and postings.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Legal Research Tip 11: Think Free

Welcome to the next issue of the DCLRC E-Newsletter "Legal Research Tips"! You can view back issues of these tips through other posts in this blawg. Enjoy!

Legal Research Tip 11: Think Free!
Another blawg publishes legal research tips and their most recent tip is to "Think small" so that you start with a narrow focus that produces the most cost-effective research. My response to that is to "Think Free" by starting your research with resources that are free on the Internet, rather than starting with Westlaw or Lexis. While the fee-based resources are a good starting place for those already familiar with database searching techniques, the novice legal researcher (and those on a tight budget!) will not appreciate racking up charges while learning the specifics of the database. Instead, if your search is for a specific case, statute, or code, why not investigate the free resources that may be available first? Better yet, start with the website of your local law library, or call your local law librarian, to find out where to find free legal resources on the Internet. If what you're after isn't online for free, your law library can help direct your search using library or fee-based resources.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

What Not to Expect in Jury Duty

Judge Stuart Schwartz offers insight to jurors about serving jury duty in Dane County. Link is from the "Isthmus" newspaper.

Links to info on Inmate Suicide

Here's information on the suicide of a triple-murder suspect being held in the Dane County jail:
1. Press Release from Sheriff's Dept
2. Article from the Capital Times
3. Article from the WI State Journal
4. Article on Jail Suicide Prevention & Liability from Nat'l Center on Institutions and Alternatives

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Legal Research Tip 10: The Basics of Filing a Court Action

These are the back issues of the e-newsletter Legal Research Tips from 2004. Since these tips are a little longer, each back issue will be published separately. Starting in 2005, all issues will be published here and no longer distributed via email.

Legal Research Tip 10: The Basics of Filing a Court Action
One of the common questions we receive in the library is about how to begin a court action. Here are some fundamental questions we will ask you in order to direct you to the most relevant and helpful resources. (This information is designed for use by pro se (self-represented) litigants.)

1. What do you want to do, or, What goal are you trying to achieve?
For example, do you want to file for divorce, change a custody order, or start a paternity action? Or maybe you're trying to collect money from someone? The answers to these questions determine the type of court that will hear your case and the correct procedures or forms that will assist in your goal.

2. Will you need help with your case?
For example, do you need help filling out forms or understanding all of the aspects or issues in your case? Or maybe your case is quite complicated and it would be in your best interests to retain an attorney? If so, we can refer you to assistance programs in the courthouse or agencies in the community who offer legal help, some for little or no cost.

3. Three Questions from
Only you can decide whether or not to pursue a legal or court action. Library staff will not advise or interpret the law for your specific situation. Nolo is a company that strives to help nonlawyers understand legal resources and situations. Here are three questions they suggest you ask yourself when considering whether to file a lawsuit:
A - Do I have a good case?
B - Is there no other way to achieve my goal (for example, by proposing a compromise settlement or going to mediation)?
C - Assuming a lawsuit is my best or only option, can I collect if I win?
If the answer to any of these questions is no, you probably won't want to sue.(These questions are discussed in detail at )

Legal Research Tip 9: Voter Resources

These are the back issues of the e-newsletter Legal Research Tips from 2004. Since these tips are a little longer, each back issue will be published separately. Starting in 2005, all issues will be published here and no longer distributed via email.

Legal Research Tip 9: Voter Resources
The season is once again upon us when our thoughts turn to falling leaves, pumpkins, and politicians. Election Day is fast approaching - are you ready to cast your vote November 2nd?

How Do I Vote?
To vote in Wisconsin, you must be registered. However, you may register at your polling place on election day, but be sure to bring proper identification with proof of residence.

For more information, see Wisconsin Vote at
or the City of Madison Election Information at

Voters living in the City of Madison can find out where to vote at .
Dane County residents living outside of Madison should visit

If you know you will be unable to make it to the polls on November 2nd, you may apply for an absentee ballot from your municipal clerk. Information and applications are available at the City of Madison Election Information site

For Whom Can I Vote?
To find out which candidates will be appearing on your ballot this election day, check out the Wisconsin Vote Candidates page at . By entering your address, you can learn to which districts you belong and view a list of candidates for each race.

For Whom Should I Vote?
There are many web sites which contain information on the candidates. Below are several sites which claim to provide non-partisan information:

C-SPAN Campaign 2000 at contains a wealth of information on national and state races including video footage.

CNN Inside Politics at provides several resources and opinions about the election and candidates.

Madison City Channel Know Your Candidate has plenty of information about the local candidates running for election.

League of Women Voters: Dane County "Candidates' Answers" provides information and responses to questions posed to each candidate as well as voter information.

Legal Research Tip 8: Updating the Law

These are the back issues of the e-newsletter Legal Research Tips from 2004. Since these tips are a little longer, each back issue will be published separately. Starting in 2005, all issues will be published here and no longer distributed via email.

Legal Research Tip 8: Updating The Law
How can you tell that the law you're reading is the most current version? Here's a way to check:

Updating the Statutes
When each biennial legislative session ends, the Revisor of Statutes Bureau codifies (takes all the Acts and figures out where each one fits in the statutes) and publishes a new edition of the official statutes, currently a 5-volume set. These printed volumes are the official edition. The changes to the statutes that occur before the next edition is published will be reflected in the unofficial version, available online. During a legislative session, changes can be tracked using the "List of Statute Sections Affected by Acts" which lists all the statute sections that have been changed in some way (created, repealed, renumbered, amended) by session laws. Just match the statute section you're researching with the section from the list to see if later legislation has amended your statute. Online, you can do this by clicking on the Sections Affected year that you need to

Updating Administrative Codes
As administrative codes and rules get amended, individual pages are replaced in the official version. This means that the current official version should always be available. Online, you can check them here: Should you need to see a previous edition...that's when it gets tricky. You'll need to search for replaced pages. Some are online, otherwise they're available in print at the WI State Law Library or the Revisor's of Statutes Bureau.

Updating Caselaw
Sometimes cases get overturned as laws change or as other courts rule differently for various reasons. In order to make sure you are still reading up-to-date "good" law, certain publishers have resources exactly for that purpose. LexisNexis has a product called "Shepards Citations" both in print and on the web. Similar to updating statutes, you are able to look up a case citation and see other cases (citations only) that have mentioned the case you're updating and whether it was reversed or overruled, followed or affirmed. In addition to cases, Shepards can also provide updates to certain court rules or jury instructions and other legal resources. Usually, Shepards in print are divided by state or publication (a separate Wisconsin Case Citations for example). Online, you can access Shepards products for a fee at either or

Similarly, has a product called KeyCite. For a fee, you can type in a citation and view (and link to) the history and treatment of the case you're researching in other courts. You can also keycite other legal resources, such as statutes and rules and codes.

Updating Other Legal Resources
Check in the back of the legal resource. There might be a "pocket part" stuck into the back cover that provides newer information that the volume itself. Also check around the area of the book on the shelf.

Legal Research Tip 7: Specific Resources for Non-lawyers

These are the back issues of the e-newsletter Legal Research Tips from 2004. Since these tips are a little longer, each back issue will be published separately. Starting in 2005, all issues will be published here and no longer distributed via email.

Legal Research Tip 7: Specifc Resources for Non-lawyers
This month's tip will focus on identifying specific resources developed especially for nonlawyers, or those who have little or no training or experience with legal concepts or resources. We'll focus on both national and local resources to adequately cover the major publications out there. Though this list is not exhaustive, this tip is a little longer than usual so that I may adequately cover this topic.

Nolo & Sphinx
In the world of legal publishing, there are two biggies: Westlaw and Lexis. Similarly, in the area of publishing legal resources for the public, there are two biggies: Nolo and Sphinx.

Nolo Press (
Nolo’s mission is to make the legal system work for everyone-not just lawyers. They have dedicated their products to be in a language understandable by those without a background or experience in the legal system. Nolo has been around about 30 years and their products are constantly being updated. While they have a few state-specific resources, mainly for California and New York, most of Nolo’s resources are focused on giving general information that is widely accepted by most states. "Nolo" is Latin for "I choose not to" and is most often heard in the phrase "Nolo Contendere" meaning a no-contest plea. Some common Nolo Press titles include the "How To…" series, such as "How to get a Green Card" and "How to Get Your Business on the Web." Many public libraries collect Nolo books, and you'll notice that many of them look very similar in design and layout, making Nolo books easier to find on the shelf. Be mindful of the edition and year. It doesn’t matter if you have an entire set of Nolo books if they’re all out of date. A good place to watch for these changes is through examination of their catalog, in print or online at They are careful to note the latest edition.

Sphinx Legal (
Similarly, Sphinx Publishing was started to inform and explain the law to the public in terms that they could understand, rather than the high-falutin’ language that lawyers seem to like. Sphinx became part of Sourcebooks, Inc. in 2000. One of the more popular series by Sphinx is the "Legal Survival Guide" series. Sphinx also publishes several books that are state-specific. While Sphinx claims that their information is "Valid in all 50 states," it’s always a good idea to contact the local law library or court to make sure you’re reading the most current law and procedures.

Other National Publishers
While there are no other legal publishers with a sole focus on resources for the lay public, there are several publishers who may have a few titles for the public. For example, the American Bar Association sometimes publishes guides or dictionaries that are useful for both lawyers and lay users, while the American Lawyers Media publishing group focuses on lawyers, but some lay users will also benefit from their titles. Some publishers have a specific area that they concentrate on in their products, such as teen or children’s books. Naturally, there would be some books by that publisher that venture into the areas of teen law. Specifically, I’m referring to Free Spirit Publishing. They publish books for adolescents, so you will find books about laws surrounding juveniles, as well as juvenile court procedures. In addition to these two categories, there are associations or agencies or governmental groups that publish resources for the public. For example, the Commerce Clearing House once published a "Citizen’s Guide to the Freedom of Information Act" and the National Consumer Law Center recently published this "Guide to Surviving Debt" book.

Local Publishers & Publications
WI State Bar/Local Bar Associations: While the State and local bars mainly focus on resources for attorneys, many nonattorneys will get use from them as well. Many State Bar books include sample forms and descriptions of court procedures. These resources are useful in providing a greater explanation of an unfamiliar legal area or court procedure. They also compile statutes into resources called "Code Books" that make it easier to find all the statutes on a specific subject area, rather than having to look through the 5-volume statute set yourself.

Local agencies, and associations, and other groups will publish resources for the public and are able to translate procedures and information into language that most people will understand. For example, the WI Dept. of Justice put out a resource directory for crime victims, and the Elder Law Center/Coalition of WI Aging Groups (CWAG) have published a resource guide for elder rights and benefits. In addition the group Law Librarians Association of WI (LLAW) has a legal research guide for non-law librarians that would be useful for the public as well. Sometimes the product out of an association’s conference or convention is a guide or directory that yields useful information as well.

Other Local Publishers
A local press called "Prairie Oak Press" publishes a "WI Father’s Guide to Divorce and Custody" book, one of the few local resources on that topic. In addition, several publications are released from UW Law School, Marquette Law School, or UW-Milwaukee professors on a topic of particular interest to the legal community.

WI Court System/Dane County Circuit Court
The Court System publishes guides in accordance with the state rules and procedures. Examples are the "Guide to Small Claims Court" and a "Citizen’s Guide to Filing an Appeal." Dane County Court Offices have published resource guides for various types of court sections, such as the "Guide to Probate in WI," the "Dane Co Circuit Court Rules," and the "Family Court Resource Booklet." We are working on a "Juvenile Court Resource Booklet."

With a few exceptions, all of the local resources listed above can be linked from our home page: --the WI State Law Library's website. In addition, all the resources listed above can be found in print at our library. Many are also in public libraries.

Legal Research Tip 6: Specific Primary Law Sources Part 3

These are the back issues of the e-newsletter Legal Research Tips from 2004. Since these tips are a little longer, each back issue will be published separately. Starting in 2005, all issues will be published here and no longer distributed via email.

Legal Research Tip 6: Specific Primary Law Sources Part 3
Last month we examined the sources of the executive branch, administrative code and rules, as well as the process of updating and creating new codes and rules. This month we will examine the Judicial Branch (sometimes called the Third Branch). Once again, we will concentrate on state and local resources, not federal. This tip is a little longer than usual so that I can accurately cover this material.

Judicial Branch: Case Law
Laws are created and amended by the legislative branch, enforced or carried out through the rules and codes of the administrative branch, and interpreted by the judicial branch. At it's core, the third branch settles legal disputes over an interpretation and application of the law. For example, two people share a legal dispute. One interprets the law in their favor, and ditto for the other. They take their dispute to a third party who decides on what is a fair interpretation and makes a ruling for or against one of the parties. That is the essential nature of the third branch of government. The workproduct of these disputes are cases or caselaw. That includes the decision or opinion rendered in each case, sometimes with comments or notes or written arguments (called briefs). Depending on the issues being disputed, the cases will be heard in an appropriate court. The divisions of the court system will be discussed below, along with other workproduct and agencies that are part of the Judicial Branch.

Referenced Links:
The Court System
WI State Law Library
WI Supreme Court/Court of Appeals Case Access
WI Circuit Court Access/CCAP

Municipal and Circuit Courts
The issues being disputed will determine what court will issue a decision on a case. If a person has a local dispute, perhaps over an ordinance violation, the case will often go before the municipal court, if there is one. As of September 2003, there were 225 municipal courts and 227 municipal judges in Wisconsin. Milwaukee has the largest municipal court, with three full-time judges and three part-time court commissioners handling more than 190,000 cases annually. Madison has the only other full-time municipal court. Municipal courts have exclusive jurisdiction over ordinance violations. If a municipality does not have a municipal court, ordinance violations are heard in circuit court. Cities, villages and towns are authorized to establish municipal courts.

Most cases start at the Circuit Court level. The Circuit Courts of Wisconsin are known as the trial courts. These cases are binding on the parties involved in accordance with local court rules (more about them later). This means that a case heard in Dane County may get a different result in Green County because the local rules, and perhaps the local laws, may be different between the two counties. There are 69 Circuit Courts in Wisconsin (some counties have joined together for one circuit court). The Circuit Courts are joined together geographically into 10 Judicial Districts. You can find a map of the districts at the WI Courts System link above. Within these Courts, there are currently 241 judges. Each circuit court is divided into branches with at least one branch in every county, with the exception of six counties that are paired off and share judges. Milwaukee Circuit Court has the most branches with 47. Dane County has 17 branches.

The decisions rendered in Circuit Court are not published and hold no precedent, meaning a decision cannot be cited as authoritative support to help another case. In part, this is because of the reason listed above, that each local jurisdiction has local rules that help guide court proceedings and rulings. Secondly, many decisions are issued orally from the judge and are only transcribed as necessary for the court record. So if the cases are not published, how do we know that the law was applied properly in any case? We rely on the appellate courts. Before we dive into that area, I'll mention that many decisions rendered at the Circuit Court level are not issued by judges, but by commissioners. Court commissioners are attorneys appointed by the Chief Judge of a Judicial District and are assigned to certain tasks, some of which may be to render decisions in certain types of cases. The areas where there are Court Commissioners, at least in Dane County, are Family Court, Probate Court, Small Claims Court, Juvenile Court, and Arraignment Court. A decision by a court commissioner, with few exceptions, can be appealed to be heard before a Circuit Court Judge.

In addition to Uniform Rules of Trial Court Administration, each Circuit Court may choose to create local court rules to assist with local court procedures and administration. The rules are available online on the State Bar website at . Some Circuit Courts do not have local court rules. In addition, there are Supreme Court Rules that are for the entire Court System (more about them below).

Appellate Courts: Court of Appeals
The decision of a Circuit Court Judge can be appealed to the Court of Appeals. What this means is that one or both of the parties think that the decision rendered at the Circuit Court level was not correct. The reasons people file for appeals range from the technical (improper procedure: a default judgment because a party filed the response too late) to the subjective (ethical violations: "The judge has it in for me!"), but the Court of Appeals' primary function is to correct errors that occurred at the circuit court level. The court is composed of 16 judges from four districts headquartered in Milwaukee, Waukesha, Wausau, and Madison. The published opinions of the Court are binding precedent until overruled by the Supreme Court.

The Court of Appeals generally sits in three-judge panels to decide the merits of an appeal. Several categories of cases, however, are decided by a single judge. The Court of Appeals issues a written decision in every case. The Court's publication committee determines which decisions will be published. If a decision is published, it may be cited as precedential authority. No testimony is taken in the Court of Appeals. The Court relies on the circuit court record and the written arguments of the parties.

Appellate Courts: Supreme Court
The Wisconsin Supreme Court, composed of seven justices, is the state's highest court. Located in the state Capitol, it has appellate jurisdiction over all Wisconsin courts and has discretion to determine which appeals it will hear. The Supreme Court may also hear original actions -- cases that have not been heard in a lower court. The Wisconsin Supreme Court has three primary functions: Case deciding, Administrative, and Regulatory. When the Court agrees to decide a case, it receives written briefs from all sides and schedules oral argument (carefully timed presentations by attorneys, punctuated by frequent questions from the justices). The Court publishes its decision in virtually every case it agrees to decide.

Beyond deciding cases, the Supreme Court administers the entire Wisconsin Court System. In this capacity, the Court works to ensure that the court system operates fairly and efficiently. The Court's administrative role has many facets including budgeting, long-range planning, and rules of pleading and practice.

Supreme Court: Other agencies
Another important function of the Supreme Court is to regulate the legal profession in Wisconsin. The Court has established a Board of Bar Examiners (BBE) which oversees bar admissions. The Court also sets Rules of Professional Conduct for Attorneys and has established the Office of Lawyer Regulation (OLR), which investigates and prosecutes grievances involving attorney misconduct or medical incapacity. These are called "Supreme Court Rules" or SCR, and are considered a piece of primary law for Wisconsin.

The Supreme Court also regulates the Wisconsin judiciary. Through the Office of Judicial Education, the Court administers the requirement that judges attend educational programs. The state Constitution also gives the Court authority to discipline judges according to procedures established by the Legislature.

One final, yet vital, agency of the Supreme Court is the WI State Law Library (WSLL) and its branches: Milwaukee Legal Resource Center (MLRC) and Dane County Legal Resource Center (DCLRC). The State Law Library is where attorneys, justices, and staff of state agencies and legislature go to find legal resources. WSLL is also open to the public. DCLRC and MLRC are focused on providing resources for participants in the local trial courts: lawyers, judges/court staff and the public. In addition to providing the access to resources, local courts are now providing more assistance services for the public because the number of people choosing to go to court without the assistance of a lawyer is still climbing.

Resources of the Judicial Branch
Caselaw of the Appellate Courts are published in Callaghan's Official Wisconsin Reports and in West's Northwestern Reporter. They are also published online back to about 1995 on both the Court System's website and the State Bar's website. The citation for a case is formatted in this way: 45 Wis.2d 235 where the first number is the volume and the last number is the page. The middle letters indicate the name of the Reporter series, so Wis.2d is the Callaghans Official WI Reports, second series. This formula is similar for many other legal resources.

Supreme Court Rules are published at the very end of v. 5 of the WI Statutes, as well as in a separate publication and online. Local Court Rules are on the WI State Bar's website, as well as in printed format in the local Courthouse.

One final resource is the court docketing system database. For the trial courts, this is called WCCA or CCAP (WI Circuit Court Access....Consolidated Court Automation Program) and for the appellate courts, this is WSCCA (WI Supreme Court/Court of Appeals Case Access). Both systems will give you details about cases, including the status and outcome. Many people use WCCA/CCAP to perform background checks to check a person's court record. In addition, the WSCCA database will link to a published opinion if it is available online.

Legal Research Tip 5: Specific Primary Law Sources Part 2

These are the back issues of the e-newsletter Legal Research Tips from 2004. Since these tips are a little longer, each back issue will be published separately. Starting in 2005, all issues will be published here and no longer distributed via email.

Legal Research Tip 5: Specific Primary Law Sources Part 2
Last month we examined the sources of the legislative branch, acts and statutes, as well as the process of updating, creating, repealing, or renumbering laws. This month we will examine the Executive Branch and its resources and activities. Next month we will examine the Judicial Branch. Once again, we will concentrate on state and local resources, not federal. This tip is a little longer than usual so that I can accurately cover this material.

Executive Branch: Administrative Law
Once a law is created, there are certain agencies or departments that are designated to carry out that law through their rules and activities. For the state of WI, these are the administrative agencies or departments or appointed boards such as the Department of Corrections, Department of Workforce Development, or Technical College System Board. Each is charged with making rules or regulations that administer the law. The collected rules and procedures make up the WI Administrative Code. The Governor's office is also part of the Executive Branch, as is, on the local level, the mayor or county executive's office.

Rule Making
In a process quite similar to creating laws, agencies create administrative rules that may or may not become administrative codes. An initial rule is proposed and approved by the agency's head. The proposal is prepared and published in the Administrative Register, which lists the details of the proposal, as well as the hearing date and time if a public hearing is necessary for adoption of the rule. After conducting any necessary hearings or making any revisions, the proposed rule is submitted to the legislature for approval. Once promulgated, the rule is sent to the Revisor of Statutes Bureau to prepare for publication in the Register and, eventually, incorporated into the Administrative Code. The Code is currently an 18-volume set of looseleaf binders that receive updated changes in a filing each month. The Register is published twice a month. On the local level, these would be the rules or procedures by the Building Inspection Unit, for example, regarding how to administer the law regarding landlord-tenant issues, or the guidelines put out by the City Treasurer's Office for collecting property taxes.

Emergency Rules
There are rules that are passed without going through the process described above. These are "Emergency Rules" and the purpose of these rules, according to the statutes, is: "If preservation of the public peace, health, safety or welfare necessitates placing a rule into effect prior to the time it could be effective if the agency were to comply with the notice, hearing, legislative review and publication requirements of the statutes, the agency may adopt that rule as an emergency rule." Essentially, if there needs to be an immediate rule or procedure made, perhaps for a short time while the immediacy is still in effect, an emergency rule will do the trick. Some examples of these types of rules include DNR rules on chronic-wasting disease or the prairie dog sickness. On the local level, these would be issues such as issuing a "no wake" determination on area lakes or, more recently, closing the beaches because of toxic algae. For each case of an emergency, there needs to be a "finding of emergency" to necessitate the rule.

Attorney General Opinions
One of the agencies that administers the law is the Department of Justice, of which the Attorney General is the department head. Certain public officials may ask the Attorney General for an interpretation or explanation of a law or code as it pertains to a certain factor. For example, an attorney representing a county or city may ask for a clarification on the duties or authority of a certain public office as outlined in the statutes or administrative code, or a school board official may ask for a clarification regarding school vouchers. While not a deciding factor in most court cases, AG Opinions may carry a large amount of persuasive weight, especially if is the only source of interpretation on a topic or point of law.

Other Agency Decisions
Besides the Department of Justice, other agencies also are charged with the responsibility of rendering decisions regarding the interpretation of administrative rules or procedures. These agencies include the Division of Hearings and Appeals, Personnel Commission, Tax Appeals Commission, Labor and Industry Review Commission, or Regulation and Licensing, among others. Many of these agencies have an administrative law judge who renders the decision. His or her decision may be appealed to the Circuit Court.

Executive Orders
The Governor issues Executive Orders that may include proclamations or directives to certain agencies regarding specific issues. For example, an Order issued June 8, 2004, specifically directs the agencies under his authority "to develop and implement voluntary emission reduction protocols on air action days in both the nonattainment counties and all counties encouraged to participate in the Cleaner Air Faster campaign," with additonal directives to the departments of administration and natural resources.

This information just scratches the surface regarding resources and procedures for the Executive Branch. I would suggest also exploring the links contained under the Executive Branch section of the WI Law page on the WI State Law Library's web page: for much more information, including links to the resources presented above.

Legal Research Tip 5: Specific Primary Law Sources

These are the back issues of the e-newsletter Legal Research Tips from 2004. Since these tips are a little longer, each back issue will be published separately. Starting in 2005, all issues will be published here and no longer distributed via email.

Legal Research Tip 4: Specific Primary Law Sources
Last month we talked about locating both primary and secondary resources in public or law libraries or online. Now we can begin to examine specific primary law sources from the three branches of government. We'll start with the Legislative branch this month, followed by the Executive Branch and the Judicial Branch in upcoming months. Once again, we are concentrating on state and local resources, not federal. This tip is a little longer than usual so that I can accurately cover this material.

Legislative Branch: Acts and Statutes
The common answer to "How a Law is Made" can be traced through legislative activity. There are four main actions the legislature can take on a law. They can create new laws, or repeal, renumber or amend existing law. On the local level, legislative activity occurs as county boards or city councils perform similar actions on city or county ordinances.

Creating a New Law:
The idea for a new law can come from any citizen. A concerned citizen or group of citizens will contact their elected official, such as a State Senator or Representative, or County Board Supervisor or City Alder. Depending on the type of concern, it may be appropriate for a new statute or ordinance. The elected official will contact the appropriate agency to assist with research and language drafting. For the state legislature, this is done by the Legislative Reference Bureau. A drafting attorney will make sure that the proposed change makes sense from a legal standpoint, mainly that it doesn't interfere with Wisconsin's "legal structure." The proposal becomes either a Senate or Assembly bill, with a bill number, and is sponsored by one or more Senators or Representatives to be introduced to the entire Assembly or Senate. This introduction is known as "The First Reading."

Depending on the issues involved, the bill then goes to at least one committee to study its impact on other existing laws, the budget, and other factors. There will often be a public hearing scheduled so that citizens have a chance to weigh in on whether the Senate or Assembly should pass the bill into law. After the bill has been discussed and studied by the committee(s), it is voted on. It is reported "out of committee" and often sent to the Rules Committee. The Rules committee may debate the bill, send the bill back to the entire Assembly or Senate for a "Second Reading" or take no action. At the "Second Reading" there is additional debate or amendments before being put on the calendar for the "Third Reading."

The "Third Reading" will indicate whether the bill has final passage in one House. The bill will need to pass the other House through the same procedure listed above. If amendments are made, both Houses must concur. When the bill is accepted in both Houses, it is signed by the leaders of each, and sent to the Governor for his or her signature. The Governor may choose to veto all or part of the bill. If this happens, the legislature may override the veto with a 2/3 majority vote in each House. If the Governor fails to act on the bill, it may become law without a signature. Once a bill successfully passes the Houses and is signed by the Governor (or the veto is successfully overridden), the bill is assigned an Act number (chronologically) and is known as a "Session Law."

Every two years, all the session laws are compiled and bound together into the "Laws of Wisconsin" volumes.

Repealing or Renumbering an Existing Law
Additional functions of the legislature include repealing (or repealing and recreating) or renumbering existing statutes. All of these are measures that are not entered into lightly because of the ramifications of a repeal, or the hassle of checking all the cross-references of a renumbering. Renumbering is considered when space is needed for a large quantity of new material, to locate old material near new material on the same subject, or to relocate poorly located material that may be easily overlooked.

Legislators generally refrain from repealing existing law whenever possible, especially if the law could be amended instead. Sometimes there will be a transition period between the existing law and the repeal or recreation of law. This can be done based on the effective date of an act. In Wisconsin, acts become law the day after the publication date--unless otherwise stated elsewhere in the act. For example, if a law is passed regarding voting systems and use of certain machinery regarding voting, the effective date could be lengthened to allow all municipalities time enough to update their technology or systems.

Amending an Existing Law
An amendment alters the statute by substituting, inserting, or deleting text. To determine amended language in a bill or act, look for text that is struck through or underlined. New material always follows stricken material. It is interesting to note that when a law is amended, it is permissable to clarify and modernize language, such as changing exclusive language to be inclusive (for example, changing "he" to "he or she').

Updating the Statutes
When each biennial legislative session ends, the Revisor of Statutes Bureau codifies (takes all the Acts and figures out where each one fits in the statutes) and publishes a new edition of the official statutes, currently a 5-volume set. These printed volumes are the official edition. The changes to the statutes that occur before the next edition is published will be reflected in the unofficial version, available online. During a legislative session, changes can be tracked using the "List of Statute Sections Affected by Acts" which lists all the statute sections that have been changed in some way (created, repealed, renumbered, amended) by session laws.

Additional information about Legislative Activities and publications can be found on the WI Legislature's website: or on the WI State Law Library's website under "Wisconsin Law": .

Legal Research Tip 3: Finding Legal Resources

These are the back issues of the e-newsletter Legal Research Tips from 2004. Since these tips are a little longer, each back issue will be published separately. Starting in 2005, all issues will be published here and no longer distributed via email.

Legal Research Tip 3: Finding Legal Resources
Last month I defined what are legal resources and grouped them into primary, secondary, and finding aids. This month, I will describe how to find those resources. These are the resources used in Wisconsin, not Federal resources. Next month, we'll start discussing individual resources.

PRIMARY RESOURCES: Statutes, Administrative Codes, Caselaw
Each of the branches of government makes some type of primary law. In future tips, we will uncover the specific activities of each branch, but for now keep in mind the following: The Legislative Branch creates Statutes, the Executive Branch creates the Administrative Code and Rules, and the Judicial Branch creates Case Law. All of these primary resources are accessible on the Internet or in a law library. In addition, many public libraries have the print Statutes. Larger public libraries may also have the print Administrative Code as well. On the local level, the legislative branch (City Council or County Board) also creates Ordinances, City and County Agencies create codes and rules (such as building codes or health codes), and Circuit or Municipal Courts create local rules. Some of these codes, ordinances, and rules are on the Internet, but most are available directly from the governing agency or board or designated courthouse office. Many primary resources, including local ordinances, are available on the Internet by examining the WI State Law Library's website first:

SECONDARY RESOURCES: Dictionaries, Digests, Law Reviews
Since secondary resources help you understand the law, there is a lot of information available on the Internet or in public libraries or law libraries. Most larger libraries have at least one legal dictionary. Look for "Black's Law Dictionary" as an example. There are also resources called "digests" that are sets of books arranged by topic that index the state's case law. Each topical entry contains a small description about a case, along with the case citation or source. Some entries in digests refer to law reviews. Law reviews are scholarly articles written or edited by law school professors and students who are examining a particular legal issue, concept or law, often critiquing or criticizing it for a legal scholarly community. Most law reviews are products of law schools, so in Wisconsin there is the Wisconsin Law Review published by UW-Madison Law School and Marquette Law Review published by Marquette University Law School. These are specialized resources that are usually only found in print in law libraries, not public libraries, or on the Internet. Many secondary resources are available on the Internet by examining the WI State Law Library's website first:

FINDING AIDS: Indexes and Legal Topics
Many legal resources have some sort of index or extensive table of contents to aid the user in locating information within them. A digest (see above) is a type of index. In addition, on the State Law Library's website, we have listed numerous topics that contain links arranged by topic or format. Visit the link above for more information. Often finding aids are found in print only in law libraries, not public libraries.

Legal Research Tip 2: What are legal resources?

These are the back issues of the e-newsletter Legal Research Tips from 2004. Since these tips are a little longer, each back issue will be published separately. Starting in 2005, all issues will be published here and no longer distributed via email.

Legal Research Tip 2: What are Legal Resources?
Legal Resources come in many flavors and categories. This tip will sort out the main categories and describe what flavors fit in each category.

Primary Sources
A primary source is one which is created by one of the three branches of government while acting in its law-making capacity. For the legislative branch, those are statutes or codes or ordinances. For the executive branch, those are administrative rules, codes, or regulations. For the judicial branch, those are decisions/opinions (caselaw) and rules. A primary sources are considered the law itself.

For certain resources, in certain states, only the print copies of the actual laws, rules, or cases are considered the official version. Although many primary sources can now be found in electronic format for use during legal research, only the official version can be submitted during court actions.

Secondary Sources
A secondary source is a resource that helps us understand, explain, or find the law. Examples of secondary sources are periodicals, encyclopedias, dictionaries, annotations, or treatises (books) about a specific type of law or court procedure.

"Finding aids" are a category of secondary sources that specifically help you locate the legal resources you need, whether they are primary or secondary sources, by indexing or cross-referencing different types of resources and subjects. Some common finding aids are digests that help find caselaw about specific topics or indices that help find a specific statute or administrative code. Some would even call a librarian the best kind of finding aid!

People often use secondary sources to find an explanation of the law, especially since reading laws is often a frustrating experience for those unfamiliar with legal jargon. Secondary sources are also a good place to begin a legal research quest for those who don't know if the law they need is a statute, regulation, or judge's opinion, or if the topic can be covered by all three.
In future tips, we will discuss certain types of primary and secondary sources, why someone would use a certain source, and whether certain sources are available online or not.

Legal Research Tip 1: Develop a Strategy

These are the back issues of the e-newsletter Legal Research Tips from 2004. Since these tips are a little longer, each back issue will be published separately. Starting in 2005, all issues will be published here and no longer distributed via email.

Legal Research Tip 1: Developing a Strategy for Legal Research
One of the first things to decide when you need to complete legal research will be a method for uncovering the resources and information that you need. There are several methods or strategies for completing research. I will highlight a couple in this email. One thing to keep in mind through your entire research task is that when in doubt, call a law librarian! There are at least three public law libraries in the Madison area, including at least one with a toll-free line if you live outside the area. All will be ready to assist you if you get stuck or have questions.

One suggested method of legal research has been developed by the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) and is available on their website: . It is specifically aimed at non-lawyers. They suggest three main steps to get started: Formulate your research into a question that you need to answer, then determine what jurisdiction would best be able to answer your question, and finally, be prepared to learn the legal lingo, such as abbreviations and citations. We will cover each of these steps in upcoming tips, as well as further explore AALL's suggested strategy.

Another suggested method is to start at the library, specifically a law library. Using legal resources is a skill that can be learned after either study or use. Law librarians have special skills that they are willing to share and teach you so that you can learn how to complete your own research more efficiently and successfully. Some of these skills include learning how to locate and decipher legal resources in a law library or public library: learning the legal lingo! Another skill is to locate the most current materials for your research. Having out of date legal resources is often worse than having no legal resources.

There are several other methods and strategies that can be used when beginning your legal research. We will cover more in future tips, along with specific suggestions for gaining access to resources, both in print and on the Internet. I strongly suggest that if you need to complete legal research in Wisconsin, and you have access to the Internet, you become familiar with the WI State Law Library's website: . I will highlight several key resources on it in future tips.

Legal Travels #3: A New Home

Yesterday, we caught our first looks at the new Dane Co Legal Resource Center in the new Dane County Justice Center (aka new courthouse) being built in downtown Madison. Expected move-in is currently early 2006, so much is still needed to be done, but it was fun to imagine what the new place will look like (and very interesting to see the "bones" of the structure before drywall and plaster form the walls)! Watch for pictures of the new library and courthouse on our new website: (Still under construction)

Internet Tips 1-10: Useful Internet Links

These links were part of the issues of the Internet Tips e-newsletter in 2004.

Useful Internet Link:
Think you know how to search Google? This site will help you refine searches and complete more advanced searches so that you can find what you're looking for using Google.

Useful Internet Link: Wisconsin State Law Library
I'm sure many of you are aware of the numerous legal resources that can be found on our home page, but in case you're not, here's the link. If you are engaged in active legal research, I suggest making this page your home page (Go to "Tools" then "Options" and under the "General" tab there is a place to change your home page) or bookmark it (Go to "Favorites" and click "Add to Favorites...").

Useful Internet Link: WI County Identifier
If you need to find out what county (or counties) a certain Wisconsin city, village, town or unincorporated place is in, this helpful DHFS Vital Records Office list might help.
[Thanks to Connie V. at the WI State Law Library for passing this one on to us!]

Useful Internet Link: State of WI Dept. of Health & Family Services Consumer Guides
These are useful fact sheets that cover health care and health and safety issues. The page is kept up to date to offer accurate information to health consumers.

Useful Internet Link: The National Archives
Read important government documents, such as the Declaration of Independence, at this site
which also has interactive features and great images.

Useful Internet Link: UW Law School Consumer Rights Manual
*Recently published, and also available in Spanish, this manual discusses issues such as debt and credit cards, as well as other popular consumer services and transactions.

Useful Internet Link: Statistical Abstract
If you want numbers, start with the Statistical Abstract of the US. This source, produced by the U.S. Census Bureau, gives you everything from the divorce rate by state to airline cost indexes going back to 1980.

Useful Internet Link: How Stuff Works
Haven't you ever wondered how they get that Olympic torch to continue to burn while it is being carried by runners from one city to the next? Or how solar sails manage to propel a spacecraft? For answers, check out the appropriately-named How Stuff Works website.

Useful Internet Link: Residential Heating Oil Prices---What Consumers Should Know
As the weather starts turning colder, here is a useful consumer guide for information about heating prices, published by the Energy Information Administration (EIA). There are several other publications on the EIA home page:

Useful Internet Link: Tips for Avoiding Internet Fraud
From the National Consumers League's Internet Fraud Watch comes these tips for being informed consumers on the Internet. Topics also included on this site are Telemarketing Fraud Tips and an Online Complaint Form. For additional Wisconsin Consumer Protection information, visit the State Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection's website:

Internet-Computer Tips 1-10 (Advanced)

These are the back issues of the e-newsletter "Internet Tips" advanced level from 2004. Starting with the next issue, all e-newsletters will be posted here instead of emailed. *These tips have been compiled through a variety of sources, including Stef Morrill from South Central Library System, and Tom Mighell from, among others.

Advanced Tip: Internet-related File Types
Are you wondering what all those file types you see on the web are about? This web page will list the common file types and where you can get more information about them:

Advanced Tip: Introduction to mailing lists
An electronic mailing list allows you to read information or opinions about a specific topic. Many mailing lists offer subscribers to share their views or questions on the topic; some mailing lists only offer subscribers the information from the list owner or manager, not a chance to post their own messages. For more information about the basics skills and commands required for mailing lists, see the article at this web address:

Advanced Tip: Retrieving Form Information
You're filling out a form on the Internet -- you submit it, and find there's an error. When you go back to fix the error, you find all of the data in your form is gone -- you have to start all over again. Don't you just hate that?There's a way to prevent that from happening. In Internet Explorer, go to Tools, then Internet Options. Select the General Tab and then the Settings button. Check the box next to "Every time you start Internet Explorer." If you're using Netscape, click Edit, then Preferences. Double-click Advanced, and click Cache. Set the memory cache to at least 1024KB, and the disk cache to a minimum of 7680KB. Then clear both caches. Even after you do this, it might still not work properly -- you may have to click your browser's refresh button to see the data. [Taken from "Internet Legal Research Weekly" Issue 134; 11-24-03]

Advanced Tip: Where was I?
If you've been working on a long document and will be continuing work on it at different times for the next few days, each time you open the file, you start out at the top and have to scroll down to where you were the last time you worked on it. This is tiring and confusing, depending on the length of the file. The next time you open that long document, press SHIFT-F5. You should be taken to the point where you were last working. Use this any time you want to get back to your working spot after you have been scrolling through a document.

Advanced Tip: Bookmarks v. Favorites
Curious as to what the difference is? Not much. "Bookmarks" are Netscape's term for what are essentially internet shortcuts. "Favorites" are MS Internet Explorer's term for them. They both work the same way. When you're on a page you want to get back to, you click the Favorites or Bookmarks menu (depending on the browser) and usually you'll find an option to add the page to your favorites / bookmarks. Click that, add the page, and it appears on your favorites or bookmarks menu.

Advanced Tip: Incomplete URL's (web addresses)
Trying to find a website, but only know part of the URL? Use Google's "allinurl" syntax to find the site. Type allinurl:[search terms], and Google will return a listing of all the sites with those words in the URL.

Advanced Tip: TROUBLESHOOTING: What to do when:
Your search produces no results:
*Make sure you read the tool's description, options, rules and restrictions. Not all search tools are created equal.
*Make sure your spelling is right. If you're not sure, use substrings (if allowed).
*If you use logical operators (Boolean operators), check your syntax.
*Try to be less specific in your query. Do not overspecify a search. You might miss relevant documents.
*Try synonyms and variations on words.
*Use another search engine.

Your search produces too many results:
*Try to be more specific.
*Identify common words that are important to your search.
*Try to think of words that uniquely identify what you're looking for. Some words are of little value, because they identify lots of documents. The more distinctive a word, the more useful it will be for sharpening your search.
*Try searching by an exact phrase, title, or name enclosed by quotation marks.
*Try to use as many relevant keywords as possible; it will help to uniquely identify what you're looking for.

Advanced Tip: Don't Forget "Find on Page" searching
You use search engines to find certain words on the web. Don't forget that you can find certain words on the current web page you're viewing by pressing CTRL+F. Simply type the word to look for and press ENTER. (This command can also be found under "Edit" on the toolbar)

Advanced Tip: Anti-Virus SoftwareKeep your antivirus up-to-date. Set it up to check for updates automatically at least once a day. Remember that most antivirus software is on a subscription basis. When your subscription runs out it will not update anymore and you will not be protected from any virus that is created after your subscription runs out. AVG Anti-Virus Free Edition is available for all single home users.
Check your computer for viruses online for free. This should not be used as a replacement for full time antivirus software installed on your computer. and

Advanced Tip: Answers That Work
Do you ever pull up your computer's Task Manager and wonder what all those programs are? Check out Answers that Work -- click on Task List and then navigate over to the name of the mysterious program. Answers that Work will tell you what the program does, and whether you can safely remove it.

Internet-Computer Tips 1-10 (Beginners)

These are the back issues of the e-newsletter "Internet Tips" beginners level from 2004. Starting with the next issue, all e-newsletters will be posted here instead of emailed. *These tips have been compiled through a variety of sources, including Stef Morrill from South Central Library System, and Tom Mighell from, among others.

Beginner's Tip 1: Your mouse and you
Did you know that if your mouse has two buttons, you can right-click to see more options? When you position your mouse over a link or icon and right-click, there may be a list of shortcuts that appear. You can select commands off of this list rather than finding the command on the main toolbar or menus. For example, in MS Word, using the right-click will often take you to shortcuts for cutting, pasting, copying, and several other commands that are available through toolbars and menus. Not only does using the right-click command list save you time, it also may make it easier to select items without losing your place in the document because your eyes don't need to follow the mouse up to the menu or toolbars. Try it out!

Beginner's Tip 2: Printing Selected Text
Looking at a long web page and want to print out a small portion? Highlight the selected text you want to print and go to File-Print and choose "selection" to print only the highlighted text. You can also right-click and select "print" to get to the print menu. One other way to print the selected text if these other methods fail, would be right-click and choose "copy" (or go to Edit-Copy) and paste the selected text into another format, such as a Word document.

You find this great web page, but when you print it, the text on the right-hand side is cutting off. What can you do? A couple of things to try:
1. Select the text you want to print, and then choose to print the"Selection" after you choose "Print" from the "File" menu.
2. From the "File" menu, choose "Page Setup". Decrease your margins, choose "OK", and try printing it again.

Beginner's Tip: Clicking To Select Words & Lines
This is one of those little things I always forget about, but love once I remember it. It doesn't work in every program, but it works in most Windows applications. You all know one way to select a word or line: put your cursor at one end of what you want to select and then drag over the rest of the word or line. But did you know that there is a quicker way?
*Double-click, and the word will be selected. *Click three times, and the line will be selected.

Ever needed a word definition, right away? Using Google, in the search box, type "define:your_word_here", and you will be a list of online dictionary sources that define your word, along with brief definitions and links to the full dictionary records.

Beginner's Tip: The Desktop Icon
You can minimize all windows at once by holding down the Windows Key and hitting M. If you forget that, on your taskbar, usually right by your "Start" button, is an icon that looks like a little blotter with pencil and paper on it. If you click this button once, it will minimize all windows and bring up the desktop.

Beginner's Tip: Search Shortcuts
Use this page to enter in information using a specific search box, such as area codes, gas prices, or weather.

Did you know that you don't have to open "My Computer" or Windows Explorer to browse folders and files on your computer? If you have Internet Explorer open, just type "c:" (or a different drive letter, without the quotes) in the address bar, and...voila! You'll see all the folders on your hard drive!

Let's say you're using Windows Explorer or "My Computer" to look at folders on your hard drive. You realize that the files or folders don't seem to be arranged in any order you can figure can you get them to be in order by name?Here's how: From the "View" menu, choose "Arrange Icons", and then choose "By Name". (You can also arrange by date, by size, or by type (which will put all the Word documents together, for example).

Google does use the * as a wildcard, but not the way we usually think of using an *. You can't use an * to substitute for a single letter in a word (gr*y for "gray" or "grey") or to get multiple endings ("search*"). But you can use it to wildcard entire words. For example,"john * kennedy"
will get you "John F. Kennedy" and "John Fitzgerald Kennedy".

Case Notifier Services

This is probably old news, but you should be aware of two useful notifier systems that give you a heads up about recent cases before the state and US Supreme Court. For Wisconsin cases, take a look at Caselaw Express, a service from the State Bar.

The Supreme Court Collection at the Legal Information Institute previews upcoming US Supreme Court cases, as well as recently decided cases, through its liibulletin-cert page. For example, I learned that the Booker case on Federal Sentencing Guidelines had been decided through a notification I received.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

SCAP Report

Now is a good time to share a success story. The Small Claims Assistance Program has been going strong since June 2004. We've had 125 participants so far, averaging 3-7 people each week. Most of the questions are about landlord/tenant issues and small claims filings regarding collections or damages. The Program is staffed by volunteer attorneys from the Dane County Bar Assocation, paralegals, and law students who answer questions on small claims court procedures and help with form selection and completion.

If you are an attorney in the Madison area and would like to volunteer to staff the Small Claims Assistance Program, please contact DCLRC, 266-6316, at your convenience.

For information about other legal assistance programs available in the Dane County Courthouse, take a look at the Legal Assistance web page off the Clerk of Courts website. The Small Claims Assistance Program is available every Tuesday morning 9-11 a.m. on the third floor of the Dane County Courthouse. For more information, contact DCLRC at 266-6316.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Six Tips to Hone Your Search

Some things to keep in mind when searching online (summarized here):
1. Don't make the mistake of equating quantity with quality.
2. Try to access primary sources.
3. Use the library. (!)
4. Get in the habit of using several search engines, not just one.
5. Use Advanced Search features.
6. Visualize the results to help you search.
You can read the entire article at the Syracuse newspaper that has it.