Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Stump the Law Librarian

Q: How do I complete historical research on local laws and cases? For example, tracking how a local ordinance has changed.

A: Many county and city ordinances have history notes that are a good place to start. For example, Madison General Ordinance 32.01 regarding the statement of the purpose of the landlord/tenant ordinance has a note directly following its text that reads:
(Cr. by Ord. 6098, 1-6-78) That notation means that the section was created by ordinance 6098 on January 6, 1978. That corresponds to a book in the City Clerk's office that contains the past changes. The city attorney's office also keeps old ordinances.

For Dane County ordinances, it's a little trickier. If there is no history note, it will be difficult to track changes because the county clerk's office does not keep any old ordinances. A person would most likely need to track the law back through the county board proceedings.

Finding older circuit court cases can be difficult without complete case information, such as a case number or party names. Supreme Court Rule 72 regulates how long circuit court records must be retained by the courts. If you cannot access a case file directly through the court, here are some other options that you might try:

1. Was the case appealed? If so, there's a good chance that the circuit court decision is included in an appendix to the briefs on appeal. The State Law Library has a large number of briefs in print and the UW Law Library has made several years worth available online.

2. You can check the collection of the WI Historical Society for local records and cases.

3. Looking for a Dane County court decision? Check the index of cases donated to DCLRC from the circuit court judges.

For more information on finding court documents, see a recent Wisblawg post on the topic.