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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Alum Alex Taylor, 2001

Jessica R. Alexander, Reference librarian
Our alum, Alex Taylor, (A. Alexzandra Taylor) worked as a student assistant in the library. Her heart is just as beautiful as she is. She has just left her practice in Houston to move to DC with her husband, Jason Heimberg, and her new baby, Alexis. I went to a goodbye open house at her condo a few weeks ago.

Alex's husband and his brother, Justin, co-wrote a hilarious book, The Movie Plot GeneratorBrothers Heimberg Publishing 2004). It is signed and I have contributed it to our collection. There is a sample plot generator on the website. Check it out.! The brothers also have a movie coming out - Ace Ventura Jr.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Mining Texas Courts Online

Jessica R. Alexander, Reference Librarian
Texas Courts Online is the official site of the Texas Judiciary. Opinions of the Texas Supreme Court, Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and the 14 Courts of Appeals are online.
While this website provides the full text of the opinions, a major drawback is a user cannot conduct a unified search of all the courts. In addition there are no embedded links to the cases cited in the opinions. The user must click on the site for each court and perform a search. Despite this, the sites are useful for specific tasks that the user may not have explored. For example, a box in the lower right column of the Texas Supreme Court site has links to the following areas:
  1. case search,
  2. opinion search
  3. electronic briefs
  4. oral argument information
  5. oral argument audio
  6. oral argument video - co-sponsored by Saint Mary's University School of Law (unfortunately, only the Texas Supreme Court has the audio and video features)

There are also several uses for the websites that may not be apparent from the face of the sites:

  • verifying the accuracy of Westlaw and Lexis , etc. subsequent history
  • examples of briefs
  • finding leading experts and attorneys by area of practice
  • identifying major cases to aid in further electronic or paper research, saving time and online access fees
  • preparing for oral argument by listening to or watching videos of past oral arguments
  • links to administrative procedures, brief filing requirements, forms and rules of procedure

As always, the user may discover many uses and advantages of exploring these official sites in the course of legal research.


Friday, May 9, 2008

Behind the Controversy over the Per Curiam Opinions of the Texas Supreme Court

Jessica R. Alexander, Reference Librarian
The Texas Supreme Court is being criticized for the rate at which it issues per curiam versus signed opinions. (ABA Journal, online edition, posted May 8, 2008). The group, Texas Watch, issued the report. (Per curiam decisions are issued by a panel of the Court, are not signed by any justice, and thus have no majority or dissenting opinions.) Texas Watch argues that these opinions reduce the accountability of Texas Supreme Court judges and the rate at which they are issued is an anomaly compared with other state judiciaries and specifically the United States Supreme Court.

Texas Rule of Appellate Procedure 47 Opinions, Publication and Citation and its subdivisions are the controlling rules. Designation and Signing of Opinions;Participating Justices. Annual reports on the Texas Judiciary are posted at the website, Texas Courts Online. The 2007 annual report on Supreme Court activity is posted at http://www.courts.state.tx.us/pubs/AR2007/sc/2-sc-activity-2007.pdf .

It cites Texas Rule of Appellate Procedure 59.1 as the controlling rule for per curiam decisions. This rule provides: 59.1 Submission Without Argument. If at least six members of the Court so vote, a petition may be granted and an opinion handed down without oral argument. It seems that the report could more clearly explain the process if it delved into the intricacies and contradictions of Rule 47.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Our TRACFED Database

Jessica R. Alexander, Reference Librarian
My blog entry about authoritative sources for federal government statistics Are We a Nation of Prisoners, first posted on April 23, 2008, omitted mention of a database called TRACFED. The library has a subscription which can be accessed by the South Texas community through the alphabetical database list on our Stanley home page. (This database can also be accessed directly through their website by the public, although free access is more limited.)

This database publishes and analyzes government data gleaned from statistics that the federal government itself chooses to compile and from other sources such as Freedom of Information Act requests generated by the TRACFED experts.

For example, my blog entry referenced Inmate Count in U.S. Dwarfs Other Nations, a New York Times article about the rate of imprisonment in the United States. At TRACFED, a researcher can access a report on the number of prison sentences (per criminal offense) of one year or more handed down in January 2008.

For a researcher, TRACFED is a valuable resource. CAVEAT: For custom analysis, etc., an additional charge may apply.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

On Target - The Art of Archery - What does it have to do with anything?

Jessica R. Alexander, Reference Librarian


At this time of year I think a lot about exams and studying.  I empathize with nervous and self-doubting students.  I have been thinking about how to write a blog piece about zen and exam preparation and performance - like "Zen and the art of taking law school exams."  But this title for a blog piece seemed phony and trite.

Then there is coincidence. Today, my friend Ward and I went to the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft.  Its a wonderful place where visitors can view sophisticated art, talk to the artists in residence, take classes, and buy pieces of art.  I happened to venture into a small studio labeled fiber artist.  Its inhabitant was Greg Rubio, who turns pieces of recycled cloth having significance to his past into art.  The archery target is the central theme.  (You can view his work at The Drawing Center viewing program. At the home page click on Viewing Program and do a key word search for Rubio.

As a fabric collector I was fascinated.  We talked about his art and about his love of archery. (My friend Ward has a connection to archery because his grandfather, C. E.  Schurman,  was once the Nebraska state men's archery champion and President of the Nebraska Archery Association. He was also a craft person and artist who carved his own elegant bows and made his own arrows.)

The synchronicity and ironies just kept coming.  When I told Greg that I was a librarian at STCL, who likes to collect book jackets and every so often, when in a certain "zone," can create art out of fabric or recycled book jackets, he told me that a friend of a friend is a first- semester student at STCL.  He related that the student is rather frantic about final exams. At that moment, my attention turned to pieces of ecru paper tacked to the wall above him.  The papers contained intricate writing that seemed almost indecipherable.  I asked him about them and he told me that they are notes from his archery teacher about technique.  They will be the subject of his next art project.  I inquired further and he explained that archery requires the archer to defeat body reflexes to the extent that they impair the physics of the string and bow, and the accuracy of the archer's sight.  Curbing these reflexes requires "a certain letting go." The archer cannot turn his head to peer around the side of the arrow, a natural reflex, but must allow his eyes to focus in a straight line.

I exclaimed that his friend's STCL friend should talk to him as soon as possible about her exams.  The same "flight or fight responses" to the self-doubt and fear of exam taking impairs an otherwise intelligent and prepared student.  His coach's approach in writing to him in an art form about the psychological-physical "zen" of archery is exactly what some students need to turn hours of study into success.