Thursday, December 6, 2018

Using Legislative History to Answer a Massachusetts Legal Question

Recently, one of our professors asked me to do some Massachusetts legislative history research. Specifically, she asked how the Massachusetts Scenic Roads Act related to the jurisdiction of tree wardens under Massachusetts public shade tree laws. This question is a good one for illustrating the legislative history research process for Massachusetts since the documents available were actually able to provide an answer.

Before beginning my search, I logged into Westlaw and limited the Jurisdiction to Massachusetts. Then, I used the advanced search function to search for the exact phrase “Scenic Roads Act” and found the codified version of the statute, Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 40, § 15C. The document in Westlaw has a section near the bottom called “Credits” that contains session law information about the specific acts passed by the legislature that created or amended this section of code. In the case of this statute, the “Credits” included 1973, c. 67, 1979, c. 552; 1985, c. 384, and 1989, c. 360.
Also important to the question, the text of the statute stated that prior to a tree being cut down on a scenic road, a joint hearing between the tree warden and either the planning board, selectmen, or city council must be held. The statute also states that the tree warden (or deputy tree warden) must give notice under the shade tree statute, Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 87, § 3.

Original Version

Next, I went to the State Library of Massachusetts DSpace collection. This digital archive contains thousands of Massachusetts historical documents, including the Acts and Resolves and a collection of legislative documents from the Massachusetts General Court. This is the best place to find Massachusetts legislative history documents created prior to 2010.*

From the main page, I went into “Acts and Resolves,” and selected 1973. Next, in looking at the first few documents for 1973, I recognized a pattern in how the documents are labeled so I searched for the original statute using the search string “1973 Chap. 67.”  On the search results list, the second item was “1973 Chap. 0067. An Act Authorizing Cities And Towns To Designate Certain Roads As Scenic Roads And Regulating The Improvement Thereof.” In reading through the original statute, I noticed something relevant to the question at hand; this version of the statute does not include any language concerning tree wardens.

I then navigated to the “Legislative Documents” section and selected 1973. Next, I searched for the exact title of the act, “An Act Authorizing Cities And Towns To Designate Certain Roads As Scenic Roads And Regulating The Improvement Thereof.” This led me to the original bill, 1973 House Bill No. 5220. This bill appeared to have passed the legislature without any amendment. To check that hypothesis, I searched for the exact string “scenic road” in 1973 and saw three other bills, none of which were related to this act.

1979 Amendment

I went back to the “Acts and Resolves” section and selected 1979. I then searched for “1979 Chap. 0552” and found “1979 Chap. 0552. An Act Relative To The Consolidation Of Certain Public Hearings Prior To The Cutting Or Removal Of Trees.” This Act modified both the Scenic Roads Act and the public shade tree laws to require the joint hearing as discussed above.

Following the same process I used for the original statute, I went back to the “Legislative Documents” section of the State Library of Massachusetts DSpace collection and selected 1979. I then searched for “An Act Relative To The Consolidation Of Certain Public Hearings Prior To The Cutting Or Removal Of Trees” which brought me to 1979 House Bill No. 6692. This bill was substituted for an earlier bill, 1979 House Bill No. 6654.

H.B. 6654 was reported from the Committee on Natural Resources and Agriculture and modified a still earlier bill, 1979 House Bill No. 6622. H.B. 6654 did essentially the same job as H.B. 6692 except that it granted the planning boards “final jurisdiction” over such matters.

Subsequent Amendments

I followed the same process in finding the legislative documents for the amendments for the subsequent amendments. Neither the amendment of 1985 (which limited scenic road designations by towns to those entirely within the borders of the town) nor the amendment of 1989 (which added a mechanism to impose fines connected with violations of this statute) impacted the authority of the tree warden and thus not relevant to the research question.


Since the version proposed in H.B. 6654 seemed to give the planning boards more power than the tree wardens in the joint hearings we can make a reasonable inference that by passing H.B. 6692 the legislature did not intend the planning boards to have more power within the joint hearings.
* For recent documents use

Friday, October 26, 2018

Dockets Research on Bloomberg Law

The Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) system is the tool most familiar to people who interact with federal dockets. Since its inception in 1990, PACER has been criticized as being difficult to use and arbitrarily priced. Bloomberg Law is helping its customers with both of these shortcomings by providing an intermediary to PACER. In addition to federal dockets, Bloomberg Law also maintains an increasingly comprehensive collection of state dockets.

Dockets Covered by Bloomberg Law

Since its system draws directly from PACER, Bloomberg Law covers all federal dockets. To see what state dockets are covered, follow this link to Bloomberg’s Docket Coverage page (Bloomberg Law password required). Click on the jurisdiction of interest. State docket coverage varies by what each court makes available. Green dots indicate current coverage for that court; red dots indicate partial coverage.

Navigating to the “Dockets Search” Page

To navigate to the “Dockets Search” page follow these steps:

  1. Start on Bloomberg’s front page.
  2. Hit the “Browse” button.
  3. Select “Litigation Intelligence Center.” 
  4. Scroll down to “Advanced Searches & Practice Tools.”
  5. Select “Dockets Advanced Search.”

Using the “Dockets Search” Page

The “Dockets Search” page includes these categories to help filter your search:

  • Keywords—Search for words either within the docket sheet only or within the docket sheet and all attached documents. Here, you can also apply Boolean and proximity search connectors, as well as quotation marks to zero in on the exact concepts you need to find.
  • Courts—Limit your search to a specific court or group of courts. You can either select from a drop-down menu or start typing for an autocomplete list of options.
  • Parties—Search for a specific name of a party and limit the name to a specific party type (plaintiff, defendant, amicus curiae, etc.).
  • Judge—Type in the name of the judge.
  • Docket#—Federal docket numbers only.
  • Date—Custom date limits that apply either to the docket sheet filing date or to entries within a docket sheet.
  • More Options—Search fields for attorneys, case names, and case status.
  • Federal District & Appellate Options—Includes options specific to this type of court. You might find the following features of particular interest: 
    • Nature of Suit Code—Official case subjects used by PACER. A list is available by following this link
    • Docket Key—Bloomberg Law has added a filter to a few federal district court dockets* that can limit search results to specific types of documents (brief, complaint, etc.).
  • Bankruptcy, State, & Patent Courts—Includes options specific to these types of courts.

After entering search terms and applying filters, hit “Search.” The search results appear on the right side of the screen opposite a list of possible filters. From this screen you can select all or some of the results and download them in an Excel spreadsheet which includes various statistics associated with these cases (possibly for empirical research into current litigation). From this screen, you could also select a case, then examine the docket sheet, and request documents associated with that case.

Pricing for Bloomberg Law Dockets

Access to the “Dockets Search” page on Bloomberg Law is included with the academic accounts available to the Western New England University School of Law students, faculty. For academic accounts, Bloomberg waives the PACER pass-through document retrieval fees but, may not waive fees for documents from state dockets. For non-academics, the first person who directs Bloomberg to retrieve a document from PACER or another service then gets charged a pass-through fee from wherever the document is sourced.  If the document is already in Bloomberg’s database you can retrieve the document at no additional charge.

* Docket Key districts include Northern District of California, Central District of California, District of Connecticut, District of District of Columbia, Southern District of Florida, Middle District of Florida, Northern District of Illinois, Eastern District of New York, Northern District of New York, Southern District of New York, Western District of New York, Eastern District of Texas, Northern District of Texas, Southern District of Texas, and District of Vermont.

Friday, September 14, 2018

MCLE OnlinePass

Anyone who has listened to me talk for more than five minutes about secondary sources on Massachusetts law has heard me talk about the practitioner aids published by Massachusetts Continuing Legal Education (MCLE). Their practice aids, known colloquially as MCLEs are some of the best resources available to explain specific subjects within Massachusetts law. MCLEs are so valuable that all of the major legal database vendors, Westlaw, Lexis Advance, and Bloomberg Law all make MCLEs available to their customers for an additional fee.
MCLE also has its own online database, MCLE OnlinePass. The Law Library has recently acquired access to MCLE OnlinePass. This new service offers the Western New England School of Law community the MCLE practice guides as well as several other resources that are not available on Westlaw, Lexis Advance, or Bloomberg Law.


Nearly all MCLEs available in print or on Westlaw, Lexis Advance, or Bloomberg Law are available here as ebooks.


MCLE OnlinePass provides access to a form database which includes all of the forms from their ebook collection. These transactional and non-transactional forms, numbering in the hundreds are both filterable and searchable.

On-Demand Programs

MCLE as an organization holds live legal continuing education seminars, conferences, and classes on a variety of subjects. You may remember some of these events being held here at the Law School. Often these events are recorded. You can watch them any time using MCLE OnlinePass. The recordings include lectures and panel discussions on contemporary legal issues, topical Q & A sessions with experts in legal subject areas, and simulations of various court and administrative proceedings conducted by experts in those areas.


You can access MCLE OnlinePass on campus by following this path:
Law Library webpage à Electronic Resources à M-O à MCLE OnlinePass
If you are off-campus you will need your Law Library barcode and PIN.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Want to Help Immigrants with Legal Assistance Even Though You are Still in Law School?

Many lawyers, community organizers, advocates, and your neighbors (including law students!) are working together to provide immigrants referrals for legal assistance and connections to other services. Our own Professor Harris Freeman participated in creating a webinar sponsored by the Immigrant Advocates Network and the American Civil Liberties Union's Stand with Immigrants. The webinar discusses how local volunteers and immigration advocates created the Immigrant Protection Project of Western Massachusetts (IPP) and explains how others can replicate and sustain this model. The webinar can be viewed here.

Some ways IPP assists the immigrant community in Western Massachusetts are:
  • Pro Bono bond representation
  • Creating and disseminating family protection documents
  • Producing a regional call center for immigrants staffed by trained volunteers with diverse backgrounds who are bilingual
  • Providing legal resources and referrals for unmet needs of immigrants
  • Conducting intakes and training in ICE detention centers
  • Offering legal assistance for community organizations, activists, and municipalities
  • Assisting with DACA and TPS renewals
  • Tracking matters before the court while challenging ICE in courthouses and coordinating services with public defenders
  • Providing a bond fund 
  • Bond Attorney and Bond Helper information
  • Cooperating Organizations Contact Information form
  • Interpreter Volunteer Application form
  • Family Preparedness Plan packet, including checklists
  • Shift protocol guidelines
You, too, can help immigrants in your community! Contact one of the organizations mentioned in this article or in your area. And, if there isn't one, the webinar provides you with a framework to create such a program.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Using Google Advanced Search to Augment a Database’s Searchability

Many United States and international bodies have their own databases where one can find the legal documents produced by those bodies. The search mechanisms on these pages can range from pretty good to non-existent. In the cases where the search mechanisms leave much to be desired, good news! This blog post is going to show you a solution: the Google Advanced Search (GAS) page.

For an example*, I’ll use the website of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR), an international court that adjudicates cases concerning the American Convention on Human Rights. Nearly all Caribbean, Central American, and South American Countries are a party to the Convention. Most of the documents on the website are initially written in Spanish, and later nearly all documents are translated to English. Our searches will be in English and thus will primarily return documents in English.

To start, you will need to determine if a body of documents you wish to search will work with this method. I’ll do this with the IACHR by finding two different document types within their library. It doesn’t matter much which documents you start with** because we are looking for directory structures within the URLs. Here are my example URLs; the first is an advisory opinion and the second is a decision:

Note how the URLs in both cases begin with the same string, this indicates a directory structure within the website which we can search directly using GAS:

Now, copy this common part of the URL and go to the GAS page. In the lower half of the GAS page you’ll see a search field labeled “site or domain;” paste your copied URL into that field.

Now go back up to the top of the GAS page and construct a search for the documents you seek. For example I will search within this site for the exact phrase “right of association.”

This search returned 11 documents*** from the Inter-American Court of Justice.

* Usage of this example is not intended to disparage the quality of the IACHR's search mechanism.
** It may be helpful to find different types of documents initially to see if directory paths of the database differ by document type.
*** But for some strange reason GAS said it found 89 results but only displayed 11. I will post a follow-up should Google deign to reply to my query.