Toward an Inventory of Ohio Legal Materials

This post originally appeared on lawlibrary.case.edu

This post is a written re-cap of a 5-minute summary I gave at the Chicago (CALI/Oyez hosted) Law.gov workshop, as one of several quick presentations on various jurisdictions to be covered by the National Inventory of Legal Materials. Spurred on in part by the Law.gov initiative, while building on past efforts regarding authentication, preservation, and permanent public access, AALL has taken on the task of producing a nationwide inventory of primary legal materials. This inventory seeks to enumerate law sources from every state, their availability (in print and online), limitations like claims of copyright, and the formats, quality, and communicated status of those materials.
Our portion of the inventory for Ohio will take a much more fine-toothed look at every form of law-making work product we can identify within the state. This “5-minute” take is based on a quick survey of what I could learn from my colleagues here at CWRU, most of whom have much more experience in this jurisdiction than I do. As I presented this in person in Chicago, my “take away” points were that, essentially, no legal primary sources posted publicly on the Web from the state Ohio are considered official, little is authenticated in any form, and the one small example of authentication that exists, while a worthy experiment, is of little immediate practical importance. I could have added that the state produces comparatively little official material of its own in print, either, with many widely disseminated published materials designated as official being products of major commercial publishers.
I’m posting this summary here in hopes that those who encounter it, including librarians not participating formally in the inventory, can add comments, corrections, and additions that may help the Ohio working group begin our more focused work for the National Inventory.
Sarah Glassmeyer has posted a similar summary of what she encountered in Indiana and Kentucky, and also includes a more complete account (and links) of both Law.gov and the National Inventory.


Municipalities: All Ohio municipalities for which I located information use outsourced codification contractors to provide codes of ordinances. Web tools for browsing these codes were generally outsourced, as well, and hosted by either the codification provider (Municipal Code Corporation has a standard web platform for its codes) or another party (the Walter H. Drane codes are mostly hosted by an additional firm, Conway Greene). Most codes include some explicit claim of copyright in either the city or the codifying entity, including codes for large cities like Cincinnati.
Web portals for city codes tended to present code texts section by section through a sort of ‘table-of-contents’ browsing tool, with additional provision for at least basic Boolean searching. The tools invariably do not allow file output of large portions of code text, beyond section-by-section display in the browser. Where larger output is available, it is in the form of pdf files for purchase, with or without accompanying update service.
All the online city codes I encountered disclaim official status. In general, readers are directed to city Clerks of Council or equivalent city officers (i.e. at a specific room address in a city facility) to consult the official materials.
A very few municipalities do seem to ‘self host’ their Codes. For instance, Fairview Park hosts its Code of Ordinances in the form of a series of downloadable pdfs. These do include a copyright notice from the Walter H. Drane Company, one of the major codifying firms.
Cleveland’s Code is the oddity — it appears on Findlaw, and the Findlaw version is linked to by city websites.
Cleveland’s local laws are published in the City Record, a weekly, official, publication of the Council of the City of Cleveland. New ordinances are first printed in the City Record, available in pdf form on the Council website from Jan. 1996 to last week.
The official publication of the City of Cincinnati is the City Bulletin. I do not believe backfiles are online, although the current issue is online in a pdf format. I’m not yet aware of the similar publications for Columbus or the other larger Ohio municipalities.
State Codes: Ohio’s state administrative and statutory codes are both produced online by Lawriter, which is the technical partner with the OSBA for the Casemaker legal research platform. While I am unfamiliar with the details of the arrangement, the state has awarded Lawriter an exclusive contract to provide web access to the Ohio Revised Code and the Ohio Administrative Code. The Lawriter codes are not official. The publicly accessible Lawriter version of the codes features a section-by-section browsing interface, supplemented by relatively basic word searching with Boolean connectors. In addition to the legal restrictions of an exclusive contract, the interface allows only retrieval of individual sections of code text. State websites refer to the Lawriter-hosted codes. Some dead links remain to the previous contracted online version of the ORC (from Anderson, a Lexis brand, and based on their Page’s Ohio Revised Code Annotated). Unsurprisingly, there is no ability for either the statutory or administrative code to view past codes or code status as of any point in the past.
Administrative: The state Register of Ohio has existed since 2000, and at least some material from the Register is currently online from Jan. 2003. The Register is in some sense more a mutable, ephemeral, web platform than a static publication, and allows search of public notices, temporary and emergency rules, final rules, etc. The web portal is search based, and there is no ability to, say, straightforwardly scroll through all the issues of a particular year. The Register is a currency-oriented public notice tool, not an archive, and ORC 103.051 includes instructions to the Legislative Service Commission to “purge a document from the Register when its display no longer serves… public notice and information functions.” Even the “rule history” feature of the Register only pertains to current rules and the site disclaimers provide that “LSC will offer this history feature” only so long “as available disk space allows” and indicate that “there likely will be a future policy limiting the extent to which historical documents are available through the Register.” The Register “…is not copyrighted…” but “…there is no warranty that documents displayed in the Register are free of copyright claims or other restrictions on use.” Intriguingly, however, information is provided to the Register using specialized rule authoring software that generates standardized XML documents — so while retention and archiving functions aren’t necessarily fulfilled by the LSC, the existing use of standardized markup may be compatible with future product extensions and/or make clean capture of the information possible.
Legislative: The online version of the Ohio Revised Code, published by Lawriter, lacks a designation as official, but so does the printed version of the Code. The Laws of Ohio, the sessional publication, serves as the only official source.
The Legislative Service Commission does make bill analysis and bill status reports available online for recent years, in text and pdf formats. The House and Senate journals are also available via legislative websites, in pdf format (back to 2003).
Sessional laws are freely available online, after a fashion. The General Assembly website lists and includes text and pdf for bills “that have been passed by both the Ohio House and the Ohio Senate” from the 1997-1998 session forward. There is a very prominent disclaimer of any official status, even as bills, and the reader is directed to the LSC Bill Room in the Statehouse. The Secretary of State’s office has a website including pdf tables listing bills signed by the governor.
Courts: Supreme Court and intermediate appellate cases are available online (as pdf) from the early 1990s(!). These include a “web cite” as a medium-neutral citation/unique identifier. These are all slip opinions. Reported opinions are officially published in the Ohio Official Reports, published by Thomson West, and not freely online. The one exception to the statement that nearly nothing in the state is “authenticated” is that these slip law pdfs from the Ohio Supreme Court are “signed” using Adobe’s digital signatures (this began in 2008 or 2009). Online docket information (though not always actual copies of filings) is available at many levels in the court system, and without “PACER-like” account/login requirements. The Supreme Court has a “court docket” link allowing searching across cases, viewing of docket/calendar information, and, for recent years, commonly includes (pdf) filings themselves. Some of the Courts of Appeals also have docket search systems. Even some of the county (trial) courts include online docket-search tools, although more rarely (at all?) with availability of actual filings. Even several of the municipal courts provide docket searching using the CourtView electronic case information system.
Andrew Plumb-Larrick

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