Finding the Law – Ohio Edition

Before you can know what the law is, you have to know where the law is.  Sure, there’s myriad databases and publications available for any given corpus of laws, but what if you want “the official” version of the law?  That should be pretty easy to determine, right?  Not always.  Let’s take Ohio as an example.

This all started with the contract between the Ohio Reporter of Decisions and West Publishing to publish the Ohio Official Reports set of case law reporters.  It has official in the title so it must be official, right?  Maybe.  Incidentally, this is also very close to the issue at stake in the Georgia-Malamud litigation – if it is official, how much of it is an edict of government and thus copyright free? But I digress…

The Ohio Revised Code is silent on the issue, so the next step is to check the local Rules of Court.  Which tells us…

Okay, so off to the Writing Manual we go!  This is where things get a little interesting because we find this:

Repository, what?  WebCites, who?  Things just got a little more complicated.  This isn’t true vendor neutral citation, because parallel citations to the Ohio Official Reports and North Eastern Reporter are still required, but it makes one wonder about the importance of the web version of the cases.

Oh, and just to make things fun, note the last paragraph of the preface of the Writing Manual. 

Ohio, I should note, has amazing documentation on its Supreme Court and Reporter of Decisions websites.  One thing that they have that I don’t think I’ve seen anywhere else is the Reporters Rules for the Posting of Decisions.  This is where things get really interesting and confusing.  

First we have this rule: 

Okay, then.  It looks like the website is designated the Ohio Official Reports.  It’s sort of weird that the contract with West to publish a print publication with this same name takes effect also on July 1, 2012, but whatever.  It seems like the website is the official reporter.  BUT WAIT.

If there’s a discrepancy, the bound volumes control.  There was some debate on Twitter about whether this means for all cases or just cases printed prior to July 2012, but I tend to read it as meaning for all cases.  YMMV.  If I’m right, it seems that in Ohio, as in Animal Farm, many cases are Official, it’s just that some are more Official than others.


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