Rare Books Blog

May 5, 2009

Sir John Popham (1531?-1607), Reports and Cases Collected by the Learned, Sir John Popham, Knight, Late Lord Chief-Justice of England (London, 1656).

Popham’s Reports is but one of “the flying squadrons of thin reports” published in the mid- to late 17th century, and exemplifies their shortcomings. Popham himself can’t be blamed because he died a half-century before their publication, and probably never intended for them to be published. They were taken from a manuscript of unknown quality, and supplemented with a number of later cases. They were among many case reports translated (often badly) into English following the Commonwealth’s ban on the use of Law French in the courts. Many judges rejected them as having no authority, and banned their citation in court.

Sir John Popham was one of the most colorful of the law reporters, if the stories about him can be believed. As a child he was supposedly kidnapped and raised by gypsies, and worked his way through law studies at the Middle Temple as a petty thief. As a barrister, however, Popham rose through the ranks. By 1581 he was speaker of the House of Commons and Attorney General, and in 1592 he was made Chief Justice of King’s Bench. He was known as a strict but fair judge, and presided over the trials of the Earl of Essex, Sir Walter Raleigh, and the Gunpowder Plot conspirators. He was also one of the promoters of the Jamestown colony in Virginia.

 

“Indigested crudities”

“A multitude of flying reports (whose Authors are as uncertain as the times when taken, and the causes and reasons of the Judgements as obscure, as by whom judged) have of late surreptitiously crept forth; whereby … we have been entertained with barren & unwarranted Products … which not only tends to the depraving of the first grounds & reason of our Students at the Common Law, & the young practitioners thereof, who by such false Lights are misled, … but also to the contempt of our Common Law itselfe, and of divers of our former grave and learned Justices and professors thereof, whose honored and revered names have in some of said Books been abused and invocated to patronize the indigested crudities of those plagiaries.” – Sir Harbottle Grimston, preface to The Reports of Sir George Croke (1657)

“See the inconveniences of these scambling reports, they will make us to appear to posterity for a parcel of blockheads.” – Holt C.J., Slater v. May, 2 Raymond 1072 (1704)

MIKE WIDENER

Rare Book Librarian

 

“Landmarks of Law Reporting” is on display April through October 2009 in the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery, Level L2, Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School.

May 5, 2009

Sir James Burrow (1701-1782), Reports of Cases Adjudged in the Court of King’s Bench … (5 vols.; London, 1766-80).

Burrow’s Reports established the modern pattern of what a law report should contain: the reporter’s statement of the facts, a summary of the arguments of counsel, and the court’s judgment.

Burrow had collected notes on King’s Bench cases for some time, and was prompted to publish them after being subjected to “continual interruption and even persecution by incessant application for searches into my notes, for transcripts of them, sometimes for the note-books themselves (not always returned without trouble and solicitation), not to mention frequent conversations upon very dry and uninteresting subjects, which my consulters were paid for considering, but I had no sort of concern in.”

“Burrow’s Reports, therefore, may, in their department, fairly be called ‘works of art,’ – … case, arguments, and opinion – going out to the bar separate in form as distinct in nature, each from the other; each complete in itself, but having, one with all, exact and reciprocal adaptation, and presenting so a full, harmonious, but never redundant whole.” – John W. Wallace, The Reporters Arranged and Characterized (4th ed. 1882).

MIKE WIDENER

Rare Book Librarian

“Landmarks of Law Reporting” is on display April through October 2009 in the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery, Level L2, Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School.

May 5, 2009

W. T. S. Daniel (1806-1891), A Letter to Sir Roundell Palmer … on the Present System of Law Reporting, Its Evils, and the Remedy (London, 1863?).

W. T. S. Daniel was active in many areas of law reform, and in 1863 he began working for a better system of law reporting. There was wide dissatisfaction with the existing system. The authorized reports were tardy and expensive, prompting competition from weekly legal newspapers. Daniel outlined his solution in this open letter to his ally, Attorney General Sir Roundell Palmer. His efforts resulted in the creation of the Incorporated Council for Law Reporting, which began issuing an official series of reports under the auspices of the bar, which continues to this day.

Daniel presented this copy to “Th. Carlton”, and also amended the title.

MIKE WIDENER

Rare Book Librarian

“Landmarks of Law Reporting” is on display April through October 2009 in the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery, Level L2, Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School.

May 5, 2009

Ephraim Kirby (1757-1804), Reports of Cases Adjudged in the Superior Court of The State Of Connecticut, from the Year 1785, to May 1788 (Litchfield, Conn., 1789).

Although American courts were producing a small number of written opinions after the Revolutionary War, those opinions failed to be collected or published in any systematic manner. Kirby’s Reports, a collection of Connecticut Superior Court cases published in 1789, was the first volume of law reports published in America. Ephraim Kirby was educated at Yale University and practiced law in Litchfield, Connecticut before being appointed the first Superior Court Judge of the Mississippi Territory by President Jefferson.

This volume is from the library of Simeon E. Baldwin, the professor credited with saving the Yale Law School in the late 19th century. It previously belonged to his father, Roger Sherman Baldwin, one of the attorneys for the Amistad captives.

MIKE WIDENER

Rare Book Librarian

“Landmarks of Law Reporting” is on display April through October 2009 in the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery, Level L2, Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School.

May 5, 2009

George Caines (1771-1825), Cases Argued and Determined in the Court for the Trial of Impeachments and Correction of Errors, in the State of New-York (New York, 1805).

There was no formalized system of reporting in the U.S. until 1804, when both the New York and Massachusetts legislatures provided for official reporters with paid stipends. George Caines was appointed the first official law reporter for the New York Supreme Court. However, Chief Justice James Kent ousted Caines after only one year, complaining that “his work is too full of mistakes.”

MIKE WIDENER

Rare Book Librarian

“Landmarks of Law Reporting” is on display April through October 2009 in the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery, Level L2, Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School.

May 5, 2009

William Johnson (1769-1848), letter to John Wells Esq., (Albany, NY, October 23, 1819).

William Johnson was Chief Justice Kent’s handpicked successor to George Caines as official reporter for the New York Supreme Court. During his tenure, Johnson produced 20 volumes of Johnson’s Reports, covering the period from 1806 to 1823. Johnson later added the post of Chancery Court reporter to his duties. Johnson’s Chancery Reports, covering the years 1814-1823, were the only specialized American equity reports of their time, greatly contributing to their influence in other states.

In the letter displayed here, Johnson mentions the case of Percival v. Hickey, which he reported in vol. 18 of his New York Supreme Court reports, and discusses the tribulations of a reporter’s work. The letter reads in full:

John Wells Esq.
Counsellor at Law
New York

Albany October 23rd 1819

My dear friend,
     The motion to bring on the case of Percival & Hickey was made today by Mr. Sedgwick, & accordingly I moved for the postponement of the arguments until the next term, which was granted. The plaintiff was here, & complained loudly of his Counsel Mr. E. [T.A. Emmet]. Mr. Strong forgot to send the points with the cases, which might have created a difficulty had the case been ordered on.
     The court have business, from the middle & northern Counties, sufficient to occupy them until Wednesday of next week. I hope to be able to leave here on that day, so as to have a short time in N.Y. before the Court of Errors.
     My Reports must fall greatly in arrears if so much of my time is passed in this place, of which every year, I become more & more tired.

     Yours truly,

     Wm. Johnson

MIKE WIDENER
Rare Book Librarian

“Landmarks of Law Reporting” is on display April through October 2009 in the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery, Level L2, Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School.

May 5, 2009

Alexander James Dallas (1759-1817), Reports of Cases Ruled and Adjudged in the Several Courts of the United States, and of Pennsylvania, Held at the Seat of the Federal Government, vol. 2 (Philadelphia, 1798).

In 1790 (one year after Ephraim Kirby began publishing Connecticut reports), Alexander Dallas began publishing Pennsylvania reports. The same year, the U.S. Supreme Court began operating out of Philadelphia. Dallas included a few of those reports in the second volume of his reports, and so he is considered the first U.S. Supreme Court reporter. Dallas produced only four volumes of case reports and they were often derided for being incomplete, inaccurate, and tardy. The Supreme Court reports were at least five years old when they appeared. Shown here is the first page of Supreme Court reports, where the Court began to organize itself and adopt its first rules. It was not until the August Term, 1792, that the Court rendered its first substantive decision, in Georgia v. Brailsford (2 Dallas 402). After Dallas, the unofficial post of reporter to the Supreme Court was held in turn by William Cranch, Henry Wheaton, and Richard Peters.

MIKE WIDENER
Rare Book Librarian

“Landmarks of Law Reporting” is on display April through October 2009 in the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery, Level L2, Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School.

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