Rare Books Blog

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 4, 2009

Case reports are a fundamental source for the study and practice of law in the Anglo-American common law system. “Landmarks in Law Reporting,” the Spring 2009 exhibition from the Lillian Goldman Law Library’s Rare Book Collection, illustrates the development of law reporting from the Middle Ages to modern times.

The exhibit begins with a manuscript collection of cases from the reign of Edward III, copied in about 1450. Also on display are first editions of the reports of Edmund Plowden (1571), considered the first modern-style reports) and Sir Edward Coke (1600), perhaps the most influential reports). Other “firsts” include the first American case reports (Ephraim Kirby’s 1789 reports of Connecticut cases) and the first U.S. Supreme Court reports (Dallas’ Reports, 1798).

Recurring themes in the exhibition include the gradual transformation from manuscript to print, the growth of legal publishing, the connections between law reporting and legal education, and the growing demands by lawyers for timely, well-organized reports.

The Rare Books Exhibition Gallery is located in the lower level of the Lillian Goldman Law Library (Level L2), directly in front of the Paskus-Danziger Rare Book Reading Room. For those unable to visit the exhibit in person, stay tuned to the following postings here on the Yale Law Library Rare Books Blog.

MIKE WIDENER
Rare Book Librarian

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

Thanks to the following for their assistance and advice in the research and preparation of this exhibit:

  • Morris L. Cohen, Professor Emeritus of Law, Yale Law School
  • John H. Langbein, Sterling Professor of Law and Legal History, Yale Law School
  • Sabrina Sondhi, Special Collections Librarian, Arthur W. Diamond Law Library, Columbia University

Additional help in mounting the exhibit came from Brian Mendez and Fred Shapiro (Lillian Goldman Law Library), Joanne Kittredge (Yale Law School), and Emma Molina Widener (University of New Haven).

“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.

Image: Volume 2 of Alexander James Dallas, Reports of Cases Ruled and Adjudged in the Several Courts of the United States, and of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia, 1798), containing the first reports of U.S. Supreme Court cases.

May 4, 2009

[Year Books, 20-45 Edward III.] Liber Assisarum (manuscript in Law French, ca. 1450).

The origin of our case reports lies in the late 13th century, with what are now called the “Year Books.” The Liber Assisarum, shown here, is a collection of Year Book cases in the court of King’s Bench in 1347-1372.

The Year Books are quite different from modern case reports. They say little or nothing about the facts, or who won. What interested the anonymous reporters was the debate between advocates and judges, a sort of tentative oral pleading that has been compared to lightning chess. The Year Books seem to have had some connection (still unclear) with legal education at the Inns of Court, but they were also used by bench & bar.

As more or less verbatim records of legal debates between named individuals, the Year Books are virtually the only historical sources that capture voices from the Middle Ages.

Maitland on the Year Books

“Today men are reporting at Edinburgh and Dublin, at Boston and San Francisco, at Quebec and Sydney and Cape Town, at Calcutta and Madras. Their pedigree is unbroken and indisputable. It goes back to some nameless lawyers at Westminster to whom a happy thought had come. What they desired was not a copy of the chilly record, cut and dried, with its concrete particulars concealing the point of law: the record overladen with the uninteresting names of litigants and oblivious of the interesting names of sages, of justices and serjeants. What they desired was the debate with the life-blood in it: the twists and turns of advocacy, the quip courteous and the countercheck quarrelsome.” – Sir Frederick Maitland, 17 Selden Soc. xv.

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 4, 2009

[Year Book, 27 Henry VIII.] De termino Pasche anno regni Regis Henrici Octaui. XXVII (London, 1556).

Printers began publishing Year Book cases in the 1480s. Two and a half centuries of Year Book reporting came to an end with the cases from 27 Henry VIII (1535), shown here. Lawyers, judges and students did not stop reporting cases. The transition from Year Book reports to our modern case reports was gradual, and coincided with a shift from oral to written pleadings.

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 4, 2009

Edmund Plowden (1518-1585), Les Commentaries, ou Reportes de Edmunde Plowden un Apprentice de le Comen Ley (London, 1571) [with] La Second Part de les Reports, ou Commentaries … (London, 1610).

Edmund Plowden’s Commentaries was the first of the “nominative reporters,” reports cited by the reporter’s name. His reports claim many other “firsts.” They were the first to include the names of the parties in the headings, providing a citation method that lawyers follow to this day. Plowden was the first reporter to prepare his reports for the press. His was the first collection of leading cases, “annotated by an editor at the head of the profession, which by including the pleadings … enabled them to be studied in the context of litigation” (Biographical Dictionary of the Common Law). Reprinted numerous times, they were required reading for law students. In terms of their accuracy, organization, and balance, they were unsurpassed for centuries.

Highly respected and successful as a lawyer, Plowden was kept from the bench by his loyalty to the Catholic faith.

The copy on display is the first edition of 1571. An early hand altered the publication date to 1599, the date of the fourth printing; perhaps it was a bookseller “refreshing” his stock.

Commentaries on Plowden’s Commentaries

“In almost all of the Cases which I have undertaken to report, before they came to be argued, I had Copies of the Records, and took Pains to study the Points of Law arising thereupon, so that oftentimes I was so much Master of them, that if I had been put to it, I was ready to have argued when the first Man began; and by this Method I was more prepared to understand and retain the Arguments and the Causes of the Judgments. And besides this, after I had drawn out my Report at large, and before I had entered it into my Book, I shewed such Cases and Arguments, as seemed to me to be the most difficult, and to require the greatest Memory, to some of the Judges or Sergeants who argued in them, in order to have their Opinion of the Sincerity and Truth of the Report.” – Edmund Plowden, preface to his Commentaries

“What Coke was to hail as those ‘exquisite and elaborate’ Commentaries were thus quite unlike anything that had previously been produced. It was not just that they were the first reports which had been carefully prepared for the press and published in the reporter’s lifetime, … nor even that they included only cases that had been brought to final judgment… For the Commentaries was also a book of leading cases, annotated by an editor at the head of the profession, which by including the pleadings (previously collected only in books of entries) enabled them to be studied in the context of litigation.” – Biographical Dictionary of the Common Law

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 4, 2009

Sir Edward Coke (1552-1634), Les Reports de Edvvard Coke l’Attorney Generall le Roigne … (London, 1600?).

Sir Edward Coke’s Reports are perhaps the most influential reports in the history of English law, so much so that they are cited simply as “The Reports.” Their authority rests mainly on the high reputation of their author, and not on their accuracy or objectivity. Coke was not shy about inserting his own views, and set out not only to report the law but also to teach it. His vast learning spills out, rendering reports that are often disorderly.

The first volume of Coke’s Reports appeared in about 1600 (shown here), and met with such success that ten more volumes appeared in the next fifteen years. Legal historian T.F.T. Plucknett believes Coke may have been the first to report cases with the intent of publishing them soon after. When Coke was dismissed as a judge of King’s Bench in 1616, his political enemies (of which he had many) launched an investigation into alleged errors in the Reports, effectively halting his law reporting.

Coke on his Reports

“And now that I have taken upon myself to make a report of their arguments, I ought to do the same as fully, truly, and sincerely as possibly I can ; howbeit, seeing that almost every Judge had in the course of, his argument a particular method, and I must only hold myself to one, I shall give no just offense to any if I challenge that which of right is due to every Reporter, that is, to reduce the sum and effect of all to such a method as, upon consideration had of all the arguments, the Reporter himself thinketh to be fittest and clearest for the right understanding of the true reason and causes of the judgment and resolution of the case in question.” – Sir Edward Coke, Calvin’s Case, 8 Rep. 4a

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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