Landmarks of Law Reporting 14 – A reporter discusses his work

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

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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