Documents Political Web

Eclectically yours #1

Once Google Reader bit the dust I made my move to Feedly, and I’m quite happy with the change. I especially like the search feature incorporated in the Pro version of Feedly. Since I follow several court cases, and the only “notification” the federal PACER system provides is an RSS feed of every court docket entry, being able to search on key terms ensures I don’t miss a filing.

Speaking of Feedly…

Food Safety News reports that a coalition of consumer groups interested in food safety are gunning for two amendments to the House Farm Bill. The one I’m most interested in is the infamous Steve King amendment titled the “Protect Interstate Commerce Act”. This amendment would start a race for the bottom when it comes to animal welfare laws, food quality, and food safety laws. The King amendment would basically allow one state’s agricultural law to override another, more restrictive law. In other words, King wants to force Iowa’s crappy agricultural laws on to the rest of the country.

It’s one of the worst amendments attached to any bill in more modern times, from a man who is infamous for bad legislation focused on supporting his big agribusiness contributors and little else. What’s surprising is how many Tea Party Congressional members voted for the amendment, as these supposedly “states rights” types are voting for a bill that undermines states rights.

Remember pink slime? There’s a hearing in December related to a motion to dismiss by ABC News and the other defendants. The story contains a link to a copy of the motion to dismiss, but I couldn’t find one for the memorandum, which is the interesting part. However, I’m assuming it’s similar (if not identical) to the one filed with a similar motion in the federal court. Food Liability Law Blog provided a copy of this document. BPI’s response at the time was to refer to its memorandum in support of its motion to remand back to the South Dakota state court.

The pink slime case started in South Dakota, moved to the federal court system, and then back to the state court. I hate it when a court case gets moved back to a state court, because most states don’t have an easily accessible document system. PACER is pricey, but at least you can easily access most documents.

Speaking of documents, California’s effort to get a case management system online has failed, and now the tech companies are circling, like vultures over a particularly juicy carcass, over new contracts to build a system.

They are scrambling for a mother lode of multimillion-dollar contracts for software and licensing, vast additional sums for upkeep, and the right to set up a toll booth on Court Road for 38 million people.

I’m all for private contracting of court systems, though I think the states would do better to share expertise with each other when it comes to implementation. My biggest concern, though, is system privatization: hiring companies to run the systems, as well as develop them.

Privatization of court systems is, in my opinion, wrong, wrong, wrong. Not only does privatization add to the expense of an already outrageously expensive legal system, they inhibit easy access to the documents. Instead of paying a fee such as ten cents a document page, like you do with PACER, it may cost you several dollars to access even the smallest document.

Still, some court document access is better than nothing, which is what you have with most state courts.

Documents Legal, Laws, and Regs

Following the Track of a foodborne killer: Jenson Farms 404(b) notice

Attorney Bill Marler is providing a copy of the 404(b) Notice for the Jenson brothers criminal trial.

If you’re not familiar with this case, the Jenson brothers were charged with introducing adulterated cantaloupes into interstate commerce. The cantaloupes, contaminated with the deadly Listeria monocytogenes, eventually killed 33 people and hospitalized 147 others. It’s one of the worst foodborne illness outbreak in modern times in the US.

The 404(b) Notice is a way of ensuring no gotchas in the criminal case by providing the defendants the state’s evidence ahead of the trial.

I’m not normally interested in criminal cases, but I am interested in food safety. The document is a fascinating, albeit sad and frightening, tracing of a killer as pernicious as a serial murderer, and ultimately more dangerous than terrorism. It also does raise questions as to why the third-party auditor was also not charged, for complicity, by providing a passing grade for the Jenson Brothers packing operation. I imagine, though, the responsibility for the alleged action ultimately resides on those who controlled the process: the Jenson brothers.

Appreciations to Bill Marler for providing access to this document.


Party with the Internet Archive

The Internet Archive folks are having their annual bash in San Francisco. Should be fun if you live in the area.

I’m intrigued by the 404 dead link teaser that will be unveiled at the party. I’ve taken some of my sites down when I have re-organized, and I know I’ve left a litter of 404s in my wake. I feel bad, but not so bad that I’m going to leave up an old, obsolete site based on technology that’s no longer supported.

In the comments, someone mentioned a Chrome extension called Momento. Sounds fun.

New toy.


The most important paper you can read, but you can’t have it

Several publications, including the New York Times are covering an important new paper on climate change in the future. In the paper, the authors predict that starting in 2047, the coldest years on record, will now exceed the warmest years on record we have now.

It’s an important paper, and one that presents a fresh outlook. Unfortunately, it’s also a paper that’s stuck behind a paywall, and therefore unavailable to the majority of people.

Yet, notice how climate change denial papers are never stuck behind paywalls. Of course, you might say it’s because no reputable journal would ever publish them. It’s true, their science is dubious, and their conclusions are questionable. However, the fact is, when you’re trying to reach as many people as you can with a message, you don’t make people have a pay a significant chunk of money just to see your paper.

The climate change denial folks understand this. Evidently the more reputable climate folks, don’t.


Flying high in the (Document) clouds

DocumentCloud is an online document management system for journalists. It provides a way to upload and organize documents, making them easier to share with the public and other team members. In addition, DocumentCloud also provides a set of tools enabling a host of functionality, including the ability to search among all of the uploaded accessible documents. (example from the Washington Post)

Currently, my documents are all uploaded to my own server. They’re easily available, true, but if I were to someday be nibbled to death by ducks, the documents would vanish from the internets. In addition, there’s no functionality available for searching among the documents, and they’re isolated from other comparable documents, making them a little less than useful for generalized researching. Yes, they are accessible via Google, but documents need a bit more.

They need persistence not dependent on a frail human body.

DocumentCloud was kind enough to give me an account, once I demonstrated the intent of my document web site, and how I’ve used my documents as source material for writings. Now I’m in the process of figuring out how best to organize them for uploading, which includes determining what I’m going to name the document files.

The RECAP folks had legitimate criticism of my file name scheme, which consists of folders containing documents named “document1.pdf” and so on. The names are meaningful in context, but meaningless out of context. This is especially true for my court documents.

I could use the RECAP naming scheme, which consists of court system, specific court designation, case number, document number, and attachment number, if any. An example is “gov.uscourts.dcd.129639.1.0.pdf”, which is the US federal court system, the DC court, case number “129639”, document 1, and the main document, not an attachment.

The FOIA Project uses something similar, but it actually spells out the name for the document. An example is “dc-1-2010cv00883-complaint-attachment-1.pdf”. This name breaks down to the DC court system, the year and court type (“2010” and “cv” for Civil), as well as the case number, in addition to the document type and attachment. (As a side note, the FOIA Project also uses DocumentCloud.)

PACER assigns each case a unique PACER number within the system, but that’s only useful when accessing the documents via PACER.

I’ll have to live with whatever I decide, because some of the cases I follow have hundreds, even thousands, of court documents. I’m going to do the “rename and upload to DocumentCloud” thing once.

You can provide file name suggestions on Google+.