Low-tech law books won’t fit in San Diego’s new high-tech courthouse

Runston Superior Court Judge “Tony” Maino has found use for the law books that line his courtroom shelves as beautiful footrests for short-legged jurors.

Judge Gerald Jessop noted that the large leather-bound volumes of his courtroom provided effective sound insulation.

In this day of vast and immediate online resources, Presiding Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Barton noted, “Law books have almost negative value.”

So what will happen to the thousands of volumes of largely obsolete legal resource books at the downtown San Diego courthouse when the move takes place in some months at the new state courthouse?

A majority will end up in recycling. Most libraries, law schools, and lawyers don’t want it. Their attention has shifted to the Internet.

There will be little space for printed materials in the streamlined, tech-focused 22-story courthouse at 1100 Union Street. Courtrooms do not have large walls of shelves, but a small library can be hidden behind each judicial bench.

A few court staff perform certain duties seated in one of the courtrooms in the new San Diego Superior Court building, which is slated to open before the end of the year. The walls are not equipped with book shelves.

(Pauline Répard / SDUT)

It is the job of the court’s general manager, Michael Roddy, to determine what books, records and furniture will be suitable for the new building, and what to do with the excess.

“Twenty years ago books were our life,” Roddy noted.

This was back when most courtrooms subscribed to California Appellate Reports, which included an annual bound volume and periodic print updates.

The judges had various government code books, including the state penal code and city municipal codes. Judicial guides on procedures in specialist areas such as juvenile law or family law were also on hand.

Now the judges say they rarely take a law book off the shelves. They use computers on the bench and in the chambers, and lawyers set up laptops on lawyers’ tables in courtrooms.

In 1997, Roddy’s budget for law books and periodicals was $ 994,000. In fiscal year 2016-2017, court expenses for books had fallen to $ 419,000, with an additional $ 118,000 for access to online resources.

Jessop recently read the California appeal reports, standing in long rows along a wall in his courtroom. The first volume was dated 1906. The most recent: July 1997. It was still in its plastic packaging.

“I don’t use them,” said Jessop, who has been on the bench since 1999 and relied on law books while studying law. “I go online and pull the case up. Research tools these days are so powerful.

He said he primarily deals with family law and needs access to the latest laws and court rulings in this area.

Barton, the presiding judge, said he always enjoys flipping through hardcover copies of court procedure guides because he may stumble upon one item of interest while searching for something else.

Judge Louis Hanoian called himself a “hybrid” on the transition from books to the Internet.

“I’m pretty savvy online. I like books. They serve as a very nice decor. They make the room look like a courtroom, ”he said.

Maino also said that the books “add a certain ambiance to a courtroom. The high bench, the books, the sober wood, they give the idea that the law is a permanent thing.

Hanoian has penal code books dating back to 1993, when he became a judge. He said he found them useful if an old case came under reconsideration and that he had to apply the law as it was written when the case was filed.

But Hanoian added, when he moves into the new courthouse and leaves most of the books behind, “I won’t miss them.”

The $ 555 million San Diego Superior Court Building, also known as the Central Courthouse, was scheduled to open earlier this year. Delays pushed the opening last summer.

The best estimates now are that the judges will be installed by the end of the year.

The 71 courtrooms in the new building will now absorb the operations of the vintage 1961 courthouse at 220 West Broadway as well as other downtown family and estate law courts.

High-tech devices will greet the public in the spacious lobby, with electronic notice boards listing the cases on each court’s calendar for the day. Other stations offer interactive maps of the building. Courtrooms will have wifi connections.

Roddy plans to have a small library in the new courthouse for the books judges use the most, such as training manuals, jury instructions, and practice and procedure guides.

John Adkins, director of the Downtown San Diego Law Library, said he might be interested in certain books, such as government codes, if they are up to date.

The library is primarily intended for members of the public who wish to do legal research on their own. It provides books, computers, videos, microfiche and research staff as well as a host of online resources accessible from personal computers.

“We are the last stronghold of print because we serve the public. We have to have it all, ”Adkins said.

He reduced his book collection from 119,000 volumes to 111,000 during his seven years as library manager. Meanwhile, its total budget has been slashed from $ 4.2 million to $ 2.8 million.

Meanwhile, Barton and Roddy tried to think of who else might want their aging law books.

Barton said that a school is interested in certain volumes to give realism to its mock trial sessions. It has been suggested that a theater troupe might blame it.

But the rest must go – and soon. Barton said the court may have to pay a contractor to transport the books for recycling.

“Our courthouse is built for the next 50 years, not the last 50,” Barton said.


Twitter: @pdrepard

Nancy I. Romero

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