LAW LIBRARY WOES, By Alfred Vargas

The Ventura County Law Library has provided legal materials to the bench and bar since 1891. In the late 1990s, the library’s mission encompassed the public’s need for equal access to legal information. Despite decreased budget revenues, the library still provides for the legal research needs of Ventura County. While every California county may have a county law library, not all do. Ventura is fortunate to have this resource.

A six-member board of trustees oversees the VCLL. The County Board of Supervisors appoints two members as representatives of the Board of Supervisors and the Ventura County Bar Association. The Ventura County Superior Court fills the remaining slots with one judge and three local attorneys.

VCLL is a local public agency governed by Business and Professions Code sections 6300 et. seq. Ninety-eight percent of its operating  revenue comes from a portion of the civil filing fee. The library receives $32 from fees on the first documents filed by the plaintiff and defendant on civil cases, excluding juvenile matters. Small claims filings over $5,000 generate two dollars a case. The County provides the law library quarters on the first floor of the Hall of Justice building at 800 South Victoria Avenue.

Before 2007, the VCLL could ask the County Board of Supervisors for an annual increase of up to three dollars of the VCLL’s portion of the civil filing fee. Every five or six years the VCLL would exercise this option to keep up with inflation. In 2007, however, the Administrative Office of the Courts pushed through legislation for a uniform filing fee, eliminating the Board of Supervisors’ authorization to increase library fees. The legislation placed a moratorium on raising fees until 2010. County law libraries were assured that the AOC would work with them for a fee increase when the moratorium ended. Nevertheless, since 2010 the AOC has raised the civil filing fee twice without including additional fees for law libraries. A new moratorium prevents raising the civil filing fee until 2014. At that time the county law libraries will be forced to return to the Legislature for relief.

What fees are allowed have been diminished by economic woes. Increases in the jurisdictional limit for small claims cases from $5,000 to $7,000, and most recently to $10,000 in 2013, have reduced the VCLL’s resources because cases normally filed as limited civil cases became eligible for small claims court instead. Where law libraries once received $64 from a limited civil filing fee, they now receive two dollars for the small claims filing over $5,000. The County’s recent economic downturn contributed to a decrease in the number of paid civil filings, and many people feeling the effects of the economic downturn qualify for fee waivers, further reducing revenues.

Meanwhile, continual increases in subscription fees by legal information vendors have forced the library to cancel upkeep on many of its titles. However, the library is still dedicated to keeping a current practice collection with an emphasis on California law and certain federal practice areas. The library also maintains a self-help collection, mainly Nolo Publishing titles, for the pro per litigant.

Always vigilant for new opportunities to maintain services, the VCLL secured an independent grant specifically to provide educational forums on legal topics for the public. Speakers have thus far scheduled talks on the second and fourth Wednesdays, at 5:30 p.m., for April and May. Local attorneys interested in speaking are encouraged to contact the VCLL at (805)642-8982. Future plans also include hosting MCLE classes for attorneys.

The future funding of the VCLL depends on legislators facing significant budgetary constraints because of other state needs. The VCLL certainly will accept donations to help cover the gaps in funding. For more information please visit the library website at www.vencolawlib.org. This is also the portal for access to on-line materials offered through library partners.

Among all the legal resources at the VCLL, there are some surprisingly fun titles included in the stacks:

· The Twilight of the Supreme Court  A History of Our Constitutional Theory by Edward S. Corwin, Yale University Press,1934.

· Inquisition by Edward Peters, Free Press, 1988

· Courtiers of the Marble Palace: The Rise and Influence of the Supreme Court Law Clerk by Todd. C. Peppers,Stanford University Press, 2006.

· The Case That Will Not Die: Commonwealth vs. Sacco and Vanzetti by Herbert Ehrmann, Little Brown & Company, 1969.

For an interesting history of the California Codes, try 42 Cal L Rev. 766 for a 1954 article “The Revision and Codification of California Statutes 1849-1953” by Ralph N. Kleps. The VCLL also has older biographies, periodicals and legal quotations books. Among other unexpected finds was Outdoor California by the California Department of Fish and Game. This magazine arrives by way of the library’s California Depository program for government documents. It has some great pictures of California wildlife, and may cover laws and programs dealing with the wildlife and lands of California.

Alfred Vargas handles appellate, landlord-tenant and other litigation matters. He is a member of the CITATIONS editorial board.

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