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 1. What is Maryland Decisions?

Maryland Decisions is a regular online case reporting service presenting selected Circuit Court opinions and rulings, which includes selected Circuit Court administrative appeal decisions, District Court appeal decisions and selected Circuit Court three-judge panel opinions. The opinions are in full text form, formatted, headnoted and summarized. It is available by yearly subscription-- or other users can take advatange of the "Hourly Rate Access" feature. Most of the decisions and rulings to be contained in Maryland Decisions are not available in full text form through any other source-- and even where available, the material is not headnoted or summarized, and has no cite. The service has developed its own unique headnote system, designed for comprehensive headnotes that are result-oriented.


 2. What decisions are published?

The service publishes the following selected opinions and rulings:

--Circuit Court opinions or decisions, including certain interlocutory rulings such as on motions to dismiss or motions for summary judgment, or concerning evidence or discovery issues;

--Circuit Court decisions on appeal from the Maryland District Court;

--Circuit Court decisions on appeal or from State or local administrative agencies or boards; and

--Circuit Court decisions by three judge panels (en banc review);

In addition, the service will present summaries of recent Maryland Decisions postings. These summaries will appear in a special section of Maryland Decisions' weekly newsletter (to be available to subscribers in 2014). Full text opinions from appellate courts will not be reproduced in Maryland Decisions. Those full text opinions are available by several means, including the appellate courts' website, Court Clerks, official advance sheets and bound volumes, The Daily Record (through RecordFax) and of course advance sheets and volumes of West's Maryland Reporter. But summaries of pertinent appellate cases will appear weekly, on the Maryland Decisions Home Page, with a link to the cases as published on the Maryland Judiciary website.


 3. Is some of this material already available?

With the exception of Board of Contract Appeals decisions (not yet available from Maryland Decisions) reproduced without formatting and accompanied only by an issue listing--by MICPEL and the successor to MICPEL-- full text versions of this material are not available in any standard publication service. The material naturally is available through the court or agency file. Certain Circuit Court decisions on business or technology issues are available through the Maryland Judiciary website, but not otherwise published, and they are not formatted or citable. To the extent any of this material is available elsewhere, it is not accompanied by formatting, summaries, headnotes, or indexes. The Daily Record has included summaries of certain administrative appeal decisions (OAH), but again these are not full text reproductions and also are not accompanied by headnotes or indexes. Though these summaries have value, they are not published separately and so the The Daily Record agency decision summaries have little "shelf life." Similar publications such as Metro Verdicts Monthly include results of litigation in trial courts, accompanied by a basic topic listing, but these descriptions are not full text publications of trial court opinions.


4. Why bother printing trial court and agency opinions? Don't attorneys already have enough to read?

There is always room for a reliable and easy to use resource that will aid attorneys in their practice. Trial court opinions are the consistent, daily exploration of a wide range of legal topics.

A Circuit Court opinion that, if appealed, is affirmed in an unreported Court of Special Appeals decision (and unreported decisions from that court are common), actually stands as the only available and citeable expression of that given legal topic or issue. Many Circuit Court opinions, appealed or not, often address issues of first impression in Maryland. In any event, these opinions, which have significant overall value, exist only in a distant trial court file.

Circuit Court opinions on matters such as discovery and evidence would be extremely useful to practitioners, since these matters are not often treated in appellate opinions. For example, the thin, blue-bound volume of  Maryland Discovery Opinions by the well-known (late) Chief Judge Niles, was in consistent use by the practicing bar until changes in the discovery rules and the age of those opinions rendered the volume obsolete. Yet there has been nothing to replace it.

Circuit Court opinions on appeal to that Court, especially where certiorari to the Court of Appeals is the only further review (e.g. appeals from the Maryland District Court), actually have significant and continuing authority. Appeals to three judge panels (en banc review) are another example--this process is consistently utilized but currently there is no single accessible source for these opinions.

Administrative agency appeal decisions often concern areas seldom reached by appellate opinions. Even in areas common to appellate opinions, Circuit Court decisions and rulings, and administrative agency opinions, demonstrate how principles and standards set forth by appellate decisions, such as construction of particular statutes, rules, and regulations, are interpreted and followed.

Also, there is no citable or published form for selected opinions of the Office of Administrative Hearings.


 5. Why bother printing trial court opinions? Aren't they lacking in precedent and value as citeable authority?

Any citation to West's F.Supp. is a citation to a trial court decision. Yet the F. Supp. has been in use for decades and is freely cited by attorneys, nationally. The F.Supp. is now in its Second series, meaning that more than 900 of the original volumes have been published. The West N.Y.S. and N.Y.S.2d volume series frequently contains trial court opinions, yet this volume series also has been in use for years and is commonly cited. There are other current examples (e.g. Pennsylvania's D&C [District and Circuit] opinions volume series, and Delaware trial court opinions on the Delaware judiciary website). The value of any decision as legal authority in a given matter also has much to do with whether it deals with similar facts and topics to the situation at hand. Trial court decisions often provide that intersection between facts and legal issues.


6. Why bother printing trial court and agency opinions? Won't attorneys rarely turn to such a source?

Attorneys will respond to, and use, any reliable and easy to use legal source which is consistently cited and recognized as authoritative. This applies to legal encyclopedias, A.L.R. annotation treatments, specialty topic volumes, law review articles, treatises, and the like. Maryland Decisions will contain much that practicing attorneys and courts will find of value. As the reporting service comes into more frequent use among practitioners, more attorneys and judges will turn to it. Once the service is cited on any regular basis in trial court and appellate decisions, it soon will be a standard feature in any law office library.

Also, the bulk of appellate decisional law in Maryland is confined, by and large, to a relatively few topics: criminal law especially search and seizure; domestic law especially custody, support, alimony and property distribution; real estate especially zoning and planning, commercial sales and mortgages; administrative law including disciplinary action against government employees; commercial contracts; and negligence with an overwhelming emphases on vehicle accidents and medical malpractice. Maryland Decisions will include selected and unique trial court and administrative decisions which track those topics, but the service also can fill in "gaps" that might exist in Maryland appellate decisional law.


7. How would the service obtain its opinions?

Unlike appellate opinions, there exists no standard single source for Circuit Court opinions and rulings in the State's various local jurisdictions. Maryland Decisions will encourage attorneys, Court Clerks, and judges themselves to send in opinions and rulings of interest. The service need not print every decision it receives. It will publish selected opinions of value, utilizing when necessary an assessment of a given submitted court decision by attorney advisors to the service who are experts in various areas. Of note, the service could reach back five or even ten years to publish a standing Circuit Court decision, not appealed, or affirmed by unreported decision, of particular value. As opinions are published and as the service becomes known, more opinions will be sent for publication. Very soon, the question will be not which opinions to publish, but which not to publish.

To obtain other material, such as decisions from the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH), the service has contacted these agencies or offices, and those discussions are ongoing.

Note: the fact that certain Circuit Court opinions are available in Maryland Judiciary websites, that summaries of agency opinions have appeared in The Daily Record, and that Board of Contract Appeals opinions are treated in full text [by the successor of MICPEL or are on the Board of Contract Appeals website], are strong indications of attorney interest in this material.


8. Will, or must, the service pay to receive or to print opinions?

No. All decisions of government courts and agencies are in the public domain and are a matter of public record. They are not copyrighted. Beyond any photocopy costs charged by a clerk or agency, the service will not pay to obtain or publish opinions themselves.


9. How is the Maryland Decisions headnote system structured?

The design and structure of the West Digest headnote system is of course copyrighted to West. The familiar West Digest system certainly is the research standard, but it has some disadvantages. It contains a plethora of legal topics, so that headnotes for a given opinion or area of law might be scattered across two or three topics, often requiring a researcher to pick and choose between such topics or review them all (for example: search and seizure, arrest, criminal law, drugs and narcotics OR divorce, marriage, husband and wife). Some legal topics are so fractured in the Digest System that it is difficult to find any single headnote of value--"Appeal & Error" and "Courts" are two examples.

Also, the West Digest system generally is not "result oriented."  One often is required to read pages of headnotes on a single relevant point to find an instance where, for example, a motion to suppress was granted, a custody modification denied, or a challenge to a separation agreement upheld. Also, the West Digest approach notes headnotes of any expression in a decision of any legal principle, no matter how well established. The result can be 15 headnotes for a single case, yet only a few address the actual decision.

Maryland Decisions has developed a much more simplified system featuring limited but comprehensive notes that are result-oriented. As opposed to the many dozens of research topics in the West Digest System, Maryland Decisions headnote grid system contains far less legal topics, with a limited number of notes in given topic. This avoids needless duplication. (In addition, many legal areas within the West Digest system concern uniquely federal matters and are not included in Maryland Decisions, such as admiralty, patents, trademarks, antitrust, and the like.) Also, the service will duplicate a given headnote between two or three similar topics, making it easier to find a relevant case.

Also, the Maryland Decisions headnote system can add topics, headnote sections, and headnotes as needed. This can be done more frequently than a printed headnote system


10. How often will the service appear and in what form?

The published Circuit Court opinions are on the website. A monthly newsletter will be sent to all subscribers, and also will be appear on the website (slated to appear in 2014). The newsletter will contain discussions of trial court opinions, treatments of other topics, articles of interest submitted by practitioners and summaries of that week's appellate administrative opinions. The newsletters will be archived on the website.


11. Will the service be in bound volumes?

Maryland Decisions will not be published in bound volumes. The cost is prohibitive. Many other legal research services operate solely as websites.


12. How will the service separate types of opinions?

Maryland Decisions intends to publish Circuit Court and administrative opinions in groups, but this not necessary to a online system. But there is likely to be a limit, in such a case the service will begin a second "volume" such as 2 Md.Dec.1, and so on. This design provides stability and flexibility.


13. Will the service include a case history for opinions published?

There is separate case history to track any appeal history of a given court opinion of any sort (assuming the opinion is appealable). This will require continual checking with case files or Clerks for case developments in any pending appeal--although the bulk of this information is on the Maryland Judiciary website. Still, no service of this sort will be reliable without an updated case history, so Maryland Decisions' case history will be updated continually if not weekly.


14. How will Maryland Decisions make itself known?

The service will announce itself consistently through advertising in The Daily Record and advertising in bulletins or newsletters for various statewide legal associations and for all county bar associations. There will be other promotional efforts including sponsorship of selected legal events as well as a substantial presence at legal conferences in the State, especially the Maryland State Bar Association's annual meeting in June.

Maryland Decisions also promotes itself through its Facebook page and Facebook ads.

There are other promotional efforts the service can utilize, including annual awards events or dinners, special programs, seminars, and such. Maryland Decisions will explore those options as the service grows.

But as with all products and services, the best advertising remains word of mouth. So the commitment first and foremost must be to a quality product which fills a need well.


15. Can such a consistent publication commitment be managed with minimal staffing?

Over the past five years, improvements in page-scanner (OCR) devices, page scanner error recognition software, or opinions in Word, WordPerfect, or .PDF format, desktop publishing programs, web design and maintenance, have made such a publishing venture much more viable than in say, the 1980s or even early 1990s. And opinions can be sent via e-mail or on a disk. The service will not "re-keyboard" any opinions or rulings for publication, if the opinion is scannable or electronically delivered. This allow the service to be managed with minimal staffing.


16. What will be the Maryland Decisions annual subscription price?

Subscriptions will start at only $125 annually until further notice.  A subscription to Bloomberg-BNA's US Law Week can be as much as $1,000 per year--and the Supreme Court material to which that service is devoted, as least in terms of opinions themselves, is [later] available through other sources. A subscription to Maryland Decisions currently is less than a yearly subscription to the print version of The Daily Record. Again, with the hourly rate access feature no subscription is needed, so anyone can access the site for a very minimal charge paying only for the time used (calculated at $10/hour).


17. How many subscribers can Maryland Decisions expect?

The potential exists for perhaps 1,500 subscribers among attorneys, law offices, judges, libraries, and law schools in Maryland (and DC). Maryland Decisions expects that a host of subscribers will benefit from this service.



© 2010-2012 The Decisions Groups, LLC t/a Maryland Decisions. All rights reserved. Information on the website is only available to subscribers.