Counting to 10 in Californian

I’m working on getting the California Codes online, focussing on the user’s experience: reading, searching, and accessing. This weekend I thought I had found an error in the numbering in the state’s online version, and so I headed to the law library to open a real book and see what’s going on. I was surprised to see that the printed text is the same. (West’s annotated and non-annotated editions.)

Here are three examples from the Code of Civil Procedure. The first, sections 676 et. seq. are the way I’d expect, in so-called natural sort order:

But here, a mathematical decimal ordering is in use:

Weirder still, both kinds are used in this group of codes:

If Only California Statutes had Names

I’ve run into the oddest problem as I add the California Codes to WebLaws.org. The Sections, the actual statutes themselves, are not given any kind of name as they are in other states. Here are the basic burglary statutes of Oregon and California:

Oregon: ORS 164.215, Burglary in the Second Degree.
California: Penal Code Section 459.

+1 for Oregon.

Oregon Burglary Statutes

These screenshots show one problem this creates. For starters, there is no reliable way to provide a good table of contents for a group of California Code sections.

Now, in the legislative business, these names are called leadlines, and they’re usually not part of the actual controlling law. But their usefulness should be obvious: leadlines help everyone write about, talk about, and research the law. And it turns out that these names are important enough that publishers like Westlaw and LexisNexis have created their own for their customers’ use.

California Burglary Statutes — would you have guessed?

From an economic perspective, California is not performing this part of the legislative process, delegating it instead to private companies. And so, the only people with access to this part of the code are those who pay for it. In other words, instead of the cost (of naming their statutes) being distributed across all tax payers, it’s paid by those acutely needing access to the law.

There’s an additional cost to this scheme that all Californians bear, however: inefficiencies resulting from a lack of standardized names. I mentioned that Westlaw and LexisNexis have leadlines for the code. They do differ, of course.

Caveat: I’m new to California law. Is there something I’m missing here? Let me know.

Making the California Laws Easy to Read

Screen Shot 2012-06-24 at 10.41.08 PMI’ve been doing a lot of work to get the California Codes online, and I now have something to show for it. This is a screenshot of Business & Professions Code Section 22947.4, an anti-spyware statute. (Which is pretty cool; I wonder if Oregon has something similar. Anyone know?)

For comparison, here’s the original code as its presented on the state’s website. I’ve been spending a lot of time on the fonts, white-space, outlining, and navigation. Ahead on my roadmap:

  • Print feature
  • Citations to sources
  • Legal news
  • Interlinked & related statutes
  • Smart search