Access to JURIS: Democratic or Just Pricey?

Regarding the Opinion page article "Provide Public With Access to Database," July 26: The author, of Taxpayer Assets Project, does not point out that JURIS has been developed solely as an internal research service, and that JURIS hardware and software resources are correspondingly limited.

He also does not point out that upgrading these resources to provide public access would cost many millions of taxypayer dollars, dollars that would likely reduce the funds available to support the crimefighting efforts of the Department of Justice.

The author states that JURIS could be made available to the public "for a few dollars an hour," but does not reveal, as Taxpayer Assets Project has previously acknowledged, that the present charge to JURIS users is $73 per hour. Of course, the $73 per hour figure does not include the cost of the massive new hardware and software resources that would be necessary to support public access.

The author also does not point out that West has been creating and publishing its own copyrighted case reports for over 100 years, and that these case reports contain many value-added editorial features, including case summaries (synopses), headnotes (summaries of the points of law we believe are discussed in the court decision), and West Key Number classifications (which help researches find other case law authority). The Department of Justice has sought the many benefits of these value-added features, and West has agreed to license case reports for use on JURIS. It should be noted that the public already has access to these features, since they are included in our National Reporter System publications, which are contained in thousands of libraries across the country, on our own computerized service called WESTLAW, and, increasingly, on our CD Reporter CD-ROM products, which can be used through personal computers.

The author does not point out that the Department of Justice may have valid policy reasons why it does not want to make a service intended for its own internal use available to those members of the general public who are under investigation, are under indictment, or are trying to overturn a conviction.

We thought your readers deserved to know that this matter involves facts that the author neglects to mention. Dwight D. Opperman, Eagan, Minn. President and Chief Executive Officer West Publishing Company

Letters are welcome. Only a selection can be published, subject to condensation, and none acknowledged. Please fax letters to (617) 450-2317 or address them to "Readers Write," One Norway St., Boston, MA 02115.

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