March 11, 1995 in City

Disabled Men Want To Enable Washington Citizens Two From Spokane Promise To Provide Low-Cost Access To Court Decisions If State Will Give Them Electronic Copies

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Two disabled Spokane men are asking state officials to give them electronic copies of Washington’s state court decisions.

On the surface, it seems to be a case of disabled people asking for something they cannot get in any other form.

In fact, both men acknowledge they want the electronic versions so attorneys can make and distribute inexpensive copies for anyone wanting the court records.

The two men, 38-year-old Dallas Vordahl and 53-year-old Raymond Jorge, want the state to provide complete versions of Supreme Court and appellate court cases. In book form, that would amount to more than 50 volumes of cases going back into the 19th century.

They also want those cases in electronic form - primarily in CD-ROM format that contain more data than computer diskettes.

State officials control the material and charge a license fee to a number of state companies and organizations. Those groups, in turn, charge other people to browse or do legal research through online computer access.

The license forbids those companies from reselling full copies of the case law, said Deborah Norwood, the state Supreme Court librarian.

Attorneys with the Washington Digital Law Library Foundation say the material belongs to taxpayers. They said they will provide inexpensive electronic copies of the state case decisions if they get it for Vordahl and Jorge.

The requests recently went to the state office that publishes Washington’s Supreme and appeals court decisions. That office, the Commission on Supreme Court Reports, has not replied.

The attorney general’s lawyer for the commission, Narda Pierce, said the state citizens have free access to any court decision.

But that’s not the same as having the right to inexpensive access to the entire court records, she said.

Jorge, who is blind, said he’d like to use the material to research state laws and be a better citizen.

Because of his blindness, Jorge cannot use the bound volumes of state cases at law school libraries.

“I believe it’s every taxpayer’s duty to understand the laws we have and what they mean,” he said.

Vordahl - who is quadriplegic after a trampoline accident that occurred while he attended University High School - said he cannot afford the long-distance charges for connecting to on-line versions of the state case law. He said his appeal is meant to help Spokane attorney William Sorcinelli obtain a copy of the court cases.

“He’s helped me a lot, helping me obtain computers and the latest software,” Vordahl said.”But my secondary reason is I think this material belongs to everyone.”

Sorcinelli said he would file a lawsuit to obtain the electronic copies if the request is denied. That would be based on federal laws that require the government to make its services easily accessible to disabled people.

Sorcinelli and Tri-Cities attorney Edward Hiskes are two of the attorneys who would distribute electronic copies of the decisions if they obtain them.

The two attorneys and the Washington Digital Law Library Foundation said they’d pay a fair price for the electronic copies of the cases. Commercial companies around the state sell CD-ROM versions for $1,300 to $2,000.

If they obtain the state’s case law records, Sorcinelli said they would make it available for about $10 per copy.

Hiskes said the state fears losing control of the electronic version of the cases.


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