A crack cocaine smoking judge who allegedly presided over his court while high? An attorney disbarred for abandoning his law practice and clients in the pursuit of the unlawful use of methamphetamine? These are only some of today's tintillating stories from official Utah judiciary sources that my news aggregator served me.
The Utah Administrative Office of the Courts and the Utah State Bar have been experimenting with the syndication of news and publications for quite some time. They've now published links to their first public syndicated feeds on their homepages.
Utah Courts offers an RSS feed for "Recent Court Opinions" that links to recently released and archived opinions of the Utah Supreme Court, Utah Court of Appeals, and Per Curiam decisions. If you'd rather get the same information by email, Steve Brown, Courts Webmaster, offers a notification subcription service.
The editors of the Utah Bar Journal with the assistance of Utah State Bar IT Director Lincoln Mead have imported the Journal into Movable Type. Recent past issues are also archived in PDF format.
This is a good trend because RSS syndicated legal information makes its delivery more timely and its content more findable and accessible.
Most states currently do not provide constituent service blogs for their legislators. One reason is the fear that blogs can be misused. Legislative staff make every effort to offer non-partisan services and information and fear that blogs could be used as state sponsored tools for campaigning.
Most U.S. Representatives and Senators have both official governmental websites and private sites for operating campaigns. The question is, could state governments promote a similar dual model of separate sites/weblogs for constituent services and campaigning?
Elected officials and those running for office have seen how RSS news syndiction can help them spread their message. Howard Dean rose out of obscurity last year using a combination of weblogging and local web meetups to become his party's front runner in the presidential race. Dean and others learned that this technology can even the playing field and allow someone to rapidly organize a grass roots campaign. RSS syndication can help create a dynamic website and produce both email and online newsletters in the same process. With legislative staffs slow to offer the service, there is an inviting market niche for the private sector.
Recognizing this golden opportunity, LaVarr Web, Publisher of UtahPolicy.com today issued an "Invitation to Blog" to elected officials and party leaders wishing to communicate directly to citizens. Mr. Webb writes:
We would like to invite you to become a blogger. UtahPolicy.com is creating the Utah Policymaker Blog and we hope you will be part of it. It is an opportunity for you, as a Utah policymaker, to publish your opinions, thoughts and ideas to a wide audience of opinion leaders. It is an opportunity to participate in an exciting new high-tech communications medium that is becoming a powerful tool in politics, business and in every walk of life.
It's fun and exciting to be a blogger. You are probably aware of how bloggers are credited for toppling the powerful Dan Rather and CBS News. The phenomenon of blogging is growing rapidly and as a leader in Utah you ought to become familiar with this new method of communicating and use it to your advantage. In effect, Utah policymakers will have their own electronic publication in which to communicate with the public.
Some reasons UtahPolicy.com offers as to why elected officials ought to consider blogging include:
Utah policymakers interested in the offer should send an e-mail expressing their interest to
This is an example of the union of business and government to promote democracy and inform the citizenry using RSS news syndication. We wish them well in their efforts!
The National Association of Legislative Information Technology (NALIT) will be sharing "Web Tips, Tricks and Techniques" for building Legislative RSS feeds at their 2004 Professional Development Seminar in beautiful Burlington, Vermont, September 8-11, 2004. Panelists include key IT players from Virginia, Nevada, and Utah. Several states are now using RSS to provide users with notices of new Web content or to distribute newsletters. At least two states are now generating legislative feeds directly from databases. This article previews some of what they'll be showing from the states of Texas, Utah, Wisconsin, and Rhode Island.
NALIT is the IT working group of the National Conference of State Legislatures. The recent annual meeting, July 19-23, 2004 in Salt Lake City, was hosted locally by Mark Allred and his IT staff from the Utah Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel. Marty Stephens , Speaker of the Utah House of Representatives and President of the National Conference of State Legislatures, presided. Linda Pittsford, Manager of the Texas Legislative Council Computer Center, gave a presentation introducing "Leveraging RSS Technology" for searching news.
This time around panelists Sharon Crouch Steidel, Director of Information Systems, House of Delegates, Virginia and Andy Harvey, Webmaster and Internet Services Administrator of the Nevada Legislative Counsel Bureau, will examine how to make news available via syndication, which RSS format to choose, and other tips and potential uses for RSS by legislatures.
Glen Johnson, Utah Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel, will then demonstrate how the Utah Legislature is using RSS. Glen has created a legislative news feed and Brooke Anderson, a programmer with the Legislative IT Staff, has tied into the Legislature's SQL database to provide RSS feeds for bill tracking and committee calendaring.
The bill tracking facility now creates custom feeds for the bills of interest to the user. The feeds provides links to the bill text, sponsor, bill status, floor calendars, and relevant committee agendas and minutes.
The legislative committee watch list provides a check list allowing users to pick and choose committees of interest. For example, if you wanted to keep informed about interim committees in between legislative sessions, you could select just those, and it creates a custom feed linked to by the orange xml icon at the bottom of the page . The feed that you receive provides up-to-date links to agendas, minutes, and committee documents.
RSS innovations from other states that will be showcased at the NALIT seminar include:
The Texas Legislative Counsel has created RSS feeds for upcoming legislative calendars, committee meetings, schedules, and feeds for bill text, fiscal notes and analysis,
The Utah Legislature has joined Utah's executive branch and Administrative Office of the Courts in offering their web content by RSS feeds.
The Legislature's first official RSS feed is a "general interest" news feed that includes notices of the Legislature's Interim Newsletter (in pdf), legislative audit results, and other significant content changes on the Web site. The Legislative IT Staff say that, "we envision many potential uses" of RSS. You can grab the feed by clicking on the orange XML button on the Legislature's newly redesigned homepage http://le.utah.gov/.
It's not yet parsed to the site or to Utah.gov's newsroom for composite aggregated news. Your best bet, for the time being, is to read it using your news aggregator. We extend our congratulations to Mark Allred and Glen Johnson of the Legislative IT Staff for the first of what promises to be a very valuable and useful service.
Former State CIO, Phil Windley, points out in his Enterprise Computing Weblog that Brigham Young University's NewsNet also monitors the Utah State Legislature and produced a Utah State Legislature 2003 news feed, one of several feeds of local interest generated by their Cold Fusion news operation.
Dave Fletcher, Deputy CIO for the state, suggests recently in his Government and Technology Weblog that the state have "a subscription page at some point in time that will make it easier for interested users to subscribe to the various news channels." Phil suggests that the legislature publish their calendar in RSS so that notices of public meetings and meeting changes go out as feeds and that bill status reports are issued as RSS feed. This should be possible. Some calendaring systems are capable of generating RSS/XML. The Utah State Bar Association, for example, has plans to soon release their "Master Calendar" as a RSS feed.
Watch at the Utah Courts Website for an official announcement from the Administrative Office of the Courts feeds of Utah "Recent Court Opinions" and "Courts in the News." This is just the beginning in plans afoot for generating further State of Utah executive, legislative, and judicial streaming content.
See also: What Law-Related Material Can We Put in RSS Feeds? (Rory Perry)
While the Utah Administrative Office of the Courts has provided a mailing list to new Appellate decisions for quite a few months, we're still hoping to soon see syndicated decisions.
Rory Perry of the West Virginia Office of the Clerk used the Radio Userland weblogging tool to be the first to syndicate court opinions and in so doing build one of the very first practical applications using RSS in government. Rory offers the following feeds from the West Virgina Supreme Court:
His channels are nicely integrated into the court's website and he uses Radio's activeRenderer to create an expandable index to Term Opinion Summaries. You can also join his 3,000 subscribers who receive his RSS created opinion summaries by email. Courts interested in exploring the seemingly endless possibilities of RSS might want to start with Rory's "unrefined suggestions" that he posted to his personal weblog in February.
I've seen other court opinions surfacing informally in weblogs. Steven R. Minor, for example, reports summaries of decisions from the Virgian Court of Appeals in his SW Virginia Law Blog.
Taking up the challenge, Elmer's Weblog and others reported yesterday a posting to the Teknoids mailing list that Thomas R. Bruce, Co-Director of the Legal Information Institute at Cornell Law School has begun syndicating recent U.S. Supreme Court Opinions. These two channels, too, are created using Radio Userland and both are updated within minutes of decisions being handed down by the court:
Ray Matthews from the Utah State Library Division will lead a discussion and show 'n' tell on RSS issues and implementations for State Government. Kerry Huntington, Steve Stalter, and others from the ITS development team will demo a wizard-driven RSS turnkey system under development that agencies will be able to use for creating, finding, and consuming news feeds. All interested Utah state and local government agencies are welcome to attend this open meeting. If you cannot come, please see the eDG Meeting site for information on how to participate in the live Web Cast or view the Powerpoint presentation. The meeting will take place in State Office Building Rm. B110.
On a personal note, I left early from the State GILS Conference to be back for this morning's for Utah CIO Awards Ceremony. Goveror Michael Leavitt, however, has a change in itinerary, so the ceremony has been rescheduled for Tuesday, April 29th. Also, on arrival I learned that the hosting service we've been using for some of our RSS scripts and our Movable Type test channels has been in crisis, so we apologize to our testers or anyone who has experienced a disruption in services.
During the past four years, Utah and about half the other states have cooperatively developed State Government Information Locater Services. Within this group of states, about eight, with the assistance of the State of Washington State Library, have developed search engines using Microsoft Site Server technology. I noticed today that Rhode Island has joined Oregon, Utah, and New Mexico in having their state portal powered by their State Library's Find-It search. Rhode Island, in fact, pioneered the use of MS Find-It. It was their Secretary of State's Office and State Library that sponsored the original Find-It programming that was later shared with us and other states. This spirit of cooperative open source development continues.
Rhode Island, under Jim Willis, their Director of eGovernment for the Secretary of State, has recently won several awards for outstanding open source egovernment innovations. It's great to see how their PHP/mySQL CMS is used to power their press releases. Like Rhode Island, Utah is a NIC state, and local affliate, Utah Interactive, Inc., is developing open source RSS technologies for press releases.
Utah also has agencies experimenting with the Zope application server and Plone CMS. They have been greatly impressed with Texas Governor Rick Perry's application of Zope/Plone at his website.
Former Utah CIO, Phil Windley, has been promoting the use of Open Source this week at the Washington, DC eGovOS conference and his presentation and running commentary at his website is highly recommended.