The motto of The Supreme Court of Washington Blog is "reading the opinions so you don’t have to." Michael Reitz, the general counsel for the Evergreen Freedom Foundation and one of the authors of the blog, quickly discovered there are plenty of readers out there who were hungry for exactly the analysis and summary his blog provides.
"We have readers in the court system, state agencies, law schools, and most major law firms in the state," Mike says. "In fact, the week we launched we got a call from a state Supreme Court justice who applauded the project."
In particular, since the state capital of Olympia has no beat reporters assigned exclusively to the Supreme Court, local reporters have come to rely on the blog for significant developments and newsworthy rulings.
"Some of the most enthusiastic responses have come from news reporters who tell me the blog fills a real void," Mike said, adding, "It’s a thrill to help translate the legal jargon for their readers. For example, a local reporter emailed and asked if I could explain, in 25 words, a complex ruling involving the statute of limitations for construction defects. I gave it to him in 23."
We caught up with Mike for this LexBlog Q&A to learn more about the rewards of blogging, the thousands of listeners to their monthly podcast, and why he thinks every state should have a blog covering the courts.
See our email exchange with Mike, after the jump.
Lisa Kennelly: Why did you decide to start a blog?
Mike Reitz: A year or so ago several colleagues and I began discussing the lack of coverage of state supreme court decisions outside of legal circles. My organization, the Evergreen Freedom Foundation, provides research and recommendations on various legal and policy issues, and we decided a blog that exclusively covered the Washington Supreme Court could serve citizens, voters, journalists, and practitioners.
My co-bloggers (Trent England and Jonathan Bechtle) and I launched the Supreme Court of Washington Blog in March 2009. We write about new cases accepted by the court, we preview oral arguments and link to party briefs, we discuss new administrative rules approved by the court, and we of course read every opinion the court issues. Additionally, we try to blog about court-specific news—for example, next month our justices will select a new chief justice.
Lisa Kennelly: What has been most rewarding about blogging? What has been most challenging?
Mike Reitz: One of most rewarding aspects is knowing that the information you provide is useful and interesting to readers. There is more demand for good content about a state supreme court than we anticipated. The Court deals with some very unique cases and it is intellectually stimulating to cover the wide variety of topics.
Additionally, I’ve enjoyed the dialog with other legal professionals who blog or employ social media to promote their firms. The blog has led to speaking engagements, media opportunities, and potential clients for our group’s public interest litigation division.
The time commitment required for successful blogging is a challenge—we try to write 3 to 5 blog posts a week—though sharing the load among three attorneys helps. Thanks to the Supreme Court’s output, we never lack material or ideas. Another challenge is attempting to serve multiple audiences. We write for attorneys of course, but the blog should be accessible for non-attorneys, voters, and other court watchers.
Lisa Kennelly: What has the response to your blog been from other attorneys, those involved in the state Supreme Court that you cover, or anyone else?
Mike Reitz: The response has been very positive so far. We have readers in the court system, state agencies, law schools, and most major law firms in the state. In fact, the week we launched we got a call from a state Supreme Court justice who applauded the project. Numerous attorneys have called or written to express appreciation—our motto is “we read the opinions so you don’t have to” and we slog though a lot of details that could be time-consuming for practitioners to track down.
Some of the most enthusiastic responses have come from news reporters who tell me the blog fills a real void. Our state capital has no beat reporters assigned exclusively to the Supreme Court, so political reporters or general assignment writers have to cover the Court in addition to their other work. We try to alert reporters to any significant developments or newsworthy rulings. It’s a thrill to help translate the legal jargon for their readers. For example, a local reporter emailed and asked if I could explain, in 25 words, a complex ruling involving the statute of limitations for construction defects. I gave it to him in 23.
Lisa Kennelly: Why did you decide to include podcasts on your blog and how have they been received?
Mike Reitz: Realizing that busy professionals may not regularly read a blog, we decided a podcast could be another method for providing our readers with an overview of the Court’s activities. Our Supreme Court of Washington Podcast is a monthly show, usually 30 to 40 minutes an episode. Trent, Jonathan, and I cover court news and major cases, but we also let our hair down and try to make the podcast entertaining. In the course of discussing the Supreme Court’s business, we’ve managed to come with an idea for a romantic comedy, plotted an employee coup d’état, debunked the premise of Ashley Judd’s movie Double Jeopardy, and clashed over whether judges should be elected or appointed. The podcast is popular—thousands of downloads an episode—which is impressive considering our geographic and topical limitations. We also tape a one-minute blurb that airs weekly on several radio stations around the state.
Lisa Kennelly: What value do you feel a blog specifically covering a state’s Supreme Court provides? Do you think every state could stand to have a blog like yours?
Mike Reitz: Yes. Every state should have a blog that covers the state’s appellate courts. The state high courts are often the courts of last resort for noteworthy cases. Additionally, state supreme courts have led the revival of looking to state constitutions, rather than the U.S. Constitution only, for the protection of individual liberties. There are a number of quality bloggers covering their state courts—D. Todd Smith of the Texas Appellate Law Blog and Greg May of the California Blog of Appeal for example.
One of the greatest benefits is the service to voters, particularly in states like Washington where we elect our judges. When it comes to voting for a judge, most people are lost. They can review the judge’s background, experience, and bar ratings, but this information doesn’t provide a full picture. Thus, one of my motivations is to provide a user-friendly database reviewing each justice’s rulings. Every term we track the opinions and votes of each justice, with an analysis of how each justice votes on various issues. Voters can make up their own minds, but we want to make the information readily available.
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