[linux-elitists] What's wrong with PDF

Adam Kessel adam@bostoncoop.net
Tue Nov 11 09:40:37 PST 2003

First, I totally agree with all the pro-plain text comments thus far.
There are cases where PDF or HTML is appropriate, but this isn't one of

Re: legal documents:

On Tue, Nov 11, 2003 at 02:58:41AM -0800, Rick Moen wrote:
> o  A pleading filed in court has to be the signed original.  Computer
>    formats are pretty much irrelevant to the question.

Most federal courts either already accept electronic filing or are in the
process of transitioning over. I believe next year the District of
Massachusetts will *only* accept electronic filings.  

Computer formats are *very* relevant, cf

> What hardware and software are needed to file documents in CM/ECF
> systems?
> A personal computer running a standard platform such as Windows or
> Macintosh. 
> A PDF-compatible word processor like Macintosh or Windows-based
> versions of WordPerfect or Word. 
[...more stuff, like you need Netscape 4.6/4.7 or IE 5.5 -- Netscape 6 is not
recommended, nor is IE 6.0...]

> o  Documents used in evidence not only mostly have to be the original,
>    but also with the ability to be authenticated.

It's common practice to introduce copies of documents and ask someone in
a position to authenticate the document whether it appears to be
identical to the original. I don't see any reason why, e.g., an email
couldn't be reformatted into something more readable on paper and
introduced into evidence as long as the parties don't contest that it's
the same content.

On Tue, Nov 11, 2003 at 06:47:02AM -0500, Bill Bogstad wrote:
> It's my impression that once cases are decided and become the subject of
> precedent, the formatting of the decision matters a lot.  When citing
> previous cases, you have to give precise location information which is
> often dependent on the rendering of the text as published by commercial
> enterprises which have cornered the market for the business of
> publishing said decisions for use by other lawyers.  Some investigation
> on my part indicates that this is starting to change, but precise volume
> and page information could still be critical to members of the legal
> profession.

In fact, the legal profession solved this precise problem long ago.  You
do need to cite to precise "page" numbers, but the page numbers have
nothing to do with the actual pages.  Both Lexis and Westlaw track
several different page numbering systems within a single document; each
numbering system is tracked with a certain number of asterisks, depending
on which system you want or need to cite too.

It's long been the case that judicial opinions are published in the
official reporter and one or more unofficial reporters (recently, there's
been some convergence where West has become the official reporter for
several courts). Usually, the unofficial reporters are more up to date.

In any case, this is why you'll see things like:

Eldred v. Ashcroft, 123 S. Ct. 1505; 155 L. Ed. 2d 243; 2003 U.S. LEXIS
2133; 71 U.S.L.W.  3578 (2003).

Or, before the Supreme Court reporter is out, you'll often see,

Eldred v. Ashcroft, ___ S. Ct. ___.

Also of note is that legal reference books tend to index things by
sections that are independent of formatting.  For example, the ALWD
citation guide index only gives references like 5.B.i.a. Of course, this
does make it harder to actually find what you're looking for (you might
then look at the table of contents to figure out where that section lies,
or just page through the document) but it means that in all future
editions and in all other media, you should be able to find what you're
looking for in the same place.
Adam Kessel
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