June 2, 2011

California’s Reporter of Decisions fills an essential but little-known role

Since the U.S. Supreme Court’s Reporter of Decisions, Frank Wagner, retired last fall, we have been thinking we should spotlight California’s own long-serving and much-admired Reporter of Decisions, Edward W. Jessen, who has occupied the post since 1989. However, there is far too much to say about Ed Jessen and his job for us to cover in a single post. Therefore, this post will be the first in a planned series.

Beginning at the beginning, who is the Reporter of Decisions and what does he or she do? It is the essential function of the Reporter of Decisions and his or her staff to oversee the preparation and publication of all Supreme Court decisions and all published Court of Appeal decisions in the Official Reports, and to publish all appellate opinions—including nonpubs—on the California Courts website. (See Cal. Rules of Court, rule 8.1105(f).) The post of Reporter of Decisions has its constitutional underpinning in Article VI, Section 14, of the California Constitution, which provides: “The Legislature shall provide for the prompt publication of such opinions of the Supreme Court and courts of appeal as the Supreme Court deems appropriate, and those opinions shall be available for publication by any person. [¶] Decisions of the Supreme Court and courts of appeal that determine causes shall be in writing with reasons stated.” The post is created by Government Code section 68900, which provides for the appointment of the Reporter of Decisions and his or her staff by the Supreme Court.

The duties of the Reporter of Decisions entail far more than receiving appellate opinions from authoring justices and forwarding them to an outside publisher. As Jessen described it in this excellent article for the California Supreme Court Historical Society, the Reporter of Decisions oversees an editorial process that includes “enhancing the opinions with summaries and headnotes, adding parallel citations, ensuring the accuracy of all quotations and citations, and conforming opinions to style requirements.” This process, Jessen explained, ensures that California’s appellate opinions “are accurately reported within a body of decisional law that is accurate, functional, and accessible for the bench and bar.” Or, as Jessen’s predecessor, Robert E. Formichi put it, judicial opinions are “‘documents of the state, documents of the people, and tools of society. They must be quality.’”

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