June 2, 2010
In re Spokane County Law Library: Some Thoughts on Being in Arrears to TR Legal
The Spokane County Law Library owes TR Legal $75K in part due to its Westlaw license which reportedly costs about $12K per month according to this newspaper account, County throws life raft to law library:
Jim Emacio, the county’s chief civil deputy prosecutor, said Thomson Reuters recently threatened to cut off service if the overdue bills aren’t paid. He said the company also refused to let the county out of its two-year contract before it expires at the end of the year.
[Librarian Cynthia] Lucas said she fears Thomson Reuters will refuse to negotiate a payment plan for the back debt unless the library signs a new contract.
Greg Lambert, who once managed 75 of Oklahoma's 77 county law libraries, reviews the situation in this highly recommended post. While it sounds like TR Legal is playing hard ball based on the newspaper account, like Greg, I have some questions about the fiscal management of this county law library, the terms of the Westlaw license, whether it include WestPack print titles, whether the library has other unpaid TR Legal standing orders, etc., These questions aren't fully answered by the newspaper story. Do note that the law library's website mentions it has two public access terminals with Westlaw Patron Access.
The Spokesman-Review story indicates that "it is difficult to know whether Spokane County is being gouged. Westlaw customers are required to sign contracts that forbid disclosure of fees unless compelled by law." So why hasn't someone state FOIA-ed other Washington State county law library agreements? Even TR Legal has been known to do that for Lexis contracts. I also have a question for the county prosecutor's office; why wasn't the agreement terminated on public appropriations grounds?
Is There a Larger Back-Story Here? A contract is a contract is a contract so TR Legal is well within its rights to try to enforce it and cut off service if not paid. I do wonder whether the back-story here is that TR Legal's apparent unwillingness to work with this county law library is because there are too many similar public law library situations "out there" that the Company does not want to set a precedent. If not, one would hope TR Legal bend a little bit; if there are other public law libraries in debt to the Company, TR Legal could bend a lot without, I imagine, too much damage to its bottom line long term and with the added plus of creating goodwill in the public law library community during this economy. Either way, TR Legal's marketing staff has a rare PR opportunity here for churning out something postive for all law librarians to read.
I hope that the Washington Association of County Law Libraries, WestPAC and AALL are ready to step in to help Lucas get control of this situation. Whatever happened to get SCLL to this extremely bad situation (and contract) needs to be resolved in a way that both Thomson Reuters and SCLL share the pain, but get a better contract that gets costs to a more reasonable amount for SCLL to pay.
And I agree, well sort of. The County needs to step it up a notch if legally permissible under Washington State law, our associations need to closely examine and monitor this situation specifically and more generally, and what's currently owed TR Legal needs to be paid.
Tearing up the current license for a less expensive one wouldn't be all that painful for TR Legal if it wants to keep this library's business. If not, Lexis may be willing to offer a deal (after a credit check). The County Law Library's website indicates it already has Shepard's online. So the Library's Board of Trustees ought not to be thinking in terms of a debt payment plan that requires signing a new Westlaw licensing agreement. If this is a marriage made in hell, it's time for a divorce. See also Paul Lomio's comments on the situation in The Eggplant That Ate the Spokane County Law Library ("If this story does not help build a case for Law.gov, I don’t know what would.") [JH]
It sounds as though the SCLL needs to look for more cost-effective resources such as Fastcase or Loislaw. Perhaps they need to really reduce their Westlaw online library to just Washington State caselaw resources and federal caselaw, and just have the federal and state statutes in print. Doesn't the county have the same ability as the federal government to terminate a contract for the good of the government or public, or something similar?
Posted by: jtc | Jun 2, 2010 11:52:42 AM