CHARLESTON – A Morgan County man is fighting to save the state’s regional law libraries after the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals announced in May it would be closing them.
Steven Canterbury, the administrative director for the Supreme Court of Appeals, has said the Court made the decision to close the regional law libraries because of technology and a lack of interest.
Keith W. DeBlasio, who lives in Morgan County and is the executive director of AdvoCare, a non-profit organization that works to reduce crime through criminal justice reform, said it was not until recently that he heard about the closing of the law libraries when he went to file a civil case and noticed an empty room at the Morgan County Courthouse.
“I asked about it and they told me it was where the law library was supposed to be, but that there was an insulation problem, so I would have to go to one of the other law libraries in the state,” DeBlasio said. “That’s when I started to look into why the law libraries are being closed, because if you’re filing a court case by yourself, you need those law libraries. The Internet does not have everything you need to know.”
Canterbury said the Internet is largely the reason because law books can be readily available at your own home, so people do not want to go to the actual libraries anymore.
But, DeBlasio disagrees.
“Not everything is provided online, unless you want to pay for subscription web sites,” DeBlaiso said. “Internet access is also still limited in many areas across the state, so you would have to first go somewhere where you could get access, and then pay for subscriptions to web sites that have all the information you need.”
DeBlasio said nothing can replace the actual brick and mortar law library and a law librarian when you are working on researching for a court case.
The cost of maintaining the law libraries was approximately $125,000 per library. The law library in Huntington was shut down last year, and the Wheeling law library is in the process of shutting down.
DeBlasio said the cost of maintaining the law libraries is less than it would cost for legal services, so he does not understand why citing the cost was a factor in the decision to close the law libraries.
“If you have to expand your legal services because you close the law libraries, attorney fees alone are more than it would cost to keep the law libraries open,” DeBlasio said.
DeBlasio said every citizen should have equal access to the law.
“Every person should have the opportunity to not only read the laws that have been adopted by the legislature, but also to have access to the courts’ interpretations of the law and rulings on what a law is intended to impose,” DeBlasio said. “Even prisoners are guaranteed meaningful access to law libraries or programs to assist them with preparing filings and pro bono legal assistance.”
DeBlasio said there is a statute in West Virginia Code that states that the law libraries are to be protected and federally funded.
“It blows me away that they are closing the law libraries and they have not even had the statutes removed first,” DeBlasio said. “Right now it is part of the law that we have these federally-funded law libraries, so it’s disturbing that they’re being closed.”
The four remaining law libraries are located in Martinsburg, Parkersburg, Clarksburg and Beckley.
For more information on how to get involved, go to http://savewvlawlibraries.wordpress.com.