Law library fulfills 'desirable, public need'

Every day in the Judge Lee E. Haworth Self-Help Center/Law Library is unique and completely unexpected. Prior to the pandemic, in January 2020, library staff saw 178 appointments; 117 of these appointments were first-time visitors and of these first-time visitors, 53 appointments were patrons exclusively using law library services.

Full-time librarian Bailey Smith is available to assist patrons with legal research and self-help services. Part-time receptionist Sierra White assists in booking appointments, answering questions and helping patrons get started with legal research.

Law library staff has helped research questions on the laws of other states, election laws, school board termination proceedings, and issues before the Florida Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court and have helped patrons identify if their query falls under municipal, county, state or federal jurisdiction.

Desirable, public need

The Florida Legislature established the Sarasota County Law Library in 1959, declaring it a desirable, public need. Between the early 1960s until 1999 the law library was housed in the historic courthouse. In the early 2000s the library briefly moved to Selby Library. Between 2003-2018 the law library resided on Adams Lane before moving to its current space in the first floor lobby of the Silvertooth Judicial Center where it was combined with the Self-Help Center.

In 2018, the Self-Help Center/Law Library was renamed after retired Circuit Judge Lee E. Haworth for his lifelong efforts to make the courts and its programs more accessible to the public, especially for self-represented litigants.

A little known fact about the law library is that it is governed by a Board of Trustees (see Administrative Order 2019-15.2), composed of a circuit judge, who serves as the board’s chair, and four practicing attorneys. The board approves the law library’s budget, any capital item expenditures and important decisions that affect the library. Circuit Judge Charles Williams chairs the board, along with attorneys E. Keith Dubose, Erin Itts, Charlie Ann Syprett and F. Scott Westheimer. As law librarian, Bailey Smith reports to the board.

Where are the books?

You may imagine the law library filled with legal books and treatises with few electronic/online materials. However, the law library converted to a largely electronic/online collection and downsized its collection of books and treatises.

Law librarian Bailey Smith said she believes the conversion was a good thing. “The law is constantly changing, faster than books can go to a publisher. We at the law library understand that many members of the public come in expecting to look at hardbound volumes, but the most up-to-date information is actually available electronically, and we are happy to help them access that material.”

Resources and services

The law library is open to anyone who wishes to conduct legal research. As long as the question is somewhat related to the law, patrons have the right to access the computers or law library services.

Staff provides basic instructions of how to conduct legal research. For those that need more help, instructional videos are available. Staff are not licensed to practice law so they are unable to answer legal questions.

There are three public-access computer terminals for legal research, with access to newly released Florida circuit and county court opinions and a collection of state and federal resources.

Patrons have online access to Florida Law Weekly and Fastcase, a comprehensive, nationwide law library that allows the user to search local and federal case law, statutes, regulations, court rules, constitutions and law review articles.

Additional resources include:

  • rules of court both state and federal jurisdictions
  • rules of procedure for each court division
  • photocopier
  • free printer
  • notary public

Services specific to bar members are lending Continuing Legal Education (CLE) CDs, working with various chapters of the Sarasota County Bar Association or Florida Bar Association on projects.

Library hours and appointments

Currently due to COVID-19 restrictions, patrons may schedule an appointment to use the Haworth Law Library. Appointments are generally available between 9 a.m.-3 p.m., Monday-Friday. The easiest ways to schedule appointments are by email or phone.

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For more information, to learn about the research options or services available, or to schedule an appointment visit the Judge Lee E. Haworth Self Help Center and Law Library webpage.