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‘Underutilized’ county law library now open 6 days a week

Dylan Svoboda / Mountain Democrat
El Dorado County Bar Association president Peter Kozak, El Dorado County law library administrator Cathy McMillan and library board of trustees president Edward Knapp, from left, are aiming to increase use of the county law library on Main Street in downtown Placerville.
Dylan Svoboda / Mountain Democrat

Thanks to a grant from the state of California, the El Dorado County Law Library in Placerville opened up on Saturdays last year. Despite the change, library representatives are saying it’s still underutilized.

Situated at 550 Main St. just steps from the Courthouse in Placerville, the law library moved to six-days-a-week starting Nov. 2, after dropping to as little as four days a week in recent years.

Financing is an ongoing issue for county law libraries in California.

By law, each county is required to have a law library. Most county law library funding comes from civil filing fees. The portion ranges from $2 to $50 per case, depending on the county and case. Civil case filing revenue has dropped by nearly 40% since 2009.

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In 2017 the California Legislature allocated $16.5 million for California county law libraries in the 2018-19 state budget in response to the decrease.

The El Dorado County Law Library received nearly $70,000 in funding from the grant. Library Board of Trustees President Ed Knapp, former El Dorado County counsel, said library officials figured an extra day of operation was the best way to spend extra funds.

“We thought it’d be a good idea to open a weekend day so working people could come in on their off-day,” said Knapp.

But attendance has been low, prompting Knapp and library administrator Cathy McMillan to attempt to get the word out.

Similar to regular libraries, law libraries provide a wealth of resources for those looking to gain access to legal information and thus a fair shake in the justice system, according to McMillan.

“We get a lot of folks going through the eviction process,” McMillan said. “Most of the people are down on their luck and without a lot of money, so they come to the law library to figure out their rights.”

There’s a lot to learn through a visit to the law library, according to El Dorado County Bar Association President Peter Kozak.

“Laws only exist in a practical manner for those that know about them and people who know the truth about them,” Kozak said. “You need to know, and you need to know the truth, about your rights. And if you go into the law library, you’re going to find out.”

The internet will never replace what physical research inside a law library offers, Kozak said.

“You may get the text of a law on the internet but you won’t get the interpretations and annotations,” he said. “It’s incredibly expensive to get these things online, while it’s free here. And there’s no misinformation here, you’re at the mercy of the search engine online.”

While some may call physical libraries a relic of a past generation, Knapp said they are one of the pillars and symbols of progress.

“Civilization consists of our stored knowledge,” Knapp said. “We don’t do certain things now because history proves it ends up wrong. Libraries are the places where we store all of our knowledge accumulated over time and we put it in one spot. You gotta have somewhere for that, and the law library is a subset of that system.”

The law library offers three weekly clinics; legal aid clinics on Tuesdays and Fridays and a family law clinic on Thursdays. Library employees are precluded from giving legal advice but McMillan is on-site during operating hours to point visitors to the right literature.

The law library on Main Street is open Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., with lunch breaks from 12-1 each day.


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