This booklet chronicles the story of official law reporting in New York State. It is a story of two centuries of change but an unchanged purpose.
TWO CENTURIES OF CHANGE
These pages trace the history of official law reporting from the days when
James Kent lamented that “there were no reports or State precedents” to the
present day, when the Official Reports, now in a Third Series, comprise some
1,700 volumes. The expansion of official law reporting from its coverage of
only the decisions of the court of last resort to its present coverage of all
levels of the court system is described, as is the evolution from a dispersed
system of separate reporters for the various courts to a unified system under a
State Reporter with responsibility for publishing opinions of courts at all levels.
The individuals who served as reporters are pictured and described in
biographical sketches, and their accomplishments both as reporters and in
other capacities – as jurists, elected and appointed officials, bar leaders,
educators, and legal writers – are noted.
Offices of the State Reporter in Albany, where the reporters have been
based almost from the beginning, are pictured and plotted on an historical
map of the capital city.
Finally, the technologies through which the Official Reports are produced
and distributed are described, from the days of reporters working with quill
pens by candlelight or lamplight to the present day in which the staff works at
personal computers, utilizing a broad range of programmatic editing tools, and
from the era when the reports were distributed only in printed form to the
modern era in which they are distributed in a variety of media, both print
AN UNCHANGED PURPOSE
Throughout the two centuries of change outlined in this booklet, the New
York Official Reports have continued to serve the purpose for which they
were created: to make known the decisions of the courts.
As Reporter William Johnson noted in the quotation from which the title of
this booklet is taken, it is essential to the effectiveness of a legal system
founded on the common law that the courts have the means to make their
decisions known. From the earliest days, the New York Official Reports have
served as that instrumentality, ensuring that the decisions of the courts are
made available in the precise manner and form decreed by the courts.
Making known the decisions of the courts also serves the needs of the
members of the public to be informed of the rule of law by which they are
governed. For this reason, the Legislature, with the approval of the Governor,
has for the past 200 years authorized and funded a system of law reporting, a
testament to the special role of the Official Reports in our democracy.
The staff of the New York State Law Reporting Bureau is proud of its
heritage and is pleased to provide this booklet as a permanent record of its
service, and that of its predecessors, to the court system and to the people of
the State of New York.