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Why do we still cite the Atlantic Reporter?

You are a young associate. A partner stops by your office and drops off a brief, asking you to cite-check it before it is filed. You skim through it and discover the citations are anything but consistent. In some places, both the Maryland Reporter and Atlantic Reporter are cited for Maryland cases, but in many instances, only the Maryland Reporter is cited. Even worse, there are hardly any accurate, pinpoint cites.

Since the beginning, you have always been taught that, when relying on Maryland appellate opinions, you always include a citation to the official state case law reporter, as well as a parallel citation to the Atlantic Reporter, the regional case law reporter for the mid-Atlantic region.

And so you begin the laborious process of looking up each case cited in the brief and adding the correct citation, including pinpoint cites, for each reporter.

That is my story. Since the beginning, I have always included parallel citations to the Atlantic Reporter in all documents that I file in Maryland courts. Like wearing a suit to court, it is something I just do and have never questioned.

That is, until recently.

While performing my daily ritual of checking the Maryland appellate opinions, something caught my eye. In Fuller v. Republican Central Committee of Carroll County, Maryland, I noticed that Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera, who penned the decision on behalf of the court, cited only the Maryland Reporter for Maryland cases, leaving out parallel citations to the Atlantic Reporter. I knew this could not have been an oversight; it was most certainly deliberate.

So I decided to do some digging.

‘Opinions speak for themselves’

It turns out, Barbera has been citing solely to the Maryland Reporter since 2012. Hastings v. PNC Bank, filed on Sept. 27, 2012, appears to be the last time Barbera included parallel citations to the Atlantic Reporter. Starting on Nov. 20, 2012, in State v. Weems, Barbera embarked on her journey to parallel-citation-free land, and she hasn’t looked back since.

To date, Barbera is the only one of her colleagues on the Court of Appeals (including retired Judge Glenn T. Harrell Jr. who previously gave “all due respect” to the Bluebook) to stop including parallel citations to the Atlantic Reporter in her opinions. (Several judges on the Court of Special Appeals no longer cite the Atlantic Reporter.)

I reached out to Barbera through the court’s Office of Communications and Public Affairs to see if she had any comments on the subject. I received the following response: “The Maryland Court of Appeals communicates through its opinions and those opinions speak for themselves.”

Indeed, but it still begs the question: is it still necessary for attorneys to continue citing both reporters?

I am not so sure that it is.

I can understand the utility of having parallel citations for every case before the prevalence of Westlaw and LexisNexis. Some attorneys may not have had access to the Maryland Reporter, so it would have been helpful to include the Atlantic Reporter in case that was all that was available. Now, however, with the ubiquity of electronic research services, the reason for continuing to cite to the Atlantic Reporter is not so clear.

Alan Lazerow, an associate at Whiteford Taylor Preston LLP in Baltimore and former law clerk to Harrell, agrees.

“Parallel cites may have made sense when a good percentage of practitioners were relying on the book versions of cases,” Lazerow says. “But nowadays, with the majority of attorneys employing online databases that will accept any number of reporters, parallel cites serve very little purpose.”

So why do we still do it?

The Bluebook balks at coming down decisively on this issue, instead deferring to the local rules of the jurisdiction. But there is no Maryland Rule requiring attorneys to include parallel citations to regional reporters. The only reason I can come up with is that this is how we’ve always done it, which is akin to telling a child “because I said so.”

Many advantages

As a practical matter, there are many advantages to abandoning the Atlantic Reporter. For one, including parallel citations to the Atlantic Reporter can be time consuming. By removing the need to locate and include a citation to the Atlantic Reporter each time a Maryland case is cited, attorneys would undoubtedly save time and, in turn, their clients’ money.

Parallel cites throughout a paper can also be somewhat of an eye sore. As Steve Klepper, editor-in-chief of the Maryland Appellate Blog observes, “parallel citations – especially the lengthier ‘Id.’ cites – unduly interrupt the flow of a brief.”

“Until recently, I typically included the Atlantic Reporter in state court briefs,” Klepper says.

Noting that Maryland Rule 8-504(a)(1) is clear that the only citation necessary is the “official Report,” however, Klepper says that he no longer uses parallel citations, adding that he’s been assured by law clerks that parallel citations do not help them significantly.

“In state court, I cite the state reports,” he says. “In federal court, I cite only the Atlantic Reporter.”

When I began writing this blog, I frankly thought that I would probably continue including parallel citations in my state court filings, the main reason being: what’s the harm? But after spending more time thinking about it than I care to admit, and speaking with several people whose opinion I respect (including those quoted in this blog), I’ve decided to stop using parallel citations.

I think it will make my writing process smoother and more efficient. And given that several leaders in the Maryland Bar no longer include parallel citations to the Atlantic Reporter, including Barbera and several judges on the Court of Special Appeals, I don’t believe this choice will draw any unwanted negative attention. Citation to only the official state reporter has clearly become an accepted practice.

Maybe one day, when I have been practicing law for decades, I will tell young attorneys about how we used to cite to both reporters as they look back at me in bewilderment. (Kind of like how my older colleagues tell stories of how they used to conduct all of their legal research in–gasp!–books.) Only time will tell.

Do you still include parallel citations to the Atlantic Reporter in Maryland court documents? I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject. Feel free to comment below or contact me on Twitter.