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Ephraim Kirby, America’s first court reporter

Posted by: | October 14, 2010 | No Comment |

Ephraim Kirby was an American soldier and first Superior Court judge in the Mississippi Territory, but most of all Kirby published the first court records.

Portrait of Ephraim Kirby, courtesy Encyclopedia of Alabama

According to the Connecticut Judicial Branch, “the need for a written record of court decisions developed in order to distinguish American common law from English common law.” In fact, Kirby was so brilliant he had already begun compiling court records before Connecticut legislature passed a law in 1785 requiring judges to prepare their decisions in writing.

Kirby compiled the first court records in the book, Reports of Cases Adjudged in the Superior Court of the State of Connecticut, form the year 1785, to May, 1788, with some Determinations in the Supreme Court of Errors or simply Kirby’s Reports.

Kirby prefaced his compilation with this quote:  “I have avoided technical terms and phrases as much as possible, that it might be intelligible to all classes of men.”

Title page of Kirby's Reports, courtesy of University of Connecticut of School of Law

Even back in the 18th century, Kirby had the wherewithal to try to make the court reports accessible to as many people as possible so that they could be self-aware of what was going on with the government.

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