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The Virginia Code: Making it easier to use and prettier

A self-proclaimed Virginia Code “fan boy,” Waldo Jaquith wants to bring the Code to the masses with his “Virginia Decoded” project.

Jaquith, whose five-year-old website “Richmond Sunlight” focuses on the sausage-making at the General Assembly, says he will showcase the finished product in his new project.

Jaquith wants to make the Virginia Code more user-friendly, in a better presentation enhanced with point-of-use definitions of statutory terms, links to court decisions and attorney general opinions that reference particular code sections, scholarly discussions and legal self-help guides. He wants to bring in a whole host of “disparate data sources” in a “seamless connection” that traces a code provision from the twinkle in a lobbyist’s eye, through legislative enactment, judicial interpretation and on to research by a citizen-activist.

In June, Jaquith won a $165,000 Knight News Challenge grant to help take the project nationwide under the banner of The State Decoded. He says groups in Illinois and Florida are interested in using the model he is developing, which he hopes will be a prototype for all states. With the financial support, he wants to hire web designers and typographers, to make the Code more attractive and accessible.

“I’m determined to make it more interesting,” he told the Virginia Code Commission today.

Lawyers are not his target market, but lawyers who have beta-tested the product love it, he says.

Jaquith disclaims any interest in competing with the big boys, including Lexis/Nexis, publisher of the official Virginia Code.

“If I tried to compete with West or Lexis/Nexis, I’d be found dead in a sewer,” Jaquith said.

A Lexis representative who attended the commission meeting said he had “no comment.”

He did, however, meet with Jaquith (in a public place) to discuss Lexis’s planned software changes that may help Jaquith’s Virginia Decoded site use the version of the Code Lexis returns to the state for its own online Code.
By Deborah Elkins

One comment

  1. Waldo Jaquith’s work has been a great resource for this journalist and I appreciate all of the hard work. This idea is a fantastic one.

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