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Barrister Bits - Celebrating Sonoma County\'s Law Library


Barrister Bits - Celebrating Sonoma County\'s Law Library

by Debra A. Newby

In lieu of this month’s Q &A column, I‘d like to celebrate the 125th Birthday of the Sonoma County Public Law Library. If my thoughts peek your interest, feel free to see “Justice in Action” by visiting our local Law Library, located in the Sonoma County Government Complex just north of the Recorder’s office at 2604 Ventura Avenue, Santa Rosa (ph. 707-565-2668).

Commitment. Pretty powerful. One has to focus not only the pledge, but the meaning and motivation behind the pledge. When our local courthouse was first built in downtown Santa Rosa in the late 1800’s, on land donated by Maria Carillo’s heirs, the founders of our community intuitively knew that a Law Library was part of that commitment to justice. 

On June 22, 1891 the Sonoma County Public Law Library first opened its doors to the public. Now, dear reader, you must realize that a law library is part of my soul. As a first year law student in the late 70’s, the law library was my chapel. It offered a safe place for my thoughts and raw analytical skills. I would sit for hours studying, surrounded by the fan-shaped design of my reliable companions -- law books, notebooks, pens and highlighters. I even had the honor as a third year law student of being invited to work at the Law Library, a welcome respite to my other odd jobs as a property manager and a waitress.  

If you walk into the Sonoma County Law Library today, you may be greeted by Holland Webster, who just graduated from Empire Law School. Or perhaps you will be welcomed by the kind eyes and stylish ties of Douglas Sutro, who also volunteers on Saturdays just so the Law Library can stay open extra hours. Or maybe our talented and devoted Law Librarian, Kim Tucker, will be up front, always open to direct patrons to resources that will bring a sense of certainty back into their lives…like how to clear that petty theft/shoplifting record so embarrassment does not trump the job interview, or how a parent can secure child support in a nasty divorce, or how a family with credit card debt can answer a pleading from a debt collector. 

When you visit the Law Library, you likely will NOT find a sea of grey suits and briefcases. Most of the patrons who use the Law Library are ordinary citizens who represent themselves on a variety of legal issues. Our history is deep and rich, and can be experienced by watching our 13-minute video on YouTube ( You are also invited to our 125th Birthday Celebration on Sunday, June 26th from 3-6 pm at Oakmont’s Wild Oak Saddle Club. Go to the Law Library’s website ( to buy tickets and join the fun! 

Our Law Library has endured and weathered the perfect storm. Over 90% of the Law Library’s funding comes from a small portion of civil filing fees. Yet, due to a reduction in lawsuits, combined with an increase in “fee waivers”, law library funding has dropped almost 40%. At the same time, the cost of the “bells and whistles” of the Law Library – the books and digital data, have increased almost 65%. A dangerous formula. 

Despite the relentless challenges, the public is served, no matter their income level or issue. Law students develop and refine their legal research and analytical skills. Lawyers refresh their knowledge of the law, so they can continue to craft persuasive and accurate legal arguments. Practice guides, law review articles, case law, and legislative history patiently rest on the shelves, anxious to reveal their secrets to the curious patron. Kim Tucker and her staff are on stand-by to direct and guide the individual through the maze of complex laws. No advance tickets are needed. Just a curious mind and the willingness of the patron to be their own law partner in resolving their legal issue. 

For 125 years, the Sonoma County Public Law Library has honored the pledge to keep Justice assessable to all, despite the challenges. True commitment, motivated by a sense of doing what is right--keeping the gateway to Justice open and free


Debra A. Newby is a resident of Monte Rio and has practiced law for 34 years. She is a member of the California, Texas and Sonoma County Bar Associations and currently maintains an active law office in Santa Rosa which emphasizes personal injury law (bicycle/motorcycle/motor vehicle accidents, dog bites, trip and falls, etc.) and expungements (clearing criminal records). Debra can be reached via email (, phone (707-526-7200), or fax (526-7202).