Isaac Blackford - Chief Justice - Blackford’s Reports

Blackford’s Reports

Blackford’s salary began at $600 annually, and the constitution prevented it from decreasing during his term. At the time his salary was enough to sustain only a meager lifestyle. He invested some of his savings in land speculation around the state and made a large profit from his initial investment. He used the money to buy three city blocks in Indianapolis shortly after the city was platted in 1824. On one block he had a four story brick building constructed during the late 1820s and he rented office space for income. By the 1830s he no longer needed his judicial salary to live and left it in the state treasury to draw interest at 6%. By the time he left office, he was earning $1,500 annually, and in total earned an estimated $50,000, including interest, from his salary. ($1,289,400 in 2009 chained dollars) He was reportedly very frugal with his money and amassed a small fortune during his lifetime.

After his personal tragedies while he remaining locked in his room, Blackford began working on a book to report the important decisions of the Supreme Court and provide a legal source to the state lawyers and judges. He was meticulous and precise in his writing. His biographer attributed his ability to write concisely to the fact that he never practiced law extensively, and never developed the habit of writing lengthy arguments, but instead kept his thoughts clear and precise. Each volume he authored covered a decade of court decisions and were published four years after the decade was complete. So careful was Blackford in ensuring the quality and accuracy of the work, he regularly held up printing to make corrections found after a few volumes were printed, and after they were printed, if an error was reported, he would destroy the existing copies and have new ones made. He used his own savings to have the books published with the intention of selling them to lawyers in Indiana. The sale of the books brought Blackford a substantial income, and he earned between $1,500 and $2,000 annually on royalties.

Blackford published the first of his eight volumes of Blackford’s Reports in 1830. It was immediately in demand among the state’s judicial establishment as there was at that time no other readily available source for Supreme Court decisions. The Indiana General Assembly later approved and funded the publishing of the two volume Indiana Reports, which was authored by the court reporter and reported the entirety of the decisions of the Supreme Court. Blackford’s Reports still remained more popular because of their superior style and quality. His reports were noted by readers for their concision, accuracy, and diction. They soon became popular in other US states where common law was used. Within a decade his reports had spread to Europe. As Great Britain used common law, his reports were also published in Britain and Canada where they were used as a legal resource.

Washington Irving, while at a post at the Court of St. James's, wrote to his superiors in Washington D.C. requesting information on Blackford and reported that Blackford’s Reports were well known in Westminster and regularly used by the judiciary, and Irving compared him to the William Blackstone. The attribution stuck with Blackford, and earned him the nickname “Indiana Blackstone.” His reports by then had become a staple in law schools and a necessity in most law firms in the United States.

Blackford's Reports were thorough and detailed thanks to Blackford's effort to keep them accurate. His reputation for accuracy became well known. On one occasion a lawyer arguing before the court seeking to delay a decision questioned Blackford on the spelling of the word "jenny", a female donkey, a word he knew would be in the report. Blackford responded with the spelling and lawyer again questioned him if he was certain that word was not spelt "jennie". Not wanting to be hasty and enter an incorrectly spelt word onto the record, Blackford delayed the decision for two days while experts were consulted as to the proper spelling. By the time the answer had come the court session had ended and decision was delayed for several months.

Between the time the books were published, and until 1930, his reports in were cited over 4,000 times by Indiana courts, over 3,000 times other state courts in the United States, over 1,400 times by federal courts and the United States Supreme Court, more than 350 times in Canadian courts, and more than 75 in British courts. Additionally, his decisions were cited over 400 times from Indiana Reports. It is estimated that since 1930, his reports have been cited an additional 4,000 times in court decisions. The use of his reports in law schools became less common beginning in the early 1900s as many states' civil codes began to become more developed. His reports, however, remain a regularly used tool in states where common law in still widely used.

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