Although most of your research may deal with federal or state law, you may find yourself needing to do research on the local government level. This could be a county, parish, borough, town, township, city, municipal corporation, or a village. It could also include a special district organized for a specific purpose such as a water district. Local governments are creatures of state law and possess only those powers granted by the state constitution and/or legislature. Some times the boundaries of local governments will overlap so you may find yourself needing to research more than one local government's documents. This guide will introduce you to local government law.
Please contact any of our UC Law Librarians if you need assistance in finding or using any of the resources in the guide.
Within the framework of state law, the municipalities often adopt a charter. Like the federal or state constitution, the charter describes the powers, duties, and responsibilities of the particular local government unit. For example, a person doing research in the municipal law of Cincinnati might wish to consult Cincinnati’s City Charter (available at: http://www.cincinnati-oh.gov/council/downloads/council_pdf35437.pdf).
A local government will pass ordinances which are "laws" having force and effect within the boundaries of the entity. These ordinances are often compiled into codes, a subject arrangement of the ordinances. Many municipal codes are now available online, however, be aware that these sources may not be considered official versions of the code.
There is not one master website containing charters, ordinances, or codes but many code publishers make their codes available online for free. If you do not find your particular code through one site, be sure and search the additional publisher websites.
Most municipal codes do not provide references to cases ("annotations") that apply and interpret city charters and ordinances.
- Some of the secondary sources cited in the other tab can be used to identify relevant cases from the courts.
- Cases can also be found through state digests. You might check in the Descriptive Word Index under "Cities and Towns," "Municipal Corporations" or other appropriate words or phrases.
- If using Westlaw, you can use those same digest topic and key numbers online to find cases.
- If using Lexis, you can do something similar using their search by topic and headnote feature. You can also search individual case law databases on Lexis and Westlaw.
- Ordinance Law Annotations, available on Westlaw (Database:ORDLAWANNO), is a comprehensive digest of cases interpreting or applying city and county ordinances.
Lexis & Westlaw
An easy way to find ordinances online is to look under the Municipal Government topic in Lexis (you can add this as a tab if you are doing a lot of research in this area), or Municipal Law in Westlaw (there is a Municipal Practitioner tab in Westlaw that you can add).