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Saturday, April 7, 2007

Changes at the U.S. Attorney's Office

Kudos to the Pioneer Press for getting the scoop Thursday on the decision of U.S. attorney Rachel Paulose's top deputies to step down from their leadership role. Here are a couple of links to articles on it:

-- Shakeup at U.S. attorney's office (Pioneer Press)
-- Paulose shakeup spills into national controversy over U.S. attorneys (Pioneer Press)
-- Justice official is expected to help U.S. attorney's office (Strib)

All of the deputies are respected, so the loss is unfortunate. It promises to be an interesting time at the U.S. Attorney's Office as it undergoes a structural reorganization while under a national media spotlight.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Photo-cop ordinances not worth 1,000 words

The Minnesota Supreme Court struck down the Minneapolis “photo-cop” ordinances on the ground that they conflict with state law regulating traffic.

The decision affirms the Court of Appeals, which had decided the case on the same grounds and which had affirmed a Hennepin County District Court judge.

The ordinances imposed a petty misdemeanor penalty on the owner of a car that was photographed running a red light, even where the owner was not the driver.

The Supreme Court said that the ordinances conflict with the Minnesota Traffic Regulations Act, which requires uniformity of traffic regulations throughout the state. The Legislature has preempted the field of traffic regulation, and the ordinances are not authorized by the statute, wrote Justice Sam Hanson for the court. Furthermore, they conflict with the statute by creating owner liability for traffic violations and are restricted to Minneapolis. Additionally, the ordinances only impose liability on owners, leading to a presumption that the owner is the driver.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Big Law Blues

The Wall Street Journal Law blog yesterday reported that Stanford Law’s Andrew Canter (2L) and Craig Holt Segall (3L) -- and about 125 students from the nation’s top law schools — emailed hiring partners and recruiting coordinators at the nation's largest firms.

Their new organization, Law Students Building a Better Legal Profession, wants the country’s biggest law firms to sign-on to principles espousing a saner work environment for lawyers.

“We are writing as a group of over 100 law students to propose a change in the way we all experience our profession,” the email begins. “We are working to ensuring that practicing law does not mean giving up a commitment to family, community, and dedicated service to clients.”

The group asked firms to commit to four principles: Making concrete steps towards a transactional billing system; Reducing maximum billable hour expectations for partnership;
Implementing balanced hours policies that work; and Making work expectations clear.

In return for a better working life, the new group advocates that entry-level associates get a smaller paycheck.

Some of the comments got pretty heated against these two young gentlemen. Here is one of the gentler ones: "I enjoy working, and I bill lots of hours. If these 'kids' want the easy road, they do not need to work in a big firm." And here is another: "Anyone see the irony of law students who, as far as we know never worked a day in their lives in a law firm, spearheading the effort to change law firm life?"

Hmmm. Maybe Big Law firms are not working their lawyers too hard. They apparently have time to blog nasty things. Perhaps they found a way to bill the time?

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Could it happen here? You betcha'

The Associated Press reports today that the "race for Wisconsin Supreme Court won by Judge Annette Ziegler, described by one observer as the 'nastiest and bleakest' in state history, could be just the beginning of a new kind of campaigning for the bench."

Ziegler beat his challenger, Madison attorney Linda Clifford yeserday with 58 percent of the vote to Clifford's 42 percent.

The AP goes on to report that at least $3.4 million had been spent on the race by the candidates and outside groups, and the final total may reach as high $6 million.

The 13th post is the charm ...

Kudos to Minneapolis attorney Peter Swanson on celebrating his 500th Post on his blog -- swanblog -- today. With this post, we are are a mere 487 posts behind him.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Lawyers behaving badly?

It's funny what the introduction of money can do to a friendship, isn't it?

A case in point is a Alderson v. Homolka, an unpublished Court of Appeals decision released today involving a fee dispute between two lawyers who were once friends. The fee at issue was generated from a $3.4 million personal injury settlement, which, as you can imagine, might put any friendship to the test.

The two lawyers -- Roger C. Alderson and Daniel M. Homolka -- were solos who sometimes worked together. Alderson, who mostly did workers' comp, helped Homolka,who did a lot of personal-injury work, land the lucrative case. He also performed some of the grunt work, but was not named in the fee ageement. Homolka argued that Alderson's work was worthless to the case and he wasn't entitled to anything.

The trial court judge disagreed, awarding Alderson $100K on his quantum meruit claim. The Court of Appeals affirmed.

File this one under "Ex-Friends With Money."

Welcome, Power Line readers

Welcome, Power Line (www.powerlineblog.com) readers, and thanks to Scott Johnson for linking to us. Minnesota Lawyer just started this blog to provide relevant information to the state's legal community. We will be regularly updating this blog and hope you visit again soon.

Monday, April 2, 2007

Making a federal case over a $225 'coronation'

Editor's Note: As an extra for our blog readers, Minnesota Lawyer is making the text of this week's editor's column available in its entirety.

By Mark A. Cohen
Minnesota Lawyer, 4/02/07

For the extravagance of spending less than the price of an iPod on the ceremony marking her investiture as the state’s top federal prosecutor, U.S. attorney Rachel Paulose recently found herself on a TV news report fending off a charge that she had wasted taxpayer money. How did this odd turn of events come to be? Therein lies our tale.

The 33-year-old was appointed as acting head of the U.S. Attorney’s Office a little more than a year ago after Thomas Heffelfinger announced he was leaving his post to return to private practice. Shortly before they adjourned for the year last December, senators unanimously voted to confirm Paulose to fill the post on a permanent basis.

Hailing from an immigrant family, Paulose has an impressive resume and a reputation as a hard worker. As the youngest U.S. attorney in the nation, she has a compelling story that seems tailor made for a feature article.

The Pioneer Press printed such a piece in February (in fact, it was puffy enough to make a magic dragon blush), but the honeymoon with the media was soon to be over.

Apparently lacking absolutely anything interesting to cover, KSTP’s Bob McNaney prepared an investigative report on Paulose’s investiture ceremony. (The report aired on March 23, two weeks after the investiture.)

Due to the large number of guests to be accommodated, Paulose had been on the lookout for a larger-than-usual venue for the investiture, and jumped at the University of St. Thomas Law School’s offer to make its auditorium space available for free. The deal was a good one for the UST, which got the distinction of holding a U.S. attorney’s investiture on its grounds, and for taxpayers, who did not have to pay anything for the space. (UST charges private parties up to $1,500 for use of the space.) Paulose’s office had a budget of $500 for the ceremony. Because the space was free, only $225 was actually spent.

I am at a loss to explain how this constitutes mismanagement of taxpayer funds, but McNaney’s report gives off the distinct impression that it was. I found the report’s attempts to make a federal case out of this $225 “coronation” laughable. The only thing missing from the melodramatic segment was a soundtrack.

And then it got one! The report cuts to a shot of a choir singing the national anthem at the investiture. Was having a choir sing at the event over the top? Film at 11:00.

Paradoxically, the report accuses Paulose of both wasting taxpayer money and acting unethically by accepting free use of the auditorium. The report maintains the space arrangement created an “appearance of a conflict of interest.”

The exact nature of this conflict was never fully explained, but presumably had to do with UST’s giving something of value (a discount) to the U.S. attorney. Where the logic falls down is that the discount benefited the taxpayers rather than Paulose herself. And just what is UST supposed to be purchasing? UST is a Catholic university with a mission of encouraging ethics. From the report, you’d think that Vito Corleone had loaned Paulose the room.

The report did mention almost as an aside that there has been some attrition from the U.S. attorney’s office. However, it did not provide any statistics, expert commentary or anything else to show the amount of departures was unusually high given the changeover in regimes. (I cannot say at this point whether it is or isn’t — only that the story should not be reported unless you have the evidence to back it up.)

My critique of the report would probably end right here if I had not gone on the KSTP website and viewed the raw footage of the interview with Paulose. As is typical with TV news, the station aired only a few short sound bites from a lengthy interview. The added footage is available as a Web “extra.”

I found what I saw disturbing. It is clear that Paulose is operating under the mistaken belief that the interview will be about her priorities as U.S. attorney. McNaney, of course, had an entirely different motive.

I am aware that Paulose as a precondition for her interviews has been asking that the questioning be limited to her priorities in the office. (In fact, that’s exactly what Minnesota Lawyer was told when we inquired about the possibility of an interview earlier this year.) Scott Johnson, a co-author of the Powerline blog and a friend of Paulose, confirmed for me that KSTP had agreed to those parameters. (I left McNaney a voicemail message last week, but he did not return my call — perhaps because I told him what I actually wanted to talk to him about.)

In the raw footage, McNaney initially asks softball questions. He lets her give an overview of her priorities, but then, seemingly out of nowhere, keeps bringing up the investiture (which had not yet been held at the time of the interview). At first he seems to know little or nothing about it, and even implies that he thinks it is going to be held at a courthouse. Paulose corrects him and tells him it will be at UST.

McNaney soon pounces, telling Paulose that he has a six-page single-spaced typewritten document that contains all the details about the investiture at UST. This document shows that it will be an elaborate affair at which there will be a … gasp … choir. Is she aware of the document? Does it surprise her to know that he has the document? Does it surprise her that somebody would give him the document?

Despite Paulose’s request for information about what document he is talking about, McNaney never offers to furnish the document or provide additional details. Without further information, Paulose wisely refrains from commenting on the purported document.

McNaney then switches to other topics, and soon asks the question reporters often ask when they are wrapping up. “Is there anything you would like to add?”
Paulose looks straight toward McNaney, and says in a clear, measured voice: “I would like to discuss more about my priorities.”

As I watch this raw footage, it’s obvious that everything she says after this point is going to be left on the cutting-room floor. Paulose herself even asks at one point, “Are you just going to delete all of this?” McNaney responds, “Naw. If we get more we can use it in more than one story, obviously.” It’s almost humorous to watch Paulose keep McNaney and his crew hostage talking about what they were supposed to be there to discuss when they so obviously want to leave.

By the way, I’m still waiting for those other stories from KSTP ….