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Saturday, May 26, 2007

Hennepin defenders dealing with facility woes

Up to 200 Hennepin County public defenders and staff will have to be temporarily relocated as county officials deal with a lead paint situation at the William McGee Building in Minneapolis. The Public Defenders' Office is located on floors two through eight of the 100-year-old building. Minnesota Lawyer will have a full story on the situation in Monday's edition.

Happy Memorial Day Weekend!

Friday, May 25, 2007

CLE credit for pro bono work

The Minnesota Supreme Court announced last week that it will hold a hearing to consider a petition by the Minnesota State Bar Association to amend the Rules of the Minnesota State Board of Continuing Legal Education. The proposed amendments would allow attorneys to receive CLE credit for doing pro bono work -- up to a total of six CLE credits within a three-year reporting period.

Many within the legal community support the proposal, primarily because it will likely encourage attorneys to take on pro bono matters, therefore addressing a crisis of unmet legal needs. But some aren't convinced, and argue that the rule won't provide an incentive to lawyers who would not otherwise do pro bono work, but will only mean that lawyers who would have done pro bono work anyway will wind up with less time in the classroom. Many also lament that receiving CLE credits defeats the purpose of pro bono work, which should be a selfless act and a demonstration of professionalism.

The hearing on the proposed amendments will be held in Courtroom 300 of the Minnesota Judicial Center, on Sept. 18, 2007, at 2:00 p.m.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Best buy?

This just in from the Associated Press:

HARTFORD, Conn. — Connecticut's attorney
general announced a lawsuit today against Best Buy, accusing the nation's largest consumer electronics retailer of deceiving customers with in-store computer kiosks and overcharging them.

The lawsuit, which will be filed in Hartford Superior Court, accuses Best Buy of denying deals found at the company's website.
Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said store employees charged customers higher prices found on a look-alike internal website.

"Best Buy gave consumers the worst deal — a bait-and-switch-plus scheme luring consumers into stores with promised online discounts, only to charge higher in-store prices," Blumenthal said.

Blumenthal opened an investigation into the Richfield-based retailer in March. About 20 customers complained to his office after a columnist for The Hartford Courant reported the experience of one Connecticut man who found a laptop computer advertised for $729.99 on www.bestbuy.com, then went to a Best Buy store where an employee who seemed to check the same website told him the price was actually $879.99.

Previously, the company confirmed that store employees have access to an internal website that looks nearly identical to the public site, but the company's policy is always to offer customers the lowest quoted price unless
it's specifically identified as a deal available only to online shoppers.

Final thoughts on the Goodling testimony

So, we find out yesterday during Monica Goodling's testimony before the House Judiciary Committee that somebody at the Department of Justice thought that former U.S. Attorney Tom Heffelfinger was spending too much time on Native American issues. Now I might be a bit old fashioned here, but isn't that maybe the kind of thing that maybe someone should discuss with him rather than just adding his name onto a list for firing? I wonder if the folks down in D.C. were aware that the Red Lake school shootings were a pretty big deal here. ...

In any event, if I were Rachel Paulose I would be opening a bottle of champagne, ... errr ... lemonade. I don't think Goodling's testimony could have gone any better for her. Goodling and Paulose became friends after Paulose was hired as interim U.S. attorney. They did not know each other prior to the start of the hiring process.

So, despite being roasted over a spit by the media in connection with the firings controversy, it now appears Paulose's only "crime" on that score was being a smart young conservative with a Yale Law pedigree in the right place at the right time. Or maybe I should say the wrong place at the wrong time. How many of us would want to take the nonstop beating leveled at her by the media for the last two months -- even if it came with a business card saying that you were the U.S. attorney?

There are, of course, internal managerial issues at the local U.S. Attorney's Office still in the process of being addressed. Now that the eye of this national storm has passed, maybe the office can finish hammering those out and get back to doing more things like helping to bust up that "sex slavery" ring. Just a thought.

In any event, it is now up to Paulose to succeed or fail on her own merits, which is as it should be.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

LS&D likely to see more green from stadium deal

As has been widely reported, getting the land for the new baseball stadium for the Minnesota Twins has been no easy feat. And one measure of that is, of course, the amount of legal fees generated.

Hennepin County's legal representation in the complicated undertaking is the Minneapolis law firm of Leonard Street and Deinard. The county authorized $450,000 for the legal fees, but that was apparently overly optimistic.

A recommendation passed out of committee yesterday to increase the amount the county can disburse to LS&D for its representation from $450,000 to "up to $950,000," according to Carol Allis of the county's Public Affairs Office. The higher amount was authorized to "reflect the cost of the cost of the condemnation process," she said.

The Hennepin County Commission will vote whether to authorize the added legal fees on June 5. It is expected that the recommendation will be adopted.

A Goodling day in Washington

It's Monica Goodling day at the House Judiciary Committee, and so far the former Justice Department liaison to the White House has come out swinging, the Washington Post's Capitol Briefing blog reports.

"In her opening statement, Goodling attacked outgoing Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty, accusing McNulty of not being 'fully candid' in his remarks to the Senate Judiciary Committee and then inappropriately blaming her for not fully briefing him," the blog says.

The blog also reports: "Goodling is proving to be a tough witness under early questioning, as she contends that she played no role in putting names on the firing list and placing more emphasis for that decision-making process on the shoulders of D. Kyle Sampson, the former [Attorney General Alberto] Gonzales chief of staff."

For more and for further updates from the blog, click here.

Honoring the best of the new breed

Yesterday, more than 200 people gathered in the Nicollet Ballroom at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in downtown Minneapolis for Minnesota Lawyer’s annual luncheon honoring the region’s top young attorneys. The Up and Coming Lawyers event is a bit different from other events that pay tribute to the cream of the legal profession in that none of the honorees have been practicing law for more than 10 years.

While that doesn’t guarantee any degree of wetness behind the ears (the eldest honoree was 43), it does mean these folks are brimming with the kind of enthusiasm and zest that can be hard to find among more experienced folks in any field, not just law.

All 20 honorees spoke with sincerity and wit about the people and places that got them to this point in their careers; a few speeches had to be cut short when their presenters became overcome with emotion. This was not just another rubber-chicken lunch where trophies were handed out; it was an occasion that demonstrated the future of the legal community in Minnesota is in good hands.

You can read about this year’s Up and Coming Attorneys in a special section included in next week’s Minnesota Lawyer. Meanwhile, congratulations to this year’s honorees:

Amy K. Amundson, Rider Bennett, L.L.P.
Dawn R. Bakst, Ramsey County Attorney’s Office
Harleigh E. Brown, Fredrikson & Byron, P.A.
Patrick R. Burns, American Arbitration Association
Clayton W. Chan, Winthrop & Weinstine, P.A.
Carrie A. Daniel, Graco, Inc.
Aaron W. Davis, Patterson, Thuente, Skaar & Christensen, P.A.
Gloria L. Contreras Edin, Centro Legal, Inc.
David Galle, Oppenheimer Wolff & Donnelly, L.L.P.
Jennifer K. Huelskoetter, Bowman and Brooke, L.L.P.
Saran B. Jenkins, Legal Rights Center
Christopher A. Johnston, Johnston | Martineau, P.L.L.P.
Brian M. Meloy, Leonard, Street and Deinard, P.A.
Tamika R. Nordstrom, Blackwell Burke, P.A.
Sarah L. Oquist, Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe
Lori D. Semke, Flynn, Gaskins & Bennett, L.L.P.
Amy M. Sieben, Foley & Mansfield, P.L.L.P.
Mathew A. Soberg, Krekelberg, Skonseng & Hastings, P.L.L.P.
John T. Soshnik, Dorsey & Whitney, L.L.P.
Aaron D. Van Oort, Faegre & Benson, L.L.P.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Court's power to order funding unresolved

The Minnesota Legislature passed its budget bills before adjourning but they still could be vetoed by the governor. If the courts have to intervene in order to keep the state operating, the purview of their power isn't clear under State ex rel. Sviggum v. Hanson, issued by the Court of Appeals today.

At least that's the opinion of the attorney for the appellants in the case, Erick Kaardal, who represented a group of legislators in a quo warranto proceeding that the court found nonjusticiable.

The state legislators had claimed that the Commissioner of Finance had violated the Constitution and statutes by disbursing funds during the 2005 partial government shutdown without a legislative appropriation. The state legislators challenged the Ramsey County District Court's actions in the context of the 2005 partial government shutdown to order the Commissioner of Finance to disburse funds without a legislative appropriation. The state legislators alleged such action was unconstitutional and violative of statutes, explained Kaardal in a press release.

The Court of Appeals left unresolved the critical issue of whether the Ramsey County District Court in the future can order the Commissioner of Finance to disburse funds without a legislative appropriation in the next partial government shutdown, said Kaardal.

"Now, the Governor, the state legislature, the courts and the public are left to wonder whether the Minnesota Constitution will be applied in the next partial government shutdown situation," Kaardal said.

Good faith dies on the Senate floor

The bill to require insurance companies to act in good faith and to allow direct action against insurers didn't make it through the meat grinder that was the last days of the legislative session. The direct action language gave rise to an extensive -- and some might say dishonest -- advertising campaign about "double lawsuits" and greedy trial lawyers. The Senate decided to drop direct action and a conference committee followed suit.

Then the wrangling about good faith kicked in, reports Wil Fluegel of the Minnesota Association for Justice, formerly known as the Minnesota Trial Lawyers Association. After 14 modifications were made to the bill to accommodate various insurance interests, it was passed off the House floor. It was attached to a finance bill in the Senate but that didn't work because the leadership believed the governor would veto the finance bill if the good faith bill was attached, and it wanted the finance bill to get signed. So then the interested parties began working on a stand-alone bill, but representatives of the insurance industry wouldn't commit, Fluegel said. However, the bill made it to the Senate floor after a provision for punitive damages was dropped. It looked like it might pass, but the Senate commerce committee wanted more hearings and "the wheels came off the bill," Fluegel said.

"There was an earnest effort to work though a compromise that the governor would sign but time ran out," Fluegel said.

Others say that in the end, the "double lawsuit" campaign did the job. "The money big insurance spent spreading misinformation, distortions and outright lies did have an impact," said trial lawyer's lobbyist Joel Carlson.

Minnesota at the U.S. Supreme Court

Yesterday was a busy day for Minnesota at the U.S. Supreme Court. The court granted certiorari in one Minnesota case, denied it in another, and ruled that an employment discrimination case against former Sen. Mark Dayton can go forward.

The Supreme Court granted certiorari in Danforth v. State of Minnesota on the issue of whether state courts must follow the rule set forth by the U.S. Supreme Court in Teague v. Lane to determine whether the U.S. Supreme Court decisions apply retroactively to state-court criminal cases -- or whether the state court may apply a broader state standard. The Minnesota Supreme Court had held itself bound by Teague; Ben Butler of the state public defender’s office brought the cert petition.

However, the court denied a cert petition brought by David Herr on behalf of an inmate in Shakopee who was seeking resentencing under Blakely. In that case, State v. Losh, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled 4-3 that the defendant was not entitled to retroactive application of Blakely because the case was not on “direct review” when Blakely was decided.

Finally, the court decided that former senator Mark Dayton can be sued for employment discrimination because it is without appellate jurisdiction over trial court decisions that he is not immune under the Speech and Debate Clause. The high court declined to treat the appeal as a petition for writ of certiorari because there were no grounds for cert. review.

The court has significantly curtailed its exercise of mandatory appellate jurisdiction, said Herr, (who is an appellate expert but not involved in this case) so it’s not surprising that it reached this result.

“The Court here took a very plausible view of the statute that gave it fairly extraordinary appellate jurisdiction by viewing that jurisdiction as available only when the lower courts have decided a constitutional question. Here, there was apparently agreement, or tacit agreement, that the lower courts' decisions were not clearly founded on the Constitution,” said Herr.

But in a concluding sentence that Herr called “ominous,” the court wrote, “We express no opinion on the merits, nor do we decide whether this action became moot upon the expiration of Senator Dayton’s term in office.” So the case isn’t over by any stretch of the imagination.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Federalists, food and thought

The local chapter of the Federalist Society is presenting a one-credit CLE on "White, The Quie Commission and The Future of Judicial Selection in Minnesota" this Thursday.

The featured speakers include: Governor Al Quie, the chair of the Citizens Commission for the Preservation of an Impartial Judiciary; Minnesota Supreme Court Justice G. Barry Anderson; Minneapolis attorney Bill Mohrman; and Minneapolis attorney Rick Morgan.

The event will be held from 4:00 pm-6:00 pm at The Radisson Plaza Hotel, Norway Room, 3rd Floor (35 South 7th Street, Minneapolis). Admission is $20 for members and $25 for nonmembers (which includes appetizers) .

The topic sounds pretty interesting and is worth checking out. Even if you are not interested in judicial elections, you could always go to discover what this exotic creature called a Federalist eats.

If you would like to attend, RSVP to Susan Shogren Smith, 612-812-8160, sssmith2@stthomas.edu.

Prostitution ring prosecution

The U.S. Attorney's Office announced at a press conference today that 25 people arrested over the weekend have been charged in federal court for crimes related to the operation of a major prostitution ring in the Twin Cities.

The charges include conspiracy, transporting a person to engage in prostitution and enticement of another to travel in interstate commerce to engage in prostitution.

Ex-wife pursing $12M fraud claim vs. Rider Bennett

Minnesota Lawyer reports this week that the soon-to-be-defunct law firm of Rider Bennett faces a $12 million lawsuit over the representation one of its former attorneys provided in a divorce case. (See "Rider Bennett faces $12M fraud claim," password required.)

Former Rider Bennett partner Steven B. Schmidt represented the husband, who was a founder of The Tile Shop chain of retail outlets. The wife claims Schmidt helped the husband misrepresent the value of his business during the marital dissolution. She is suing both the lawyer and, under doctrines of agency and respondeat superior, Rider Bennett. (The wife has already obtained an additional $4 million from the ex-husband after the property settlement at issue was reopened.)

The wife alleges, among other things, that the attorney instructed the company to use a "doom and gloom scenario" when it provided the financial numbers used in the valuation. She is seeking treble damages against the lawyer and firm under the fraud statute.

The lawsuit was reportedly not a factor in the law firm's dissolution (which takes effect May 31) -- although the breakup might make any judgment difficult to collect.

Marriage licenses for immigrants

Are there any immigration lawyers out there who have clients who have experienced difficulties obtaining a marriage license in Hennepin County? Minnesota Lawyer Associate Editor Michelle Lore is looking into the issue for a possible story. If you have any input, you can contact her at michelle.lore@minnlawyer.com, or by phone at (612) 584-1530.

Interesting times at the DOJ

The ancient Chinese curse says, "May you be born in interesting times." Well, this week will be an interesting time at the Department of Justice with Monica M. Goodling, the department's former liaison to the White House, gearing up to give her much-anticipated testimony before the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday. Goodling, you may recall, left the DOJ in April after invoking her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination in reference to her role in the U.S. Attorneys firings. She has received a limited grant of immunity to provide the testimony.

Add to the mix the fact that the Senate is threatening to take up a no-confidence vote against U.S. Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales as early as this week, and you have quite a chain of events shaping up.

I can't quite decide whether this is a good or a bad week for Justice -- all depends on your point of view, I guess.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Legal movies worth checking out

Here's a good posting for a dreary Sunday, some of the top legal movies of all time. I would have all of these on my list:

-- My Cousin Vinny (hilarious);
-- To Kill a Mockingbird (Atticus Finch and Scout -- how can you go wrong?);
-- The Verdict (A down-and-out P.I. lawyer, Paul Newman, takes on a major med-mal case);
-- The Firm (fun plot, if a little clumsily executed. Plus Wilford Brimley as a bad guy ...);
-- Witness for the Prosecution (A great take on an Agatha Christie story)