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Saturday, June 2, 2007

Rybak's treatment by Strib on Par with others

Everyone in the local media knows that the place to go to get news on what's happening with at the Star Tribune is not the Strib's website, but on the Rake blog. Media watchdog Brian Lambert has been tenaciously covering the buyouts -- to the point where I'd be willing to bet that the Strib management wishes that he'd stop. In fact, the blog is turning out to be the one place Strib staffers can go to see if they still have a job.

I was getting my Rake fix yesterday, when I noticed something of interest to the legal community. Deborah Caulfield Rybak has decided to take a buyout and leave the Strib. As many in the legal community may recall, Rybak, among many other accomplishments, is one of the authors of "Smoked: The inside story of the Minnesota Tobacco Trial." She has also written for Minnesota Law and Politics, among other publications.

The Rake blog tells us that she was treated pretty abysmally in the process, which is detailed in "Rybak exits Star Tribune." The blog reports that right up until Friday's deadline for staffers to decide whether they would take the buyout, no one would tell Rybak what her status would be if she didn't. It's a pretty nasty piece of business and worth checking out. Ironically, Rybak provided a lot of the paper's coverage of the media. It may just be that Strib feels that with its scaling back of staff, along with that of its rival, the Pioneer Press, there will be nothing left of the local media worth covering. Unfortunately, that philosophy may be right.

Friday, June 1, 2007

The 3M suit; When is a warning adequate?

The Star Tribune has reported that Twin Cities-based 3M is being sued by a California couple whose daughter died after deliberately inhaling 3M Dust Remover. According to the article, the plaintiffs argue that the product was made and sold without proper labels warning that the aerosol is dangerous if purposely inhaled. "Adequate warning labels" could have saved their child, the couple argue in their suit.

3M responded that the product is safe, and that it does, in fact, contain a warning on the label indicating that "Intentional misuse by deliberately concentrating and inhaling the contents may be harmful and fatal."

Hummmm... if 3M's response is accurate, it will be interesting to see how a jury views this matter -- if it makes it that far. While the facts of this case are indeed tragic, one has to wonder how much more of a warning 3M could have put on the label to make it "adequate."

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Klobuchar wants answers on Heffelfinger

From the Associated Press:

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar wants the Senate Judiciary Committee to ask more in-depth questions about why former U.S. Attorney for Minnesota Tom Heffelfinger may have been targeted for removal.

A story in today's Los Angeles Times says Heffelfinger was targeted because he worked to protect the voting rights of American Indians in Minnesota.

Klobuchar wrote a letter to Sen. Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, asking the panel to closely question former Bush Justice Department appointee Bradley Schlozman.

Schlozman is scheduled to testify before the committee next Tuesday. According to the L-A Times, Schlozman stopped Heffelfinger's investigation into concerns that American Indians living outside reservations could not use their tribal I-D cards to vote.

TB Guy a P.I. lawyer

I thought this paragraph was interesting in the Star Tribune story about the globetrotting guy with tuberculosis.

"The disclosure that the patient is a lawyer — and specifically a personal injury lawyer — outraged many people on the Internet and elsewhere. Some travelers who flew on the same planes with Speaker angrily accused him of selfishly putting hundreds of other people's lives in danger."


I do wonder what types of professional discipline he may be subject to for an escapade like this ...

Milwaukee alderman facing multiple charges

While the L.A. Times keeps spilling ink on former Minnesota U.S. Attorney Tom Heffelfinger, federal prosecutors in Wisconsin have had their hands full with Milwaukee Alderman Michael McGee.

According to a story in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, McGee and two other men were arrested this week on suspicion of plotting to kill a man whom they suspected of burglarizing a home, before deciding that he instead should be beaten.

In an unrelated twist, state and federal authorities had also been investigating McGee since May 2006 on suspicion of bribery, according to Steven M. Biskupic, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Wisconsin.

So in addition to being charged by Milwaukee County prosecutors for solicitation to commit conspiracy and battery, he is also being charged in federal court with coercion and soliciting a bribe from businesses in his district in exchange for help on liquor licenses and other matters.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Is the day of do-it-yourself law coming?

Minnesota Lawyer recently ran an interview with Second District Court Judge Kathleen Gearin in which she lamented the rise in pro se litigants, especially in criminal and complex civil cases. “You’re seeing things like pro se medical-malpractice suits, and they’re really time-consuming,” she said. “The litigants become frustrated because they don’t know the law, and they end up making a lot of procedural mistakes.”

That’s only one reason judges and lawyers sometimes take a dim view of so-called do-it-yourself defendants. As was pointed out in yesterday’s Star Tribune, lawyers don’t appreciate having work taken from them.

But the surge in pro se litigants – and of entities such as Minnesota’s and Hennepin County’s legal self-help services – seems to reflect market pressures as much as anything. The poor, recent immigrants, cash-strapped divorcees and others without the means to hire an attorney are finding that with some initiative and some expert advice, they can more easily have their day in court. Without these avenues, these often-disenfranchised folks would only be more so.

Gearin certainly has a point: Some cases are simply too complicated for the average citizen to take on alone. But in some areas including family law, maybe it’s time to remove the sense of voodoo that many people have about the practice of law and give them a chance to speak for themselves.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Will weighs in on IJ's 'taxi cartel' suit

Minneapolis has been much in the national news lately. Both Newsweek and The NewsHour on PBS covered the culture wars as exemplified at airport taxi stands and some supermarket checkouts and now George Will has weighed in on the Minneapolis "taxi cartel." I daresay he may have seen that catchy phrase in Nick Dranias's pleadings for the Institute for Justice.

The city opened up the number of taxi licenses, much to the chagrin of the existing license holders. The "cartel" now is suing for deprivation of an economic right, and the IJ has intervened. The IJ does get an approving mention in Will's column that ran in the Strib on Sunday. (For Minnesota Lawyer coverage of the IJ and the taxi cartel, click here, password required.)

Power Line takes on beauty contests?

I don't always agree with the postings on my colleagues' blog, Power Line, written by Minneapolis lawyers John Hinderaker and Scott Johnson, but I generally at least take them seriously. Until now. Hey guys, what's up with yesterday's bikini-clad photo of Miss Venezuela and the somewhat "detailed" coverage of a beauty contest? Throwing in a political comment about Miss Korea's idea of what super-power she would like to have doesn't get you out of the dog house. (BTW, her answer was reportedly "a wallet that never dried up.")

MSBA to tackle judicial elections at convention

Speaking of Judicial elections (see previous post), the Minnesota State Bar Association's Judicial Elections Committee has voted to depart from the Quie Commission's majority report, which recommended that Minnesota adopt a retention-election system similar to Missouri. Instead, the MSBA committee suggests the MSBA adopt the position advocated in the Quie Commission's minority report. (Click here to see both Quie Commission reports.)

The Quie Commission minority recommended that Minnesota adopt a modified retention system. Under the minority's proposal, judges would be appointed by the governor, who would be required to follow a merit-selection process. After an initial three- or four-year term, a judicial-evaluation commission would review the judge's performance and would have the authority to appoint the judge to another nine year term. This approach would end judicial elections altogether while still subjecting to judges to a form of accountability.

The MSBA Assembly will consider the Judicial Elections Committee's proposal at the bar group's annual meeting in June. The discussion promises to be controversial as all sides of the judicial-elections debate make their views known. Stay tuned!

With judicial elections, does Missouri love company?

As Minnesota mulls switching from traditional judicial elections to a retention system, Missouri, the state that pioneered retention elections, is reconsidering the whole idea, Minnesota Lawyer reports this week.

Currently in Minnesota, judges run for election every six years. About 10 percent of judges typically get an opponent; the rest run unopposed. Under a retention system, rather than potentially having to choose between a judge and an opponent, voters would only vote on whether or not a judge should be retained. Proponents of retention elections claim that it is less prone to politicization than our current system. Because Missouri originated the retention concept, the idea is called the Missouri Plan.

As Minnesota Lawyer reports this week, Missouri has had a mixed experience with retention elections. Critics point out in the 67 years since Missouri adopted retention elections, only two judges have been unseated.

Of the 30 states that adopted the Missouri Plan in the ‘40s and ‘50s, only seven have retained it in its current form, says St. Louis attorney Bill Placke. “There are far better methods than the Missouri Plan.”

For more from the Minnesota Lawyer article, click here. (Password required).

Monday, May 28, 2007

U.S. Supreme Court not smiling on class actions

I hope everyone had a happy and safe Memorial Day Weekend! In case you missed it on your way to the lake on Friday, I am providing a link to an interesting article that was on the Bloomberg wire. So wipe off that barbeque sauce, and check this out:

Roberts Court Deals Lawyers Setbacks in Suits Against Companies
By Greg Stohr

May 25 (Bloomberg) -- For trial lawyers, any news from the U.S. Supreme Court these days is probably bad.

The court this week threw out an antitrust lawsuit against the nation's three largest telephone companies, saying judges should be quicker to dismiss cases that would force corporations and other defendants to mount a costly defense. The decision was part of a trend that attorneys say is making it harder to successfully press class-action cases and other suits against businesses.

Trial lawyers may suffer additional setbacks in the next month as the court, under Chief Justice John Roberts, rules on two investor lawsuits that justices criticized during arguments in March.

For more, click here.

On the plus side, no anti-trial lawyer decisions came out over the long weekend ...