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Friday, June 15, 2007

MWL meeting a success

Minnesota Women Lawyers put on an impressive event on Wednesday evening at the Depot in downtown Minneapolis.

The organization's 35th annual meeting on June 13 began with a reception that included complimentary drinks and appetizers. It was a really nice opportunity for women lawyers -- and judges -- and some brave and supportive males as well -- to mingle and make bids on the many silent auction items available.

During the dinner portion of the evening, outgoing president Mary Vasaly passed the gavel to Kari Jensen Thomas. Various awards were also handed out, including the Myra Bradwell Award to Minneapolis attorney Trudy Halla and the Service to MWL Award to Roseville attorney Judith Oakes and Professional Development Committee Co-Chairs Carrie Daniel, Cynthia Eidnes, Karen Reierson and Kate Westad.

The keynote speaker, legal and political commentator Susan Estrich, was a definite hit. Her comments on women in the legal profession were humorous at times, poignant at others and thought-provoking throughout.

Finally, the reports I received from meat eaters at the event were that the chicken and potatoes dinner was great as well. As a vegetarian, I feel compelled to add that I was particularly impressed with my meatless meal of pasta noodles and sauce -- something I can't always say following events like these. (For example, at Minnesota Lawyer's own Up and Coming Attorney luncheon last month, I am a bit embarrassed to admit, the hotel's idea of a vegetarian meal was to remove the chicken from our plate and add three pieces of broccoli!)

Kudos to Minnesota Women Lawyers for a great evening!

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Hatch has no problem with donning new hat

Former Attorney General Mike Hatch, speaking with Minnesota Lawyer earlier today, expressed no discomfort at leaving his role as consumer crusader to don the mantle of corporate champion.

In his new job as special counsel to Blackwell Burke in Minneapolis, Hatch will be practicing corporate law "with a tilt" toward health care, insurance and banking, he said. But, he also said, "my practice is what my clients tell me."

As for potential clients, Hatch has several irons in the fire. However, unlike when he was attorney general, now his clients want him to keep them out of the press.

Marler Clark strikes again

Actually, it was E. coli that struck again — in the intestines of a Minnesota woman.

But the Seattle-based Marler Clark law firm stuck back in a lawsuit filed suit yesterday alleging negligence against meat producer PM Beef and retailer Lund Food Holdings.

According to the Associated Press, Anne Herwig was one of seven Minnesotans infected with E. coli bacteria this spring, leading PM Beef to voluntarily recall 117,500 pounds of beef trim products.

The lawsuit in Hennepin County District Court seeks undisclosed damages for Herwig's pain and suffering, medical expenses and emotional distress. The bug can cause severe stomach cramps and bloody diarrhea, with complications leading to kidney failure.

With all the recently publicized E. coli cases, Marler Clark has carved out quite a germy niche for itself. Minnesota Lawyer reported in October that the firm snapped up the cases of more than 70 plaintiffs during last year’s E. coli-tainted spinach outbreak.

Hatch has indeed landed at Blackwell Burke

It's confirmed: Mike Hatch is now with the Minneapolis law firm of Blackwell Burke. Minnesota Lawyer Associate Editor Barbara Jones called over there today and left a message for Hatch on his voicemail at the firm.

It will be interesting to see whether the former AG with a penchant for consumer-rights advocacy work maintains that focus or goes corporate. As we mentioned in the post below, Blackwell Burke's current client list includes Aetna, Coca-Cola, General Mills, Medtronic, Northwest Airlines and 3M.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Has Hatch found a home at Blackwell Burke?

More than one reliable source has told Minnesota Lawyer that former state Attorney General (and former “director of complex litigation” under current AG Lori Swanson) Mike Hatch has joined Minneapolis law firm Blackwell Burke.

I put a call in to firm partner Jerry Blackwell this morning to confirm the news, but have not heard anything back as of yet. The firm, whose website currently lists 13 attorneys (but doesn't list Hatch yet), specializes in commercial litigation and products liability defense, which might make for an interesting fit considering Hatch’s history of being a bulldog on behalf of consumers, not corporations.

The firm’s client list includes Aetna, Coca-Cola, General Mills, Medtronic, Northwest Airlines, and 3M.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

No shirt, no charge

I spotted this interesting item about a Boston lawyer in our sister publication, Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly.

A Boston attorney has been cleared of all criminal wrongdoing after he had been accused of forcing open the jacket of a woman and exposing her bra during the December 2006 opening of the new Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston.

Prosecutors dismissed the case against attorney Stephen T. Kunian, a partner at the Boston law firm of Eckert, Seamans, Cherin & Mellot, after the alleged victim chose not to go forward.

Richard M. Egbert of Boston, counsel for Kunian, said that the case all along was motivated by money, and that his client "did not do the acts he was accused of."

"I called it a good old-fashioned shakedown from the beginning, and I haven't changed my opinion," said Egbert.

James S. Dilday, attorney for the alleged victim, an independent museum curator, said, "At this time, my client, who has experienced substantial emotional damage, did not want to deal with a trial."

The woman had filed a police report claiming that Kunian approached her on the night in question and opened up her jacket. Dilday said she had the jacket zipped up to neck level but was not wearing a top underneath the jacket. She also claimed that Kunian's hands touched her breasts at the time.

Kunian allegedly said after the incident: "Oh, I'm sorry, I thought you had a shirt on." Kunian and the woman did not know each other prior to the incident.

The woman's lawyer at one point sent a letter demanding a settlement of $500,000 in the case. Kunian, through his previous lawyer, countered with a settlement offer of $25,000. Dilday insisted that his client deserved a minimum of $100,000. That offer was rejected.

Hmmm. I am assuming that the settlement offers had to do with a potential civil claim arising out of the same set of alleged facts. It does get tricky when civil and criminal cases collide.

Don’t mess with Texas

Several blogs have reported an order recently issued by U.S. District Court Judge Samuel Sparks in Texas. Apparently worn down by the lawyers' conduct in a discovery dispute, Sparks issued the following order in rhyming verse:


Stallions can drink water from a creek without a ripple;
The lawyers in this case must have a bottle with a nipple.

Babies learn to walk by scooting and falling;
These lawyers practice law by simply mauling

Each other and the judge, but this must end soon
(Maybe facing off with six shooters at noon?)

Surely lawyers who practice in federal court can take
A deposition without a judge's order, for goodness sake.

First, the arguments about taking the deposition at all,
And now this -- establishing their experience to be small.

So, let me tell you both and be abundantly clear:
If you can't work this without me, I will be near.

There will be a hearing with pablum to eat
And a very cool cell where you can meet.


In keeping with the spirit of the occasion, I offer the following response, also in verse:

Blogs are important for spreading the news
That otherwise would be forgotten while lawyers snooze
Or even read statutes, cases, and rules.

We all know discovery’s no walk in the park
But fighting about depositions shouldn’t be done on a lark,
Or else you can end up in Dutch with Samuel Spark

Or some other judge, Minnesota’s got a few
Who can turn a phrase with the best of them. Two
Or more come to mind, but I won’t be a blogger who

Names names. At any rate, lawyers should take heed
When picking their fights, and make sure that they really need
To quarrel and bill for their time, I could write a screed

About it but I won’t because Judge Sparks can’t be beat
For a concise and metric scolding, a neat
Way to bring these attorneys into line—I repeat

We all know discovery’s no walk in the park
But fighting about depositions shouldn’t be done on a lark,
Or else you can end up in Dutch with Samuel Spark.

Monday, June 11, 2007

How would you like to be de-partnered?

Note to all big law-firm partners who thought that losing your job was the only bad employment action that could be taken against you: Think again!

A Chicago-based litigation firm has announced that it is going to "de-equitize" 15-20 partners, according to an article posted today on Law.com. (See "Jenner & Block Will De-Equitize Partners.")

Here is an interesting quote from the Law.com article: "Jenner is the latest Chicago firm to push some of its equity partners out the door and follows similar moves by firms across the country. Mayer, Brown, Rowe & Maw downsized its partner group in March, saying that it was looking to eliminate 45 equity partners to boost its profit-per-equity-partner ratio. Some recruiters and lawyers say the strategy is likely to become more common amid rising competition."

The idea is that the selected partners essentially go back to being more like associates. A nonequity partner receives only a salary while an equity partner also receives a share of the firm's profits. Only equity partners can vote on firm matters, the Law.com article explains.

Nonequity partners have existed locally for sometime. However, I am not aware of any large group of Minnesota equity partners who have been simultaneously stripped of their equity status in order to increase firm profitability. Unfortunately, this may be a trend of the future as firms continue to look for new ways to increase their bottom lines.

Personally, I am not crazy about the phrase "partner de-equitization," but I suppose that it's better than calling it "equity partner liquidation," which some might find offensive. How about calling it equity partner euthanasia? Guess not.

Speaking of bats, here's an 'Untouchable' scene

Speaking of baseball bats (see post below), I could not let a reference to a baseball bat go by without bringing up one of my favorite scenes from a gangster movie.

In the 1987 Brian De Palma film The Untouchables, Al Capone, played convincingly by Robert De Niro, is walking around a large table of his lieutenants delivering a speech while holding baseball bat. Like Chekov’s proverbial gun in the first act, you know somehow that bat will come into play before the end of the scene. As Capone speaks, his lieutenants, sitting around the table smoking cigars, smilingly mouth their agreement to what he is saying. From cuts to Capone’s face, you can see his expression is becoming increasingly menacing as he goes along.

Capone’s words, from the excellent David Mamet script, follow below:

A man becomes preeminent, he's expected to have enthusiasms. … What are mine? What draws my admiration? What is that which gives me joy? … Baseball! A man stands alone at the plate. This is the time for what? For individual achievement. There he stands alone. But in the field, what? Part of a team. Teamwork. ... Looks, throws, catches, hustles.Part of one big team. Bats himself the live-long day, Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, and so on. If his team don't field ... what is he? You follow me? No one. Sunny day, the stands are full of fans. What does he have to say? I'm goin' out there for myself. But … I get nowhere unless the team wins.

- Team!

- Team.

After the second lieutenant repeats, “team,” Capone, who has come up behind him with the baseball bat, starts whacking him repeatedly on the head, killing him, presumably for some sort of disloyalty. The scene ends with the lieutenant lying on the table, as blood from his head spreads out across the white table cloth.

While I could do without the shot of the blood, the dramatic tension of the scene leading up to it would be difficult to beat.

A 'swinging' ex-judge or hoodlum's revenge?

I was disappointed last week to see that former Judge Harvey Ginsburg, 53, was accused of threatening a teenager with a bat. (For those of you who missed it, Ginsburg allegedly asked, with bat in hand: "You want to fight my son?" and swore at the boy and called him a "chicken." The complaint also charges that the ex-judge took a swing at the boy, who maintains that, despite ducking, he was struck on the arm.)

Ginsburg's attorney, Fred Bruno, has vigorously denied that the incident took place the way it is portrayed in the complaint. Bruno told the Star Tribune that the alleged victim is a "predatory hoodlum" who is making the charge in retaliation for being reported to the authorities by Ginsburg for his own criminal acts. (Hmmm. Too bad Minnesota does not have a "predatory hoodlum" registry so we could know for sure if that's what he really is. Oh well, maybe next legislative session.)

For those keeping score, Ginsburg past anger-related offenses have included threatening a 14-year-old whom he thought had stolen his son's bicycle and keying a woman's car after an altercation in a parking lot. (In 2004, Ginsburg was removed from the bench.)

Now, I have no idea of what the relative merits are of this current charge. It does raise some as of yet unanswered questions in my mind, such as: Why was Ginsburg trekking around St. Louis Park with a bat like Judge Dredd? The answer may be harmless enough (e.g. maybe he was coming from a softball game), but so far I have not heard it. Another question is whether or not Ginsburg has been continuing with those anger-management classes he was supposed to have started when the earlier incidents occurred. If this latest charge proves true, those lessons don't seem to be sticking. (I would be happy to forward a complementary DVD of the Jack Nicholson movie "Anger Management" if that would be any help.)

In any event, it will be interesting to see how this plays out. Hopefully, Ginsburg will keep a low profile in the meantime. I would suggest that he give up baseball for the time being and take up Scrabble.

Bruce Willis had better never appear before Judge Stafsholt

Staff writer Dan Heilman has a nice interview piece with Pope County Judge Jon Stafsholt in this week's Minnesota Lawyer. (Click here to see the whole interview, subscriber password required.) One quote that I particularly like was Stafsholt's response to Dan's question asking the judge whether he had any pet peeves about the lawyers who appear before him:

I wouldn’t call it a pet peeve, but I do have a concern about some lawyers who do not have an adequate grasp of grammar, punctuation and spelling. Because of the crushing caseloads, judges must rely on lawyers to prepare some proposed orders.

However, some proposed orders are so carelessly drawn that I would be professionally embarrassed to sign them. A misplaced comma, for example, can change the meaning of a legal document. Some lawyers even mix up “petitioner” and “respondent,” which, in a marriage dissolution proceeding, could result in a finding that the husband is not pregnant. Many use a plural verb with a singular subject. ... I do not like to have to take time to proofread legal documents for grammar, but, unfortunately, it is necessary in some cases.

I don’t understand how some people can get through high school, college and law school without understanding grammar. Anybody can learn it. ... I appreciate lawyers who view themselves as wordsmiths and can finely craft legal documents free of factual or grammatical mistakes. OK, I guess it is a pet peeve!

That one goes out to all you lawyers who didn't think English class was important. Of course, as a former English major, I am biased. I do advise that if you should ever find yourself practicing in Judge Stafsholt's courtroom, you bone up on your grammar. Otherwise it ain't gonna be pretty.

On a related note, someone pointed out to me a
Hollywood site talking about the new Die Hard film on which Bruce Willis himself joined the discussion and posted some of his thoughts. One fellow blogger on the site expressed doubt that the comments were actually coming from the folliclely challenged star, citing as one ground for his skepticism the fact that Willis' purported postings were riddled with typos. (It was later confirmed that the comments actually were from Willis.) But rather than apologizing for his grammatical miscues, the unrepentant ex-husband of Demi Moore posted a response stating: "Proofreading is for p*ssies ..." (Sorry for the asterisk, but this is a family blog after all.) You can check out the full New York Post story on Willis' blog misadventures by clicking here.

I suppose I should disappointed that a Hollywood type would set such a poor example for his younger fans by promoting illiteracy. However, since Willis has a rapidly aging fan base anyway, I suspect the damage will be minimal. Besides, it's hard to have too high expectations for a guy whose catch phrase is "Yippee-Kay-Ay!"