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Friday, July 27, 2007

MAJ stresses the need for a good faith law

The Minnesota Assocation for Justice is taking advantage of a recent jury verdict in Hennepin County to make its point regarding the need for a good faith law in Minnesota. A push for the law failed in the Legislature this year.

The plaintiff in the case, Charles Dack, lost two young sons in a car accident. When Progressive Insurance offered only $5,000 for each son, Dack took the case to a jury, which awarded him $1.57 million. Settlement negotiations were complicated by the fact that the boys’ young parents had never married and each lived with one of their parents. According to the MAJ press release announding the verdict, Progressive tried to capitalize on the situation by offering to settle for far less than what the family’s policy was worth.

“While Dack did not have insurance, he lived with his father who did,” said Minneapolis attorney Cory Whalen, who represented Dack. “Jacob and Jonathan lived with their father and grandfather every Friday through Sunday. Under state law, minors are allowed to have more than one residence. Because of this law, Dack was entitled to the $100,000 coverage that his father paid for. Progressive showed blatant disregard for the family and the law and offered $5,000 for the life of each child.”

The MAJ press release continues: "While Progressive knew the insurance policy limit was $100,000, it saw an opportunity to not meet its responsibility. The large insurance company may have counted on the fact that Dack, who is young and sometimes unemployed because of health issues, would not push the issue but rather take the money and walk away. Insurers in Minnesota often treat their policy holders in this manner because there is no state law requiring them to act in Good Faith. ... Minnesota is only one of four states without a Good Faith law which would simply require insurance companies to treat consumers fairly."

Whalen and the MAJ assert that Dack’s story is just another example of why a good faith law is needed in Minnesota. “Denying, delaying, and defending legitimate claims ties up valuable court time and is unfair to Minnesota consumers. It’s time for a Good Faith law in Minnesota,” said Whalen.

The degree of damages

What newly minted lawyer hasn't fantasized about getting back all of the money that he or she expended in procuring a law degree? In Monday's Minnesota Lawyer, we take a behind-the-scenes look at a highly unusual case where a local law school grad received as damages the cost of her entire legal education.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Now it's time for bar exam takers to sweat ...

As we have mentioned previously on this blog, a record number of takers signed up to sit for the July 2007 Minnesota bar exam, which was administered on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week. If you were one of the 900 or so takers, fear not. Minnesota has a reputation for having one of the easier bar exams. Judging by the last few years' results, you have somewhere between an 85 and 90 percent chance of passing (see chart below).

Of course, that will make you feel all the worse if you are one of the unlucky 12 percent or so. However, you can take some solace in the fact that, unlike JFK Jr. when it happened to him on the NY bar (twice), your unsuccessful result will likely never be page 1 news.

Lawyer tests his mettle in Springfield

As a full-service purveyor of important and timely legal news, I have it on good authority that Blue-Haired Lawyer (Mr. Burns' savvy, nasal chief counsel) has a gutsy action scene in The Simpsons Movie opening tomorrow.

Without giving too much away, the scene is reminiscent of orcs scaling the walls of Helm's Deep.

There's no word yet whether salesman-turned-lawyer Gil Gunderson has a role. But judging from the size of this touch-bearing mob, I'm sure he's in there somewhere — maybe behind Judge Roy Snyder:

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

U.S. Attorney's Office pulls off a twofer in Duluth

It was like the local U.S. Attorney's Office hit the daily double in Duluth today.

First, U.S. Attorney Rachel Paulose announced in a Duluth press conference that 29 people from the area have been indicted for cocaine trafficking. Twenty five of those people have already been apprehended. (The move demonstrates that drug traffickers can't evade prosecution by setting up shop in greater Minnesota, Paulose told reporters.)

Secondly, U.S. District Judge Richard H. Kyle, sitting in Duluth, sentenced a man to 30 years in prison -- the maximum sentence -- for producing some extremely graphic child pornography. (Click here for Strib article.) The local U.S. Attorney's Office has, of course, made child porn prosecutions a top priority.

Unfortunately, the U.S. Attorney's twin victories yesterday did not translate into any victories for the Minnesota Twins. Playing in Toronto, the tanking team dropped yet another one to the Blue Jays. Perhaps they should have played in Duluth ...

Trying to "measure" depravity in criminal cases

When is a violent criminal beyond dangerous? When can his actions be designated as heinous, or even evil?

A forensic psychologist is trying to draw lines of distinction between those grey areas that can be used by trial juries. Michael Welner, M.D., an associate professor of Psychiatry at NYU School of Medicine has developed The Depravity Scale, a study using online public participation in an effort to impact future criminal sentencing.

In two surveys, more than 25,000 people have tried to compare the relative significance of different examples of criminal intent, acts, victims targeted, and criminals’ attitudes about their crimes.

The point of the study, Welner says, is to scientifically standardize the definition of legal terms such as “heinous,” “atrocious,” “evil,” and “depraved,” as well as how they’re used in the justice system to determine the severity of sentences.

If you take Welner’s survey, you’ll discover pretty quickly that it’s meant to elicit a visceral reaction. Many of the scenarios depict women and children in peril. When one reads a description of a father torturing and beating his underweight 7-year-old daughter to death for taking yogurt without permission, or one of a man binding the face of a young woman with packing tape, raping and strangling her, then dumping her naked body on the desolate street, how long are they going to deliberate before deciding between calling those acts “somewhat depraved” or “especially depraved”?

Recent incidents such as the horrific Connecticut home invasion and triple murder that led to the arraignment of two parolees will probably add fuel to the discussion. Would it help juries to have black-and-white demarcations between levels of depravity? Can sentencing guidelines be based on a formal schedule of cruel acts, possibly at the expense of mitigating circumstances?

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Bad legal pun for the day

If the lead singer of U2 represents himself, does he do it "Pro Bono?"

Support your local soldier

With planeloads of military men and women returning to Minnesota, now is a great time for the Minnesota State Bar Association Military Affairs Committee to offer its "Military Legal Assistance Seminar," scheduled for Aug. 2 at 8 a.m. at the Dorsey & Whitney offices. Free CLE credits are pending for volunteers willing to take a pro bono case for a service member through the Military Affairs Committee Pro Bono Listserv. And breakfast will be provided, too!

One would hope our troops would return to a hero's welcome, but they also return to unemployment, divorce, eviction and consumer law issues, said MSBA Pro Bono Coordinator Caroline Palmer. "We hear a lot from the JAGs that they are looking for help," she said.

Information about the seminar is available at the MSBA's Web site. (Click here for more.)

The military affairs committee is co-chaired by Thomas Kayser, a retired lieutenant colonel in the Air Force Reserve who spent eight years on active duty.

"We've got to do something for these men and women. It's a terrible situation," Kayser said.
Kudos to Kayser, Palmer, and the rest who pitch in to aid those who serve our country.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Preserving the history of the high court

As Minnesota prepares to celebrate its 150th anniversary next year, the courts are considering getting in the action with the establishment of the first-ever Minnesota Supreme Court Historical Society.

More than 20 states already have such a society, which serves as a repository for the history of their high courts. One project already under way by proponents of a Minnesota society is the collection and publication of materials on deceased justices of the court.

"The opportunities [for establishing such a society] are great because of the synergy with the state's Sesquicentennial celebration," wrote Minnesota Supreme Court Justices Paul Anderson and Sam Hanson in a letter on the project.

An exploratory meeting of persons interested in the idea of establishing a Minnesota Supreme Court Historical Society has been slated for Aug. 8 at 2:00 p.m. in Room 230 of the Judicial Center. Those interesed in attending should contact Lynn Magee at (651) 297-7676.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Minnesota Lawyer's parent company about to go public

We do not talk about our parent company much -- since, frankly, it would be a little self-serving to do so -- but Dolan Media, the Minneapolis-based company that owns locally Minnesota Lawyer, the St. Paul Legal Ledger and Finance and Commerce, is about to go public. Dolan Media was started right here in Minnesota in 1992 by Jim Dolan. Finance and Commerce was, in fact, Dolan Media's very first acquisition. The company now owns business and legal publications in a number of markets throughout the country.

The Star Tribune's Neal St. Anthony has a column on the Dolan Media IPO worth checking out, "Dolan Media IPO shaping up to be a doozy."

Don't expect to read much more on the IPO here, since I generally disfavor newspapers covering themselves (unless they are fighting a non-compete battle with each other, that is). Not to mention those pesky SEC regulations that limit what we can say. However, I did feel like we had to say something since you will undoubtedly be seeing a lot more about the Dolan Media IPO in the general media.