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Friday, August 10, 2007

Bill Harper ready for his close up on NBC's Dateline

Woodbury attorney Bill Harper is about to get his 15 minutes of fame. Well, OK, it's actually more like an hour of TV network prime time devoted to a case which he is handling. Harper is representing the family of Teri Lee, who was murdered when her ex-boyfriend broke into her home and shot both her and her new boyfriend. The assailant was convicted on two counts of murder.

Lee's family is suing the company that installed the state-of-the-art security system on Lee's house. They allege she never had chance because the system was defective and provided no warning.

Minnesota Lawyer is running a story on the case in Monday's edition, but you may also want to catch Bill on TV. The show on which he will appear is NBC's Dateline, which airs locally Mondays on KARE-11 at 9:00 p.m.. The Minnesota case is currently scheduled to be shown this upcoming Monday.

Legal journalists can have egos too (allegedly, anyway)

We at Minnesota Lawyer try not to be prima donnas when we participate in panel discussions or other events in the legal community. However, that apparently cannot be said of every legal journalist.

Gale Beckerman over at the Columbia Journalism Review has an amusing piece today about New York Times Courts reporter Linda Greenhouse, whom Beckerman dubs the "queen bee of Supreme Court reporters." Greenhouse was to be one of several legal journalists on a panel discussing covering the high court. C-SPAN came to film the event, which was sponsored by the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication.

But things got a little odd when Greenhouse arrived, according to Beckerman. When Greenhouse saw C-SPAN's lights and cameras, she reportedly "became infuriated."

According to Beckerman, Greenhouse told the organizer that she had come to speak to a “room of academics,” and “didn’t want to have to modulate [her] comments for a national audience." She then reportedly issued an ultimatum -- the cameras go or she does. (Greenhouse denies this, saying that she would have continued even if the camera crew had not left.)

In any event, since Greenhouse was a marquee participant in the panel, the organizer chose to placate her, and the poor C-SPAN camera crew was sent packing -- probably to cover some legislative subcommittee meeting somewhere.

I would encourage you to read Beckerman's full post. (See "The Greenhouse Effect.") It's an entertaining piece poking fun at the ego of a legal journalist. My personal assistant and I had a good laugh about it before I sent her off to fetch me another chilled bottle of Perrier.

Solo-small firm conference is a hit

Earlier this week I was fortunate enough to be able to spend two days in Duluth, covering the third annual "Strategic Solutions for Solo & Small firms" conference at the Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center. (Look for articles regarding the event in upcoming issues of Minnesota Lawyer.)

The family-friendly event, sponsored by Minnesota CLE, seems to get bigger and better every year. Everyone I talked to said they really enjoyed the conference, with some viewing it as almost a "mini-vacation."

In addition to earning a nice chunk of CLE credits, the solo and small firm lawyers -- many with their families in tow -- were treated to a picnic at Bayfront Park, a tour of the Great Lakes Aquarium, a harbor cruise and several nice meals. (For those nonmeat-eating individuals like myself, meals even included vegetarian options.) Moreover, the educational seminars offered at the conference were top-notch, with a varied selection of topics of interest to solo and small firm practitioners. When most attendees stay right up until the end of a 2 1/2 day conference, you know you've got a hit on your hands.

Good food, good company and good education. If you are a small firm or a solo practitioner in Minnesota, this is an event you don't want to miss!

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Minnesota Supreme Court makes history

The Minnesota Supreme Court yesterday moved one step closer to having its own historical society. A group of lawyers, judges and others interested in the project voted unanimously in favor of proceeding with a society at a meeting held in a packed Room 23o at the Minnesota Judicial Center.

"I think we could be on the edge of something kind of special," said Justice Paul Anderson, who, along with Justice Sam Hanson, is one of the chief organizers of the project.

The group will meet again in September to consider the society's mission, structure, funding sources and potential publications and other products.

For more details from the meeting, check out Monday's Minnesota Lawyer.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Scrutiny on Bonds might be only beginning

First of all, congratulations to Barry Bonds for breaking what is arguably sports’ most revered record. Love him or hate him, 756 home runs is an amazing feat. But while Bonds’ Hall of Fame credentials are unimpeachable, his future as a civilian isn’t so clear-cut.

The grand jury investigating Bonds for perjury and tax evasion has been extended for six months, and might be preparing for an indictment as soon as a month from now, according to news reports. The U.S. Attorney's office in San Francisco feels it has gathered enough evidence to secure an indictment once the case resumes in September.

In a New York Daily News article, an anonymous attorney with knowledge of the case said, "I think politically it would look terrible if they indicted him when he was one or two home runs away from breaking the record…I think they'll let him break the record but I'd be very surprised if they don't indict."

If Bonds is indicted, Major League Baseball will more than likely try to suspend him; or, Bonds might beat MLB to the punch by retiring at season’s end, now that the record is his. In any case, if Bonds thought the pressure and scrutiny that came with chasing the home run record was intense, he hasn’t seen anything yet.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Judicial safety: an international perspective

Speaking of of the issue of judicial safety, we just got this statement in from the the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute.

The IBAHRI condemns the murder of four Afghan judges. The bodies of the four judges, along with their driver, were found on the evening of July 31. They had all been abducted on July 24 and were later executed.

The four judges were from Paktika Province in eastern Afghanistan and were on their way to Kabul. According to the Governor’s office, no demand was reported for the release of the judges and the killings were carried out by insurgents who specifically targeted government authorities.

Pardon me judge, is that a gun under your robe?

As the Minnesota courts scrounge for the money to install metal detectors to protect our appellate court judges, some Michigan lawmakers want to go one step further and let judges to take their security into their own hands.

Rep. Kenneth B. Horn, R-Frankenmuth, and Sen. Roger Kahn, M.D., R-Saginaw, have introduced identical bills proposing to amend the Concealed Weapons Act to allow "state court judges" to carry concealed weapons in what are otherwise known as "no-carry" zones, according to Minnesota Lawyer's sister publication, Michigan Lawyers Weekly.

Judges and their families "are being threatened by" people whom they've sent to prison, Kahn said. Some of those making threats are felons who will be released after serving their sentences, while others are "mentally unstable," and others, still, have histories of "extreme violence," he added.

Judge Fred L. Borchard, Chief Judge Pro Tempore of the 10th Circuit Court, had his life threatened twice by litigants who have appeared before him.

Borchard said that, in his experience, there are three types of cases that really bring out the emotional and, occasionally, the menacing side of people:

-- Criminal;
-- Civil commitments involving mental health issues; and
-- Family law (ranging from divorce to custody to termination of parental rights).

"All of these matters place members of the judiciary at a greater risk of harm," Borchard said.

Judges with guns? An interesting concept. I suppose proponents might say that it's worth a shot.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Strib takes a look at the Pages' collectibles

There was an interesting story in the Strib over the weekend about the collectibles that Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Alan Page and his wife, Diane Sims Page, keep in their Kenwood-neighborhood home. (See "Going on the Offensive.") The Pages collect "black memorabilia" -- an umbrella term for items relating to the African-American experience, according to the article -- including Ku Klux Klan dolls made by Dallas school children, slave chains and items from the Jim Crow era.

"It's an important reminder for me that life isn't always fair, that not only have things not always been equal, they're still not, and that we need to make sure we don't go back to those ways," Page told the Strib.

Less culturally important -- but fascinating nonetheless -- is the fact that they also have a beautifully restored 1906 Buick in their garage. I can't help wondering what kind of gas mileage that baby gets ...

'Amistad' makes the case for judicial independence

If you want to see a great legal movie with reflections on judicial independence (and "My Cousin Vinny" is not available), I would suggest "Amistad."

I recently caught a replaying of "Amistad" on cable and was amazed how relevant some of the lessons in the movie are for what's happening in Minnesota with the debate on whether we need to reform judicial elections.

In case you have forgotten, "Amistad" is about the legal battle that ensued after a slaver ship was intercepted off the eastern coast of the United States in 1839. The human cargo -- Africans abducted from their homeland -- had taken over the ship and killed their oppressers. The courts had to decide in the tinderbox environment of pre-Civil War America what to do with these people. Were they to be treated as slaves who had mutinied against their Spanish masters and committed murder or as kidnapped people whose actions were justified to regain their freedom? (The case was tried in the U.S. District Court in Connecticut.)

In the movie, the president of the United States, Martin Van Buren, takes a personal interest in the case, worried that it could propel the country into civil war. He somehow engineers for the presiding federal judge to step aside so that his hand-picked choice can hear the case.

Despite the machinations of the executive branch, the Africans win at the trial court level, and the case goes all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court. On appeal, the Africans are represented by the aged former president, John Quincy Adams, who last argued a case before the high court more than 30 years earlier. Portrayed by Anthony Hopkins, Adams musters up an impassioned defense of his clients. In the process, he makes an eloquent case for an independent judiciary and its importance to our freedom.

Sarcastically referring to correspondence between then-Secretary of State John Forsyth and Queen Isabella II, the child Queen of Spain, he says:

I would not touch on them now except to notice a curious phrase which is much repeated. The queen again and again refers to our incompetent courts. Now what, I wonder, would be more to her liking? Huh? A court that finds against the Africans? Well, I think not. And here is the fine point of it: What her majesty wants is a court that behaves just like her courts, the courts this 11-year-old child plays with in her magical kingdom called Spain, a court that will do what it is told, a court that can be toyed with like a doll, a court -- as it happens -- of which our own President, Martin Van Buren, would be most proud.
Adams is, of course, making the poignant point that he does not favor such a court -- and neither should we. Although a number of the justices were from Southern states, the Supreme Court ultimately finds in favor of the Africans.

It's a good movie with more than one important message.

By the way, I was able to find a website that has the video from the movie of Hopkins delivering his speech to the U.S. Supreme Court. You can see it by clicking here. You can learn more about the Amistad incident by clicking here.