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Friday, August 31, 2007

Happy birthday to us!

Minnesota Lawyer celebrates its 10th anniversary in September. However, our history with the legal community in Minnesota stretches back well before our 1997 starting date.

Since 1938, Finance and Commerce, Inc. -- the company that publishes Minnesota Lawyer -- has been providing attorneys in the state with the full-text of Minnesota appellate decisions through its weekly Appellate Courts Edition.

But our history even goes back further than that. Finance and Commerce has published court notices and covered the Twin Cities business community since 1887, when the state of Minnesota was a sprightly 29.

In any event, Minnesota Lawyer is pleased to serve the state's legal community with our weekly newspaper, website, blog and related products. We hope you enjoy reading them as much as we do producing them.

Counties implement DWI pilot project

The Hennepin and Beltrami County court systems are taking further steps to crack down on drunk driving -- and even assisting offenders in the process.

Earlier this year the Minnesota Legislature chose the two counties to test an “ignition interlock” program in the state. Ignition interlock is a device placed in a car that requires the driver to blow into it before starting the engine. If it measures alcohol in the driver’s breath, the vehicle won’t start.

The pilot program, which began in July, allows repeat DWI offenders who’ve had their licenses revoked to get them back sooner if they agree to installation of the ignition interlock in their cars. For many DWI offenders, getting their license back means they can finally get back to work. At $4 a day, however, the device isn’t cheap.

In a recent press release announcing the pilot program, Hennepin County District Court Chief Judge Lucy Wieland noted that 45 states have laws either authorizing or requiring use of the ignition interlock for repeat DWI offenders.

As one of the last states to implement the ignition interlock system, Minnesota seems a bit behind the times with this one. If it works -- and apparently it has elsewhere -- I guess it’s better late than never.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

'Knock and talk' doesn't fly in 7th Circuit

Here's a situation we'll probably see on Law & Order soon.

A federal appeals court ruled this week that cocaine seized during a Milwaukee drug bust is inadmissible due to an illegal police search.

The case, USA v. Ellis, went down like this:

Police and DEA agents, following an investigation of drug activity, visited a Milwaukee home in 2005 for a "knock and talk" — a tactic where officers try to talk their way into a house without a warrant.

While chatting up the occupants — behind a closed door — officers said they heard activity inside. Believing that someone was trying to destroy illegal drugs, police busted down the door and later found 2.5 kilograms of cocaine.

The search was upheld in Wisconsin District Court, but the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals wasn’t impressed with the probable cause. "It is reasonable that any person, not just people trying to destroy drugs, would be moving throughout the home to see what was going on the front, side and back of the home," Judge Michael S. Kanne wrote in the Aug. 27 opinion.

The officers later testified that they only heard movement inside the house. There was no flushing of toilets. No tossing bags out the window. No jumping down the fire escape. No other evidence, other than footsteps, to suggest that contraband was being destroyed.

Thus, no suitable reason for storming the house, Kanne concluded.

"The problem in this case is that the officers and agents lacked a warrant when they approached the home and utilized tactics that, if allowed to go unchecked, would eliminate the Fourth Amendment warrant requirement for a home with any connection to drugs," he wrote.

Assistant U.S. Attorney John J. Manning told the Journal Sentinel that his office "is still studying the court's opinion."

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Tidbits from the U.S. high court

I have spent the last 2.5 days at Minnesota CLE's Criminal Law Institute, picking up a bevvy of CLE credits and seeing what's new in the criminal law area. From this morning's lecture on the U.S. Supreme Court, here are just a few interesting tidbits:

-- The high court decided 68 cases this term -- the lowest output since 1953;
-- Justice Anthony Kennedy was the swing vote in every one of the more than 20 opinions decided by a 5-4 margin;
-- some lawyers have, as a result, begun tailoring their Supreme Court arguments specifically to court Justice Kennedy;
-- the high court has shown a strong proclivity toward taking business cases (40 percent of the docket) and toward deciding in favor of the business in most of those cases; and
-- a woman who mailed poisoned home-baked cookies to all the justices in 2005 was sentenced to 15 years in prison last year.

The last point gave me some pause as I munched absent-mindedly on one of those free bagels they set out for you at CLE programs ...

Airport Bathroom Sex 101

If it’s true that we learn something new every day, then many of us learned lots of new things during the recent kerfuffle over U.S. Sen. Larry Craig’s arrest in June at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport. For instance:

* It’s not a crime to make a pass at someone in a public place, but it could be a crime to engage in conduct that elicits “alarm or resentment” in others. Asking for a phone number in a bar: OK. Implicitly offering sex in an airport bathroom: Not OK.

* There’s an intricate sequence to soliciting sex in a public restroom that involves tapping feet and placing objects in front of the bottom of the stall door. There are ancient Balinese mating rituals that are less elaborate. Wouldn’t an ad on Craigslist be a lot less trouble?

* Apparently, the MSP men’s room is a hotbed for the type of “cruising” of which Craig is accused. As a result, police have made numerous arrests in such cases in recent months. In the dozens of times I’ve used airport bathrooms, I’ve somehow managed to elude these menacing overtures.

* A guilty plea can be withdrawn, but only if the accused can prove his due process rights were violated or that he was coerced into the plea.

Maybe readers better versed in the law and/or anonymous sexual encounters knew these things already. But I didn’t, and I’m glad to look on the fix Craig has found himself in as a valuable learning experience.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

New traffic ticket procedures in Dakota County

When last week’s public reprimands of Judge Rex Stacey and Judge Thomas Murphy came down, also reprimanded by dissenting Justices Paul Anderson and Alan Page was Dakota County’s “flawed” procedures for resolving tickets. (See Minnesota Lawyer story here.) Dakota County has implemented a new system: a person contesting a traffic ticket should come to court and plead not guilty. First Judicial District Assistant Chief Judge Edward Lynch, who is chambered in Hastings, told me that in the event that the court receives some other kind of communication about a ticket (not a favored event, he emphasized) it will be referred to the calendar judge for processing in an open court with a prosecutor present. The response may very well be to come in and plead not guilty, he added. And there will be no requests for other procedures, Lynch said. “I can’t imagine why there would be. This has been a difficult situation and we don’t want to go down that road."

Radtke not just a local hero

Minneapolis lawyer Keith Radtke’s fame has spread as far as the Wall Street Journal, where the law blog reports that it has been “flooded” with stories about Radtke’s bravery in restraining an armed intruder, reported here on Saturday. Radtke was shot in the back but only sustained muscle and tissue wounds. The WSJ blog named Radtke its “lawyer of the day” yesterday—you can see the story here.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Half the state's law schools now in between deans

Two of the state's four law schools are now in search of a dean.

William Mitchell College of Law sent out a press release last Friday that was, well, a tad cryptic. With classes having just started at WMCL, the school announced that its dean, Allen Easley, was stepping down for "personal reasons" (his words). It's highly unusual for a change of deans to occur -- particularly with so little warning to the outside world -- at the start of an academic year. According to the release, Easley, who is also a faculty member at the school, is also taking a one-year sabbatical from his teaching duties. (Click here to see the release.)

Longtime faculty member Eric Janus -- who has been tapped as WMCL's interim dean -- has an excellent reputation and will no doubt nicely fill the spot while the school searches for a permanent replacement.

Meanwhile, the University of Minnesota Law School has has its dean spot open for more than a year now. Currently, two interim co-deans -- Guy-Uriel E. Charles and Fred L. Morrison -- are filling the spot as the school hunts for a permanent dean. The two professors are a little more than halfway through the two-year appointment as interim co-deans. (By the way, does anybody besides me hate the title co-dean? It sounds like a pain medication.)