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Friday, September 7, 2007

Schwebel's experts get access to bridge site

Jim Schwebel reports that the Minnesota Department of Transportation and the Attorney General have allowed his expert witnesses on to the site of the 35-W bridge collapse. Five bridge experts employed by the law firm were finally allowed near the bridge collapse site on Thursday, Sept. 6, Schwebel said.

U.S. District Court Judge Patrick Schiltz denied the firm access to the site last month. But negotiations with the state proceeded. At this time, parts of the bridge site are controlled by the state and parts by the federal goverment. The state allowed access to "its" areas, said Schwebel.

The National Transportation Safety Board is another story, however. Schwebel reported that the NTSB still controls part of the site and has refused access--even to the extent of banning photographs taken from areas of the site it didn't control.
Schwebel calls this an example of "remarkable insensitivity" and a "turf war." They NTSB has offered no rational basis for refusing to allow photos, he said. Ultimately the NTSB's conclusions about the bridge collapse may be supported, but the NTSB isn't the only source of expertise in this area, Schwebel observed. However, he is confident that ultimately his experts will collect all the information his clients require, he added.

Bridge experts appearing on behalf of the survivors included representatives of Weidlinger & Associates Consulting Engineers, which in the past was involved in the investigation of the collapse of the World Trade Center Towers, Marcy Pedestrian Bridge, Tropicana Hotel & Casino parking ramp, and numerous other catastrophic structural failures, said Schwebel. Also present were representatives of Sam Schwartz, PLLC, and Barsom Consulting, Ltd., both of which are also internationally known for their expertise in fracture mechanics, failure analysis and bridge collapse, he said.

"We are grateful for MnDOT’s cooperation and for its recognition of the fact that the bridge survivors are entitled to have their own independent evaluation of this tragedy,” Schwebel said.

Defense lawyers say we're losing the war on terror

The United States is losing the war on terror, at least according to 50 defense attorneys who have litigated terror cases since 9/11.

The attorneys were interviewed by the ABA Journal, which recently published the results of its poll in a special issue of the magazine.

In addition to interviewing defense lawyers, the Journal sought the opinions of 50 federal prosecutors who have handled terrorism cases since the terrorist attacks. Apparently, however, a Department of Justice official told them not to participate in the interviews.

The defense attorneys who talked to the Journal gave the U.S. justice system -- including the executive, legislative and judicial branches -- an average grade of “D+” in the war on terror.

The Journal also reports that only 30 percent of the defense lawyers said terrorism cases brought in the federal courts since 9/11 have made the United States safer; 58 percent said they have not. Just 14 percent said terrorism laws passed by Congress since 9/11 have made the United States safer; 80 percent said they have not.

Interestingly, 59 percent of the defense attorneys said they would be willing to take on the case of “Public Enemy Number One,” Osama bin Laden, while 23 percent said they would not.

The entire September issue of the ABA Journal, which focuses on the legal profession’s role in the war on terror, is available free online at www.abajournal.com.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Two local attorneys named Top Women in Finance

Call it synergy.

Finance and Commerce, another Dolan Media newspaper published in this office, today announced its 7th annual Top Women in Finance awards.

And two of the honorees are attorneys: Trudy J. Halla and Robyn Hansen.

Trudy J. Halla has practiced public finance law at Briggs and Morgan for 30 years. As a shareholder, she has been a key contributor in building the firm’s practice group and has been involved with financing some of Minnesota’s highest-profile developments. And as a former president of Minnesota Women Lawyers and the Hennepin County Bar Association, Trudy actively promotes diversity and is a role model for many female attorneys.

Robyn Hansen has also logged three decades in the profession, and is now a shareholder at Leonard, Street and Deinard. Robyn has been a leader in helping clients finance their economic and municipal development projects. She is considered an ambassador for women’s initiatives at the firm, and is active in a variety of civic boards and committees such as the Amherst H. Wilder Foundation, Minnesota State Fair Foundation and the The St. Paul Foundation.

Congratulations to Trudy, Robyn and all of the other 2007 Top Women in Finance honorees. We will be publishing profiles of the award winners and hosting an awards celebration in November.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

A Rushford law office rebuilds after the flood

Rushford lawyer Dennis Rutgers (second from right, in sleeveless shirt) was among those whose business took a hit from the flood waters last month. Rutgers recently shared some photos of the damage to his office and the cleanup effort.

As we mentioned in an earlier post, the Minnesota State Bar Association is currently putting together a group of volunteer lawyers to work through the American Bar Association Young Lawyers Section to provide assistance to flood victims.

What's that injury worth? Find out now!

Have you ever tried out an online personal injury calculator? If you’ve got a couple of minutes to fritter away (and don’t mind giving your e-mail address to a potential spam source), it can be amusing to conjure up maladies and mishaps and get an idea of what they might be worth in a trial or settlement.

I started small, with a broken collarbone that kept me from working for three months and was half somebody else’s fault. Even though I estimated the cost of the injury at $2,000, the PI calculator let me know that I could reap as much as $6,000 if I made a claim.

Flush with success, I decided to go for the gusto. I pretended that my promising NFL career was dashed after I suffered a severe neck injury, for which the imaginary other party (perhaps the modern equivalent of Jack Tatum) was completely at fault, and was being uncooperative to boot.

Bingo! I could be looking at a windfall of $2.2 million. I’d be looking at it from a wheelchair, but still.

I don’t mean to make light of truly tragic cases that result in personal injury claims – or to suggest that you shouldn’t contact a real-life lawyer if you get hurt – but if nothing else, online personal injury calculators demonstrate that the “value” of injuries and medical disasters has become so standardized that an online robot can tally it up.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Bridge collapse pro bono efforts

Volunteers to assist in the bridge pro bono lawsuits are increasing, reports Minneapolis attorney Chris Messerly. About 20 law firms across the state have signed up, some without clients as yet. Importantly, court reporters, document management companies, expert witnesses and mental health professionals have also come forward to assist. The "consortium" is meeting this week to start planning, Messerly said, adding that he is very pleased with the response.

Richard Hagstrom lightens Microsoft's wallet

An Iowa judge has approved a $179.95 million class-action settlement against Microsoft brought by Minneapolis attorney Richard Hagstrom and Iowa lawyer Roxanne Conlin. The settlement was announced last spring but just approved last week. The terms of the deal, according to the Associated Press, include:

-- $75 million in legal fees and costs (over and above the $179.95 for class members);
-- Cash to individuals and vouchers to government and business claimants;
-- $1 million to the Iowa Department of Education to administer the funds;
-- $1 million to Iowa Legal Aid for a program to reduce domestic violence; and
-- Two cy pres funds for the Iowa public schools for computers and software.

The settlement resembles the 2004 settlement Hagstrom negotiated in Minnesota, for which he was named a Minnesota Lawyer Attorney of the Year.

In that case, Microsoft agreed to provide Minnesota consumers and businesses with $174.5 million in vouchers for technology purchases from any manufacturer. Unclaimed vouchers were donated to Minnesota schools. In addition, Hagstrom negotiated cash payments of $2.5 million to the Minnesota Legal Aid Society and $2.5 million in cash and the same amount in technology vouchers to the University of Minnesota.

That case was the first state suit against Microsoft to go to trial, as well as the first “indirect purchaser” class action — that is a suit on behalf of consumers who did not purchase goods directly from the manufacturer being sued — certified in Minnesota.

Monday, September 3, 2007

MSBA undertakes relief effort in flooded areas

As Minnesota Lawyer notes in Bar Buzz this week, Rushford lawyers Dennis Rutger and Terry Chiglow are grateful for the assistance that has poured in since last month’s floods destroyed their offices. However, they remain concerned about the legal needs of their community.

The Minnesota State Bar Association sent veteran lawyer/disaster responder Sue Holden down to southern Minnesota last week with a box full of office supplies to meet with the lawyers and check out the situation. (As many in the bar will recall, Holden made Hurricane Katrina relief a priority when she was MSBA president.)

The MSBA is currently putting together volunteer lawyers to work through the American Bar Association Young Lawyers Section to provide assistance to flood victims, just as the ABA did after Katrina. (Volunteers should check with the MSBA at mnbar.org.)

In addition, Todd Scott of Minnesota Lawyers Mutual has offered computer support, and the MSBA Real Property Section has made a sample remodeling/renovation contract available at the bar association’s website.

There are 57 businesses in Rushford and 53 or so of those have been destroyed, according to Chiglow. That means there is going to be a lot of legal need.