Our blog has moved, and is new and improved.

You should be automatically redirected in 3 seconds. If not, visit
and update your bookmarks.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Judges to appear on the other side of the bench

Filing a lawsuit is an interesting way to try to get a raise. It’s even more interesting when it’s judges who are doing it.

According to report by the Associated Press, New York's judges are suing the state for higher salaries and back pay.

The lawsuit, filed earlier this week, comes about two months after Gov. Eliot Spitzer and state lawmakers ended the legislative session at an impasse over legislative and judicial salaries.

The judges’ complaint argues that connecting the two violated the state constitution's separation of powers doctrine. The judges also contend that the governor and the Legislature have “unlawfully impounded” $69.5 million they allocated in the budget for judicial salary increases. The lawsuit asks the court to order release of the money allocated for judicial pay raises as well as cost-of-living adjustments of 9 percent per year dating back to 2000.

Four judges -- three in New York City and one in Cattaraugus County -- are named as plaintiffs in the suit. The New York Law Journal reported on its website Wednesday that three other judges have filed a similar suit in Albany County.

New York's highest paid state judge makes $156,000 a year. By comparison, the chief justice of Minnesota’s Supreme Court is very close to that at $155,902. State District Court judges across Minnesota currently earn $125,363.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Local e-discovery vendor helps flood victims with data recovery

The folks at Kroll Ontrack — a computer forensics and electronic discovery firm headquartered in Eden Prairie — have been helping regional flood victims in their own particular way.

The company is offering discounted data recovery services for waterlogged computers.

This month, Kroll is waiving its $100 evaluation fee and will retrieve data for a flat fee of $850, with 10 percent being donated to the Red Cross. Regularly, this service can reach $2,500.

"Because of the floods, we've taken it down to what we hope is a fair price," Todd Johnson, Kroll's vice president of operations, told the Associated Press.

Data can be salvaged from PCs and Macs, iPods and even cell phones. The offer applies to flood victims in the five states that had regions declared federal disaster areas: Wisconsin, Illinois, Minnesota, Ohio and Oklahoma.

"We've done data recovery on a laptop that was dropped from a helicopter, on a laptop that had been submerged in the ocean for a year," Johnson told the AP. "One time there were even bullet holes in the hard drives."

Kroll offers these tips for people with water-damaged devices:

• Never assume that data is unrecoverable
• Do not try to power-up damaged equipment
• Do not shake or disassemble
• Do not attempt to clean or dry
• Do not use common software utility programs

In St. Paul, the Legislature yesterday approved $157 million in aid to help seven counties rebuild after flash flooding last month drenched southeastern Minnesota.

More information on Kroll's data recovery services is available here.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Wieland: Mortgage crisis effects are reaching the courts

The newest edition of News From Your Court, the monthly newsletter from Minnesota’s Fourth Judicial District, contains an interesting and timely entry from Chief Judge Lucy Wieland.

“Foreclosures and the Hidden Cost” examines the trickle-down effect of the residential mortgage meltdown in terms that drive home how the crisis is impacting not just lenders and homeowners, but everyone – including the courts, which are feeling the stress in the form of an increased caseload resulting from ballooning Housing Court filings.

“The impacts on people attending Housing Court include fewer options for hearing dates and full calendars meaning longer waits in court,” writes Wieland.

The article is an interesting inside look at how far the ripple effects from such a vast problem can reach.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Public defender caseload crunch nationwide

The public defender caseload in Minnesota has long been way too high. At last count, the defenders were handling caseloads of twice the ABA standards. In 2007, they requested a budget increase that would provide 161 new lawyers, and put their caseloads at one and one-half times ABA standards. They got funding for 34 lawyers--for which State Public Defender John Stuart is grateful.

The defenders have asked the private bar for help. For example, Third Judicial District Chief Public Defender Carol Weissenborn last spring suggested that private lawyers to take more criminal cases to help stem the tidal wave of criminal cases in the southeast corner of the state. In Ramsey County, a panel of lawyers takes appropriate cases for a moderate to low fee.

New information reinforces that this a national, not a state, problem. Last week the American Council of Chief Defenders released a resolution calling for immediate action to set appropriate caseload standards. It supports the National Advisory Commission on Criminal Justice Standards capping felonies at 150 a year, or juvenile cases at 200 per year.

In a not unrelated matter, this week the council passed a resolution supporting Ohio Public Defender Brian Jones, who was held in contempt for refusing to proceed to trial on two and one half hours notice. Judge John Plough held Jones in contempt, had him jailed, and later upheld his own ruling in a hearing.

More information on both resolutions is available here.

This is a crisis that all lawyers should have on their radar screens.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Study: Elected judges may not be less independent

A recent study says there is little empirical evidence for the notion that appointed judges are superior to elected judges because they are immune from politics. "Professionals or Politicians: The Uncertain Empirical Case for an Elected Rather than Appointed Judiciary" is available here.

The study, published last month, was written by Professors Stephen J. Choi of New York University - School of Law, G. Mitu Gulati of Duke University - School of Law and Eric A. Posner, University of Chicago Law School.

The paper's abstract states:
"Although federal judges are appointed with life tenure, most state judges are elected for short terms. Conventional wisdom holds that appointed judges are superior to elected judges because appointed judges are less vulnerable to political pressure. However, there is little empirical evidence for this view. Using a dataset of state high court opinions, we construct objective measures for three aspects of judicial performance: effort, skill and independence. The measures permit a test of the relationship between performance and the four primary methods of state high court judge selection: partisan election, non-partisan election, merit plan, and appointment. The empirical results do not show appointed judges performing at a higher level than their elected counterparts. Appointed judges write higher quality opinions than elected judges do, but elected judges write many more opinions, and the evidence suggests that the large quantity difference makes up for the small quality difference. In addition, elected judges do not appear less independent than appointed judges. The results suggest that elected judges are more focused on providing service to the voters (that is, they behave like politicians), whereas appointed judges are more focused on their long-term legacy as creators of precedent (that is, they behave like professionals)."