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Friday, October 5, 2007

The appellate court picks are in

Gov. Tim Pawlenty has made his choices for three newly created positions on Minnesota’s Court of Appeals. Selected to serve on the appellate court are Hennepin County District Court judges Heidi Schellhas (top left) and Francis Connolly (top right), as well as Minneapolis attorney Matthew Johnson (bottom).

Schellhas has been on the court since 1996, while Connolly has been serving since 1998. Johnson is a shareholder with Halleland, Lewis, Nilan and Johnson, practicing in the areas of labor and employment, commercial litigation and appellate litigation. The three new appellate jurists will take their seats on the bench next January.

Pawlenty has previously appointed three other judges to the Court of Appeals -- Kevin Ross, Renee Worke and Christopher Dietzen -- which now has a total of 19 judges.

Not to be lost in all the hubbub surrounding the three new court picks is the fact that Pawlenty has also extended the run of Edward Toussaint, Jr. as chief judge of the Court of Appeals. Toussaint was given another three-year term in a post he has held since 1995.

Minnesota Lawyer will seek to interview the latest appellate court picks for future issues of the paper. Be sure to keep an eye out for them!

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Craig Can't Withdraw Plea

Hennepin County District Court Judge Charles Porter has turned back Larry Craig's motion to withdraw his guilty plea.

Craig, for those of you just back from Mars, is the Idaho senator who was busted for disorderly conduct in a men's room at the airport. He mailed in his guilty plea and then attempted to rescind it when the press got word.

Porter found the plea was accurate, voluntary and intelligent. The judge observed that the prosecutor advised Craig to obtain counsel and that Craig waived that right.

The full text of the opinion is available here.

Everybody loves Dorsey

In August I mentioned how Dorsey & Whitney was rated a good place for women to work.

Turns out Dorsey is gay-friendly, too.

The Minneapolis law firm scored a perfect 100 on the Corporate Equality Index, a report card on GLBT inclusiveness released last month from the Human Rights Campaign Foundation.

The survey rates the nation's leading businesses and AMLAW 200 firms on a variety of criteria, such as diversity training and domestic partner benefits.

Faegre & Benson also received a perfect score. Another local firm on the list was Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi in Minneapolis, which scored a slightly lower 93 after losing points in the "has employer-supported employee resource group or firm-wide diversity council" category.

Here's how other Minnesota businesses scored:

3M Maplewood — 85
Alliant Techsystems Edina — 65
Allianz Life Insurance Golden Valley — 100
Ameriprise Financial Minneapolis — 100
Best Buy Richfield — 100
Cargill Wayzata — 100
Carlson Minnetonka — 100
General Mills Golden Valley — 100
Imation Oakdale — 93
Land O’Lakes Arden Hills — 53
Medtronic Fridley — 85
Northwest Airlines Eagan — 85
Supervalu Eden Prairie — 100
Target Minneapolis — 80
Thomson Eagan — 95
Travelers St. Paul — 50
U.S. Bancorp Minneapolis — 100
Xcel Energy Minneapolis — 60

A .pdf of the complete 2008 Corporate Equality Index is available here.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Four wheels always beats two

Bikes – and the rights of their owners versus those of car owners – just seems to becoming a more and more prominent topic of discussion. This month’s Mpls./St. Paul has an interesting article delving into the many spokes of Twin Cities bike culture. And as Minnesota Lawyer editor Mark Cohen wrote a couple weeks back, biking seems to be at the center of more and more violent occurrences – some accidental, some not.

All that was brought home to me this morning when I was hit by a car while riding my bicycle to work. As these things go, it was pretty mild: The driver was pulling away from a stop sign, so he wasn’t going very fast when he nailed me. Other than some bruises and frayed nerves, the only damage is a bent front wheel that needed replacing anyway. I got away cheap.

But the first reaction among a number of people I told the story to was, “Did you get his insurance information? Are you going to call a lawyer?” Most people weren’t serious when they responded that way, but I thought it was interesting nonetheless that it was the default answer.

In fact, I didn’t even get the guy’s name. It was an accident, he apologized profusely, and I was mostly unhurt. Why muddy a simple situation with lawyers and doctors and bureaucrats? Life is too short.

So does that make me a forgiving soul, or a pushover? If there had been broken bones and a crushed bike involved, that would be another story. But to me, if what happened makes that driver – and me – more careful in the future, that’s reward enough.

So bikers: Be careful out there. And drivers: Open your eyes!

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Innocence Project secures inmate's release

Sherman Townsend, convicted in January 1998 of first-degree burglary and sentenced to 20 years in prison, will be a free man this afternoon thanks to the work of the Innocence Project of Minnesota.

Last week, the IPMN brought a motion for a new trial before Hennepin County District Court Judge Deborah Hedlund. The request was based primarily on the testimony of a man who says he was the one who committed the crime for which Townsend was convicted.

According to Julie Jonas (right), the IPMN attorney who argued the motion on behalf of Townsend, the prosecutor on the case offered to let Townsend out of prison if Townsend agreed to drop his request for a new trial. Townsend agreed, although the bargain means that the burglary conviction will remain on his record.

Jonas told Minnesota Lawyer that she was surprised by the turn of events, but is relieved that Townsend -- who has proclaimed his innocence ever since his arrest -- is finally out of jail.

The Clarence Thomas interview: Equal time for Anita Hill

I too watched Clarence Thomas on 60 Minutes and found him more impressive than I expected. However, I was surprised that all these years later and having enjoyed a career not available to most people, he still has to indulge in an ad hominem attack on Anita Hill. She has responded with an editorial in the New York Times that says she stands by her testimony. Its title? "The Smear This Time"

The Wall Street Journal law blog picked it up, and what is really sad was the level of discourse in some blogger's comments. Speaking of ad hominem attacks, one blogger wonders if Hill is fun on a date. Speaking also of sexism, several comment on how "hot" she is. Come on, people.

Nothing much has changed since I went to see Hill speak at Hamline University shortly after the Thomas hearings. Young men lined up along the doorway to offer the (mostly women) attendees cans of Coke, and one seemed genuinely surprised when I called him a name I can't use here. (I too was guilty of an ad hominem attack). I thanked Hill for coming forward, and I stand by that now. Perhaps her allegations shouldn't have taken center stage they way they did, but she had written them in a private letter to the Judiciary Committee, not in a book for which she was paid a $1.5 million advance. But as Hill says in her op-ed piece, reopening the smear campaign against her will not encourage future objects of sexual harassment to vindicate their rights.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Pleas withdrawn, costs awarded in 'photo cop' cases

In a decision issued today, Hennepin County District Court Judge Mark Wernick granted the defendants’ motions to reopen their “stop on red” cases and obtain a refund of fines and costs paid.

Specifically, Wernick found:

-- W ith respect to those Defendant-Claimants above who pleaded guilty to violating the Minneapolis automated traffic control ordinance, such guilty pleas are hereby withdrawn and the charges are dismissed. The city of Minneapolis shall take all necessary action to decertify the convictions and refund all fines, surcharges, and law library fees.

-- With respect to those Defendant-Claimants above who paid prosecution costs as part of a suspended prosecution agreement, the city of Minneapolis shall take all necessary action to refund such costs.

The decision is Minneapolis v. Adan, et al.

Looks like a good pool of finalists for appellate vacancies

A quick glance at the eight finalists for the three newly created seats on the Minnesota Court of Appeals tells me Gov. Tim Pawlenty has some good folks to pick from. The list includes:

-- Three District Court judges;
-- Three shareholders from private law firms;
-- One Chief Administrative Law judge (and former Tax Court judge); and
-- One chief public defender.

Hennepin County Chief Public Defender Lenny Castro (on right) probably has the greatest name recognition of everyone on the list due to the fact that he has a high-visibility job. He is also a really nice guy who would make an excellent choice.

But I really can't complain about any of the finalists. All of them have a lot of great experience that would add something to the mix. It looks like yet another job well-done by a Minnesota gubernatorial commission charged with vetting judicial applicants.

How much is a J.D. worth? 15 cents, Justice Thomas says

One of the interesting moments of Justice Clarence Thomas' interview on "6o Minutes" last night (see post below for more on the interview) came when the justice talked about the difficulty he had finding a job after receiving his J.D. in 1974. Despite having gone to an ivy-league law school (Yale), Thomas could not find a Big Firm willing to hire him.

In debt and jobless, the future justice came to view his law degree as not being worth 15 cents. In fact, to this day he keeps the degree in storage with a 15-cent price tag on the frame. (It bears mentioning that Thomas came to be of the view that affirmative action programs had diluted the value of his degree in the eyes of Big Firm employers.) Thomas did, of course , eventually land a job, but it wasn't a position at a Big Firm. Instead, Thomas was hired as an assistant attorney general in Missouri at $10,000 a year.

Thomas' experience raises several issues. One we have blogged about here before -- the problems more and more law students are facing in servicing their ever-growing debt loads when, for whatever reason, they don't wind up in a lucrative job at a Big Firm. (See "Are lawyers job prospects dimming?") It's a very important issue facing the profession and one that will be explored more fully in a future edition of Minnesota Lawyer.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Thomas breaks his silence

Much has been said of the silence of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas on the bench. Last term he did not utter a word during oral arguments (see "Ever-taciturn Thomas is in a quiet spell.") So I was eager to see what the quiet justice would say when given the chance on an exclusive interview on CBS' "60 Minutes."

I actually thought the supremely silent justice did very well. He came across as intelligent and well-spoken. One can certainly disagree with Thomas' personal, political and legal views, but there is apparently much more to the man than the caricature that has been generally presented. Given the eloquence he showed in the interview, it's a shame that Thomas does not speak up more often. Silence is not always golden.