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Saturday, October 13, 2007

Founder of Lawyers Weekly chain dies at 80

Veteran legal journalist and blogger Bob Ambrogi reports on his well-regarded LawSites blog that J. Edward Pawlick, the founder of the Lawyers Weekly chain of legal newspapers, has passed away at the age of 80. (See "In Memoriam: J. Edward Pawlick." on the LawSites blog.)

Bob does an excellent job summarizing the many contributions that Mr. Pawlick made to the legal publishing field. It was Mr. Pawlick who gave me my start as a legal journalist at his flagship legal newspaper, Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly. (Ironically, I left the paper to work for Minnesota Lawyer's parent company Dolan Media, which in turn bought the Lawyers Weekly chain in 2004.)

While our Minnesota readers probably have never heard of Mr. Pawlick, you have certainly gotten to know some of the extraordinarily innovative features and ideas developed over the years at his chain of papers. I unabashedly admit that I borrowed some of my favorite ones and incorporated them directly into Minnesota Lawyer. For example, our popular "Bar Buzz" feature was modeled on a similarly popular column called "Hearsay" that originated at Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly. Mr. Pawlick's company was also at the forefront of providing legal information on the Internet, developing an award-winning website at a time when the Internet was still something of a novelty for many people.

Having started with a single newsletter that he banged out on a typewriter in his kitchen in 1972, Mr. Pawlick grew his "empire" into seven well-respected legal newspapers, including a national one, now called Lawyers USA. He also raised four children mostly as a single parent, including two very nice daughters who at various points worked at the company. When he retired, he sold the company to his daughter Susan, who was a classmate of mine at Boston College Law School. It was Susan who ultimately sold the company to Dolan Media, our parent company.

Mr. Pawlick in his later years started a controversial political website and authored a couple of books staking out some highly controversial positions. While he contributed far more to legal publishing than to meaningful political discourse, I have no doubt of his sincerity and passion in espousing his views.

Other than that, I really don't have much to add to the classy piece Bob put together, which I suggest you all read. (You can also check out Mr. Pawlick's obit by clicking here.) Mr. Pawlick was a unique individual whose life impacted many. Without him, I can say with utter certainty that neither Minnesota Lawyer newspaper nor this blog would exist in their current format.

Requiscat in pace.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Legal riders

George Harrelson, the chief judge of the 5th Judicial District, has an interesting and relatively usual pastime for a jurist -- he rides a motorcycle. That’s him at the right, pictured beside his 750 Virago.

This little tidbit of information was revealed recently in the judge’s interview with Minnesota Lawyer staff writer Dan Heilman. (The interview will appear in Monday’s issue of the paper.)

Harrelson isn’t the only Minnesota judge who rides; other jurists who occasionally trade their seat on the bench for a seat on a bike include Court of Appeals Judge Gordon Shumaker, Ramsey County District Court Judge Salvador Rosas, Hennepin County District Court Judge John Holahan and retired Hennepin County judges Myron Greenberg and Mary Davidson. There are also a fair number of attorneys around the state who enjoy getting out there on the open road when they can pull themselves away from their law practices.

While it’s not exactly Hells Angels, Minnesota’s legal community even has its own “gang” of motorcyclists -- the Street Legal Motorcycle Club. In addition to lawyers and judges, the club welcomes law students, law school deans and professors, paralegals, court administrators, court reporters, bailiffs, legal secretaries and private investigators of law firms or corporate legal departments.

As a motorcycle enthusiast myself -- I ride a lava red Harley Davidson Dyna Low Rider -- I think it’s great that so many attorneys, judges and others in the legal profession are getting out and enjoying the feeling of freedom one gets from riding a bike. It’s a great escape and just a ton of fun!

So for those of you out there who have been under the assumption that lawyers and judges are nothing but a bunch of buttoned-down, boring men and women in business suits, think again …

'White' plaintiff Wersal winding down his law practice

Monday's Minnesota Lawyer contains a little tidbit that will undoubtedly be of interest to those who have followed the seemingly interminable controversies and litigation surrounding Minnesota's judicial campaigning restrictions. Golden Valley attorney Greg Wersal -- a coplaintiff in Republican Party of Minnesota v. White, the successful U.S. Supreme Court challenge to those restrictions -- is winding down his law practice.

Specifically, Wersal says in the Bar Buzz column that he is no longer taking new clients and is looking into other ways to make a living.

Besides being a plaintiff in White, Wersal is probably best known for a series of unsuccessful election challenges he made for a seat on the state Supreme Court. His campaign methods were, shall we say, a tad unconventional. For example, one of his strategies was to cart plywood cows around the state with a sign attached saying judicial elections in the state were "bull." He also assigned himself a "prisoner" number that he carried around on a sign to demonstrate that speech restrictions placed on judicial candidates were holding him hostage.

On the other hand, his lawsuit was not frivolous and has sparked reform that requires a full overhaul of how elections are run. Plus, it gave Minnesota Lawyer a lot of good stories, so I really can't complain.

And for those who think shuttering his law practice means Wersal is completely out of the picture, guess again. At the very least, he isn't quite ready to give the Nixon-esque "You won't have Wersal to kick around anymore" speech yet. When asked what closing his practice means for his political future, Wersal enigmatically replied, “I’ve now got a lot of free time.”

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Hanson to depart high court, return to Briggs and Morgan

By Barbara L. Jones

Members of the legal community reacted with sadness to the news that Justice Sam Hanson will leave the Supreme Court at the end of this year.

Hanson will return to his former law firm, Briggs and Morgan in Minneapolis, where he practiced for 34 years until Governor Jesse Ventura appointed him to the Court of Appeals in 2000. Hanson was elevated to the Supreme Court in 2002.

“My service on the Court has undoubtedly been the highlight of my legal career,” said Hanson in announcing his retirement from the court. “I have been privileged to participate in the resolution of important cases with six marvelous colleagues, who never fail to enrich the discussion with thoughtful and varied perspectives.“

Hanson went on to expressed enormous respect for all the state’s judiciary and gratitude for the various administrative initiatives on which he was able to work.

“I return to private practice with a renewed sense of appreciation for the importance of the rule of law in the progress and well-being of our society,” the respected jurist said.

Hanson, 68, would reach mandatory retirement age in August 2009.

Editor's Note: We will run a more detailed piece on the bench and bar's reaction to Hanson's departure in Monday's print edition of Minnesota Lawyer.

Input welcome

It's been just about six months since we started this blog, which is a collaborative venture of the entire Minnesota Lawyer editorial staff.

By having multiple bloggers, we expose you to the differing personalities and voices of our staff. I personally like to think of it as a band. You've got Barbara Jones on drums, Michelle Lore on keyboard, Dan Heilman on guitar and Michael Krieger on bass. Every now and again they let me bang on a cymbal or two. In any event, it is an honor to play in such company.

As we celebrate our half birthday (six months is like 12 months in "blog years"), I thought I would provide this thread in case anybody has any thoughts or comments about this blog that he or she would like to share. And if you don't, do not blame us if we just give you more of the same. ;0)

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

St. Thomas reverses course; Tutu invited to speak

University of St. Thomas President Rev. Dennis Dease reversed his earlier decision to bar Archbishop Desmond Tutu from speaking at the school because of Tutu's previous statements on Israel, the Star Tribune Reports. (Click here for the full Strib article.)

"I have wrestled with what is the right thing to do in this situation, and I have concluded that I made the wrong decision earlier this year not to invite the archbishop," Dease reportedly wrote in a letter to the St. Thomas community. "Although well-intentioned, I did not have all of the facts and points of view, but now I do." (Click here for the full text of Dease's letter.)

I commend Dease for admitting he made a mistake and reversing course. Only a big person can do something like that on such a public matter. His willingness to do so exemplifies the best traditions of the institution which he leads.

RIAA, Radiohead offer contrasting approaches to copyright law

A couple of recent developments indicated how copyright law – especially as it relates to recorded music – might evolve in coming years, and how artists might react to it.

Last week, a Brainerd woman was ordered by a federal jury in Duluth to pay the Record Industry Association of America more than $220,000 for violating copyright law by sharing 24 songs with peer-to-peer download services.

And today, the English band Radiohead, which has sold tens of millions of albums worldwide, made its new album available via its online store. Not much novelty there, except for the price: The album is available for download for any price the purchaser wishes to pay.

As of this morning, there was no word on how many “copies” had been sold, but a look at blogs and news articles about the release showed that people are tending to pay between $5 and $10 for it, with very few taking advantage of the honor system by leaving only pennies.

“Ten years ago, the major labels could actually tell retailers what price points to set within their own stores,” media professor Adam Sinnreich said in an MPR news story about the Radiohead idea. “Then the Department of Justice said that wasn't right, and you saw retailers begin to offer more flexible pricing in stores. This is a further extension of that process.”

In light of the Radiohead phenomenon, the events in Duluth seem as though they happened in a different universe. By reacting to random downloaders with litigation instead of embracing the technology that allows it the way Radiohead has, the record industry is only feeding its public image as an antiquated business model driven by greed and desperation.

Already, the Duluth decision is making copyright attorneys and other experts wonder out loud if applying the law can continue to stem the tide of downloading, and whether some copyright laws are outgrowing their effectiveness. Use of peer-to-peer software is growing by double-digit percentages each year, so the genie is long out of the bottle – and suing random downloaders in hopes of small settlements isn’t going to put it back. Maybe it will soon be time to adopt Radiohead's "tip jar" technique on a wider basis.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

St.Thomas should reconsider Tutu decision

Perhaps because the University of St. Thomas is a Catholic school, there is a cliché I can’t get out of my head when reflecting on its decision not to let Archbishop Desmond Tutu speak there – the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Indeed, it was with the very best of intentions that St. Thomas made its decision. The school was concerned that some in the Jewish community would be offended because of controversial views the archbishop has previously expressed about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The school should be commended for its thoughtfulness, sense of inclusiveness and religious and cultural sensitivity. However, its decision is a mistake.

The role of an educational institution is to educate – a function that is ill served by filtering out controversial views. In fact, we learn the most from those with differing views and values than ours. When in doubt, consider Voltaire's famous words: "I do not agree with a word you say, but I will fight to the death for your right to say it."

I know that Archbishop Tutu can find other venues locally, and, in fact, the group sponsoring the Nobel laureate’s visit has already lined up a secondary site. But I nonetheless think it sets a bad precedent for a respected local institution of higher learning such as St. Thomas to turn away a speaker of Tutu’s caliber to avoid a debate. Better to have that debate and make sure it is done in a respectful way, such as holding a public forum or bringing in speakers with opposing viewpoints.

Again, I understand why the University of St. Thomas has reached the conclusion it has and applaud its ecumenical spirit. I also appreciate how much soul searching must go on before one says no to a religious leader with the worldwide name recognition of Tutu. However, I urge the school to reconsider. I think it's doing the wrong thing for all the right reasons.

St. Thomas and Desmond Tutu

The decision by the University of St. Thomas not to invite Archbishop Desmond Tutu to speak at the university has drawn respectful opposition from faculty at the law school. The school reportedly felt that Tutu's appearance would be hurtful to some Jewish members of the community due to some controversial remarks he has made relating to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Professor Thomas Berg, the co-Director of the Murphy Institute for Catholic Thought, Law,and Public Policy, and 17 other faculty members sent a letter to UST's president, Fr. Dennis Dease, asking the university to reconsider its decision.

"To reject a distinguished speaker based on worries that his words may cause hurt or offense to some is entirely at odds with the search for truth that should characterize a Catholic university. Speech taking positions on controversial subjects will often be offensive or hurtful to some people. Nevertheless, a Catholic university should be willing to open itself to such speech – and criticisms of that speech – in order to learn the truth," the letter says.

The law school has also requested permission to invite Archbishop Tutu on its own if the university doesn't change its mind. Professor Hank Shea wrote to Fr. Dease that the faculty had voted -- with no dissent -- to request Dean Thomas Mengler to invite the archbishop to speak in the atrium.

"Please open your heart to the pain that your decision has caused and will continue to cause parts of our UST community, particularly those who are minorities. I know this pain was unintentional but it is real and deep. We must begin to heal it," Shea's letter says.

Sir Ian takes on 'Sir Thomas'

I had the pleasure of hearing Ian McKellan share his thoughts last night at the Guthrie as part the theater's "Global Voices" series. (Click here for the Star Tribune's piece on the event.) In addition to having enough gravitas to be one of the foremost Shakespearean actors of the day (not to mention playing Gandalf in "Lord of the Rings" trilogy of movies), McKellan has a great sense of humor and shared a lot of fun behind-the-scenes story.

He also took questions from the audience. One of my favorites came from a fresh-faced student about to embark on her first abroad trip to London. She wanted him to recommend where she should go so that could tell people that "Sir Ian" had told her to go there. (For the record, McKellan recommended checking out old Shakespeare haunts during hours where other tourists would not impede the experience).

Of interest to lawyers, McKellan ended the evening by delighting the audience with powerful reading from a scene that Shakespeare contributed to the somewhat obscure Elizabethan play Sir Thomas More.

The University of St. Thomas School of Law has a life-sized statute of Thomas More in its grand atrium. Executed for following his conscience, More is a valuable reminder that being a lawyer involves more than being a hired gun. It really gives one much to chew upon in this age of lawyer jokes.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Justice Thomas revisited

I have been away from the office and the blogosphere the last few days. However, I see in my absence a debate has been sparked by an intriguing post placed by my learned colleague, Barbara Jones. ("The Clarence Thomas Interview: Equal Time for Anita Hill.") So far, it has been an interesting and spirited discussion.

I, of course, have my own thoughts on some of these matters. But, for the time being, I am going to keep out of it. I am much more interested in seeing what you have to say. Click here to see the comments and join in the debate.