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Friday, November 2, 2007

My little book battle (CLE attendees beware!)

I recently had an interesting experience that has left me scratching my head, and, to be honest, a little annoyed.

I received in the mail a copy of Terence MacCarthy's book -- MacCarthy on Cross-Examination -- published by the American Bar Association. I was familiar with MacCarthy, having seen him make a presentation at Minnesota CLE's Criminal Justice Institute in Bloomington a couple of months ago.

As the editor of Minnesota Lawyer, I frequently get books sent to me by authors who hope we might review it or at least mention it in our paper. I assumed that this book, which arrived without explanation, fell into that category. Having no plan to read or review it, I nearly pitched it into the recycle bin. Fortunately, I did not.

The next day I received a bill from the ABA for $147.90, representing $129.95 for the book and another $17.95 for shipping. First of all, $129.95 strikes me as a bit excessive for a 220-page soft-cover book with absolutely no art work. And, given that it wasn't even the size of John Grisham novel, it seemed nervy for the ABA to charge me more than $17.95 to put it in an envelope and send it to me. At that price, I would expect it to be personally delivered to me by somebody in a gorilla suit.

I called the ABA -- and after wasting several minutes in Muzak land waiting to be connected to an actual human being -- I was able to talk with an someone. She was pleasant enough. When I said I had erroneously received and been billed for an ABA book, she asked me immediately, "Was it the McCarthy book?" I said that it was, and she told me that she would send me a return label so that I could send it back and not be charged.

Apparently, MacCarthy mistakenly told everyone at the CLE the book would be free when he passed around a sign-up sheet at the CLE. (At least that's what Minnesota CLE says in an explanatory letter I just received.)

I am feeling inconvenienced and somewhat peeved. When I do get around to sending the over-priced book back, I am toying with the idea of charging the ABA $17.95 for my "handling" costs to see how they like it ....

Filling the empty seat on the Minnesota Supreme Court

In next week's Minnesota Lawyer, Michelle Lore takes a look at the vacant seat on the state Supreme Court created by the retirement of Justice Sam Hanson. What process will likely be used to vet candidates? How important a factor is diversity this time around? What other factors should be looked at? You'll find the full story in Monday's paper.

The latest on the 35W bridge litigation

Editor's Note: Minnesota Lawyer received the following press release yesterday from the Minneapolis law firm of Schwebel, Goetz & Sieben.

Today the Minneapolis law firm of Schwebel, Goetz & Sieben representing several families of persons who died in the I35 bridge collapse, and numerous injured victims, filed a Motion to Compel Mn/DOT to release documents in its possession, and to allow for expert inspection of those portions of the collapsed bridge now assembled on the Bohemian River Flats.

Attorney Jim Schwebel stated that while Mn/DOT has made available many documents on its website it has withheld critical inspection reports conducted by the private engineering firm of Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates, Inc. which it hired under a two million dollar contract to determine the cause of the collapse. This private engineering firm has had wide access to the bridge site while lawyers representing collapse victims and their families have had to go to court to receive only limited access. It is unconscionable that this vital information accumulated at taxpayers’ expense should be kept secret from Minnesota taxpayers, and particularly from the victims who have every right to know why this disaster occurred.

In addition, Schwebel, Goetz & Sieben seeks access to allow its bridge experts to inspect numerous portions of the bridge which have been reassembled at Bohemian Flats downstream from the bridge collapse site.

The motion is set to be heard before Hennepin County District Court Judge Herbert P. Lefler in Minneapolis on Nov. 15, 2007 at 8:30 a.m.

Study identifies ‘invisible’ victims of immigration raids

A study released this week by the Urban Institute, a nonpartisan economic and social policy research group, discusses an “invisible” group of people who’ve been affected by the immigration raids taking place across the country -- children.

According to the report -- "Paying the Price: The Impact of Immigration Raids on America's Children" -- thousands of kids whose parents are arrested in ICE raids face mental health issues including post-traumatic stress disorder, separation anxiety and depression. Most of those children are citizens or legal immigrants.

Researchers visited two sites where ICE officers conducted coordinated raids of meat-packing plants and one where workers made equipment and apparel for the military. Officials at these three sites alone arrested 900 suspected illegal immigrants, meaning that 500 children abruptly lost contact with their mother, father or both parents. The study revealed that the children of those arrested were left with a combination of unstable supervision, stress, emotional trauma and material needs that can lead to mental health disorders.

While some might discredit the study because it was commissioned by the National Council of La Raza, a Hispanic civil rights organization, it’s undeniable that the findings at least give us something to think about.

Notably, one of the Minnesota ICE raids, which took place in Worthington last December, has led to a federal lawsuit. Several residents who were working at the meatpacking plant when it was raided by immigration agents are suing over the alleged abusive and illegal tactics used. The suit was filed in September by Centro Legal, an immigrant rights group.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Clergy sex assault statute ruled valid

An evenly divided Minnesota Supreme Court today left in place a decision upholding as facially valid Minnesota’s clergy criminal assault statute.

The case -- State v. Bussmann -- involved the prosecution of a Catholic priest who had sexual relationships with two women at his parish. The woman later complained that the priest had violated a state law making it a crime for a clergy member to have sex with a person who is seeking or receiving “religious or spiritual advice, aid, or comfort in private.” (Minn. Stat. sec. 609.344, subd. 1(l)(ii).)

The Court of Appeals concluded that the law did not facially violate the Establishment Clause, a decision with which three of the six justices hearing the case concurred. (Justice Lorie Gildea took no part in the decision.) Because the high court could not reach a majority consensus on this issue, the Court of Appeals’ ruling stands.

However, the Supreme Court nonetheless reversed the priest’s conviction and remanded the case for a new trial. Looking at the particular facts of the case, the court concluded that the admission of extensive evidence regarding religious doctrine and church policies and practices caused the entanglement of religion with the verdict and conviction. Thus, on an as applied basis, the Establishment Clause had been violated in this case.

Chief Justice Russell Anderson dissented on this point, arguing that the admission of the evidence did not violate the Establishment Clause and did not warrant the granting of a new trial.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

A record 654 new lawyers join the Minnesota bar

A record 654 new lawyers were sworn into the Minnesota Bar during a ceremony at the RiverCentre in St. Paul on Oct. 26. The amount represents the lion's share of the 795 individuals who passed the July 2007 bar exam, which was also a record.

Justice Sam Hanson, who is retiring from the bench at the end of the year, delivered a welcome address to the fledgling bar members.

"You are better educated than any who have gone before you. Legal education continues to improve, both in terms of theoretical underpinnings and practical applications," Hanson told the new admittees.

Hanson also told the new lawyers they have "entered the profession in its golden age, with the opportunity to make a real difference."

Minnesota Lawyer will publish more excerpts of Hanson's speech in Monday's edition.

Lawyers seeking council seats are rare

Right or wrong, people tend to presume that most political candidates are or were lawyers. That’s probably because most of the presidential candidates in both parties have a current or past legal practice.

But what about at the more grass-roots level of city council candidacy? A look at the 30 candidates vying for the 14 open council seats in various Ramsey County wards next Tuesday shows only one attorney: Kennedy & Graven shareholder Chuck Long, who’s running in Falcon Heights.

The rest of the candidates come from a wide variety of industries, with a lot of small-business owners included in the mix. The council level of politics still seems to be the domain of the concerned citizen, regardless of his or her professional background.

Does this mean lawyers tend not to become interested in running for office until the stakes get a little – or a lot – higher?

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Happiness is a well-paid associate

The Wall Street Journal law blog recently reported two surveys “that took the pulse[s] of junior lawyers at the nation’s large firms” and that found that their pulses are beating rapidly because they are so happy with their jobs (see "The Joys of Big Law"). Ok, one was by Hildebrandt International, which is a legal consulting firm, but the other was American Lawyer magazine, and who am I to say don’t trust the media?

In Hildebrandt’s study, 45 percent rated themselves “highly satisfied” while another 45 percent were “more or less” satisfied. Only five percent expressed strong dissatisfaction with their firms.
In August, in its annual associate poll, American Lawyer reported that associate satisfaction has inched up over recent years to reach a record high of 3.81 on a five point scale, up from 3.64 four years ago.

The WSJ speculates that the level of attention being paid to the needs and preferences of young lawyers is one of the reasons for the happiness hike. Furthermore, they’re making a lot of money when others are unemployed. As one commenter wrote, “I believe that the knowledge of others who are struggling as lawyers makes those of us who have good jobs feel some sense of satisfaction and happiness (or relief and gratitude), thereby making the overall level of happiness for large firm lawyers rise. That and $160,000/yr.”

And, some readers commented, associate’s expectations may have come into line with reality in recent years. One wrote, “It’s hard sometimes, tedious sometimes, but what did I expect? It’s a big law firm and they’re giving me everything they said they would -- pay and bennies but also work and hours. I am no worse off than any of my peers at other firms and that helps too.”

Monday, October 29, 2007

U.S. Supreme Court agrees to hear Exxon punitive-damage case

The U.S. Supreme Court announced today it will hear the case of Baker v. Exxon, involving the massive punitive-damage award in the Valdez oil spill case.

In 1994, the jury awarded $287 million in compensatory damages and $5 billion in punitive damages (then representing a year's profits for Exxon). Exxon appealed and the punitive damage award was reduced to $4 billion. Exxon appealed again on the basis of an intervening U.S. Supreme Court decision on punitive damages, and the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals further reduced the punitive damage award to $2.5 billion.

The high court announced this morning its decision to review the award and decide its appropriateness.

Fore more, click here.

Congratulations, Boston Red Sox!

Having grown up in the Boston area, I could not refrain from a salute to my hometown team, the (now world-champion) Red Sox.
The Red Sox have now won eight of their last eight World Series games. The last time the Sox had been in the World Series prior to this year was in 2004, when the team won its first world championship in 86 years. I had the pleasure of attending the first game of that series, which was in Fenway Park. The Sox won that day and haven't lost a World Series game since.

Growing up a Red Sox fan during that 86-year gap period was a frustrating experience, so it is great to see them win another title so soon. Kudos!