Our blog has moved, and is new and improved.

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

Saturday, December 8, 2007

U.S. Attorney’s Office sets productivity record under Paulose

The Star Tribune yesterday published a highly favorable analysis of the productivity of the Minnesota U.S. Attorney’s Office under Rachel Paulose.

According to the Strib, the office prosecuted a record 668 defendants in fiscal 2007, which ended in September. The productivity gains came despite the resignations of four top managers, a drop in the number of prosecutors in the office and fewer case referrals from the FBI, the Strib says.

The Strib reports dramatic increases in the number of defendants prosecuted for drugs, Civil Rights violations and immigration-law violations. At the same time, the number of white-collar prosecutions remained in line with the office’s statistical average.

The favorable performance was achieved despite a yearlong hiring freeze that left the office down five full-time prosecutors, according to Jeffrey Paulsen, chief of the criminal division.

For the full Strib article, see “Under Paulose, office posted record cases.”

Friday, December 7, 2007

Prosecutors to seek life sentence for sex offenders

Minnesota’s new law permitting a judge to put a sex offender in jail for life may soon be put to use. According to an Associated Press report, prosecutors in Dakota and Ramsey counties are seeking to use the 2005 law in two pending sex crime prosecutions.

The Minnesota law allows life without parole for sex crimes featuring “heinous elements” such as torture, mutilation, multiple victims or “extreme inhumane conditions” that could lead to “severe ongoing mental, emotional or psychological harm.” First-time offenders aren't eligible unless their crimes involve two such factors.

In the Dakota County case, County Attorney James Backstrom is pursuing a life sentence for Robert O. Bollett, a 43-year-old repeat sex offender now charged with molesting two boys. In Ramsey County, prosecutors want life without parole for Gari Lamont Stewart, 26, who faces attempted murder and other charges in the assault of a St. Paul couple in June. Stewart allegedly tried to suffocate and stab the man, raped the woman twice, set the apartment on fire, then forced the woman to withdraw money from a cash machine.

Minnesota has never before allowed a life sentence for a sex offender who didn't kill his victim.

I have mixed feelings about the new law. Personally, I don’t believe that the harsher penalty will prevent people from committing sex offenses. And putting someone in jail for life has tremendous costs for the state. At the same time, I have doubts about whether repeat sex offenders can really be rehabilitated, so this is a way to get these people off the street. Regardless, because life in prison is such serious punishment, I do hope that the law is used only when it’s truly warranted to protect the public. It will be interesting to see what happens in these two cases.

High court cracks down on invalid nighttime searches

In two 4-3 decisions issued yesterday, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled against admitting evidence obtained by police officers executing invalid nighttime warrants.

In both cases, the officers failed to meet the Minn. Stat. sec. 626.14 requirement that they demonstrate special circumstances existed justifying conducting the search at night. (Absent such a demonstration, the law mandates that warrants be served between the hours of 7:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m.)

In one case, State v. Jackson, police executed the warrant at 9:25 p.m. When they entered, they found the defendant at her kitchen table with her two teenage children. In the second case, State v. Jordan, police executed the warrant at 6:00 a.m. The defendant was not home, but his 20-year-old daughter, her boyfriend and a guest were in the house asleep.

Both defendants in both cases sought to exclude evidence uncovered by police, arguing that the searches violated their statutory and Fourth Amendment rights.

The Supreme Court found that the violations in the two cases were serious and subverted the basic purpose of sec. 626.14.

In order to reach this determination, the court had to clarify exactly what the purpose of the statute was. “[W]e believe it is appropriate to define the interest protected as freedom from intrusion during a period of nighttime repose,” wrote Justice Paul H. Anderson for the Jackson majority.

The dissenting justices argue the violations were technical and did not warrant exclusion of the evidence seized.

More in next Monday's Minnesota Lawyer.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Mondale named Norway's honorary consul general in Minneapolis

We ran an article recently that pointed out some of the interesting side jobs of Minnesota attorneys.

Here's another one that might fit the bill: Walter Mondale has been named Norway's honorary consul general in Minneapolis.

According to a release yesterday from Norway's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mondale will facilitate research, education and business cooperation between Norway and the Midwest. Mondale's family originally hails from Mundal on the west coast of Norway.

But as the Associated Press points out, Mondale's position will be largely ceremonial — and represents a demotion of the Minneapolis consulate to "honorary" status.

Wait — isn't this how Cold Wars get started?

No worries. The Norwegian embassy is also searching for an honorary vice consul to help the honorary consul general execute his ceremonial duties.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Coleman goes to the mattresses over Dietzen appointment

If you read Star Tribune columnist Nick Coleman's column today, you might be under the misimpression that Court of Appeals Judge Christopher Dietzen is some sort of mafioso.

It's well known that Dietzen, who was recently appointed to the state Supreme Court, has conservative credentials and close ties to Gov. Tim Pawlenty, including serving as Pawlenty's legal counsel. In an apparent reference to this, Coleman refers to Dietzen as the governor's political consiglieri. Now that word can technically just mean a counsellor or advisor, but who doesn't think of "The Godfather" when they hear it? In fact, I found the following definition when I googled the word: "An adviser or counselor, especially to a capo or leader of an organized crime syndicate."

As far as I know at least, Dietzen has never delivered a horse's head to anyone's bedside or shot anybody at a toll booth. With decades of legal experience and three years on the Court of Appeals under his belt, Dietzen is well-qualified for the high court post. He is a political conservative (no surprise with a Republican governor doing the picking), but does not have a reputation as a radical as Coleman seems to imply.

The one point Coleman makes that I agree with is that judicial candidates in Minnesota should go through a mandatory merit-selection procedure rather than just be hand picked willy-nilly by the governor. While I believe that Dietzen is a worthy selection, the governor could have made any lawyer friend an appellate judge with the same ease that Caligula once made his favorite horse a Roman senator. Under our current system, the governor has absolute discretion in awarding appellate judgeships to lawyers. (Several governors in the past have chosen to use ad-hoc screening committees to vet appellate appointments, but this process has never been required.)

Both the Minnesota State Bar Association and the Quie Commission include in their proposals for revamping judicial elections in Minnesota a requirement that a merit-selection committee screen all candidates seeking appointments to the bench. Regardless of where we come out on judicial-election reform, I think that is one component of the proposals that ought to be adopted.

New tobacco suits likely won't include Minnesota

The announcement of pending legal action against R.J. Reynolds Tobacco couldn’t help but call to mind the prominent role Minnesota played in presaging the largest civil suit in U.S. history, and why it might be kept from joining the other states in this case.

Attorneys general from nine states this week announced plans to sue over the cigarette giant’s use of cartoons in an advertising section contained in Rolling Stone magazine, saying it violates terms of the landmark 1998 settlement between 46 states and the tobacco industry that reimbursed states for smoking-related health care costs.

In an effort to prevent the industry from trying to sell to minors, the agreement includes a provision against using cartoons in advertisements. The advertising section in question combines pages of Camel cigarette ads with pages of magazine-produced illustrations on the theme of independent rock music.

Minnesota’s AG’s office wasn’t one of the nine states that announced plans to sue. That could be because Minnesota, as part of the 1998 settlement, agreed not to make further claims to recover tobacco-related health care costs.

It would be ironic if Minnesota, as one of the first states to take on the hitherto untouchable tobacco industry and win, would be kept from joining in a renewed legal action because of those terms.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Dorsey subject of New York judge's ire

Southern District of New York Judge Harold Baer has taken the opportunity in a trade secrets case—now settled—to deliver a 129-page admonition to the lawyers in the case and the profession in general concerning what he sees as declining standards of professionalism and civility.

The plaintiff was represented by Dorsey & Whitney, and attorney Kristan Peters, who was with the firm from January to June this year. The complicated dispute involves the use of information allegedly protected by court orders. The judge’s full opinion in Wolter Kluwers Financial Services Inc. v. Scivantage, is available here.

Dorsey denies the allegations of unprofessionalism against it but more interesting to me is the judge’s exhortation on lawyers and law firms in general. If it’s accurate—and I don’t know that it is—I’d like to think it’s an East Coast phenomenon.

Baer writes,

“While I am dismayed at the way in which many law firms today approach the
practice of law, I realize that for the most part is it none of my business and
indeed not the business of the judiciary in general. The fact that partners are
at times made and retained for their rainmaking skills and not for their legal
skill, that the number of billable hours is not only the alpha and omega of
bonuses but that these hours—or at least the ones that count—often exclude pro
bono hours, or that who gets credit for originating a piece of business can
throw a firm into turmoil and prompt major internecine struggles, or that the
bottom line has eclipsed most everything else for which the practice of law
stands or stood to the extent that the practice of law is now frequently
described as a business rather than a profession. . . . Rather, it is the
fallout from such conduct, some of which we witnessed here, that ineluctably
drives some lawyers and some law firms to the kind of conduct that played out
before me at this hearing and that then becomes the business of the

Alito, Scalia: What's in a name?

The U. S. Supreme Court yesterday heard oral arguments in a closely watched employment law case. The high court has been asked to decide whether a plaintiff suing for employment discrimination can introduce so called "me too" evidence. (Click here for more.) DC Dicta -- a blog run by our national sister publication, Lawyers USA -- actually found something funny to report on in a pretty serious case.

With the new attorney general and the solicitor general looking on, Deputy Solicitor General Gregory Garre argued the government's amicus position. Garre is a seasoned attorney who once clerked for Chief Justice William Rehnquist, but that did not stop him from inadvertently misstating the name of one of the justices.

In another otherwise articulate response to question from Justice Samuel Alito, Garre mistakenly referred to Alito as "Justice Scalia." (Alito and Scalia sit three seats apart.) There are, of course, liberal blogs that might say we are splitting hairs differentiating between the two conservative justices. Nonetheless, the slip up -- which went otherwise uncommented on --reportedly drew chuckles from the press gallery.

I am just glad to know that even the most seasoned lawyers get nervous when they argue a case in front of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Running in a Winter Wonderland

Despite a storm that blanketed the metro area with close to half a foot of snow this weekend, a hardy band of lawyers, paralegals, legal administrators and other friends and supporters of Legal Aid donned Santa suits and participated in the "Santa Run" in downtown Minneapolis. This was the 2nd annual benefit run, the proceeds of which go toward providing free legal services to poor and disadvantaged Minnesotans. The 1.25 mile run started at the YWCA on Nicollet Mall. (Photo: Bill Klotz)