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Friday, December 21, 2007

'Tis the season

Nothing says Christmas like a large group of Santas. And as we move in to the final leg of the holiday season, what could be better than taking one last look as the festive folks who participated in the annual Santa Run to benefit Legal Aid earlier this month. Kudos to the local firm of Faegre & Benson, which had the largest number of participants in the event, earning it the much-coveted "Santa Trophy."

A 'joke' that's not funny

An incident reported in the Star Tribune today has me completely flummoxed.

According to the article, two men in Sartell, Minnesota, have been arrested for cutting off a woman’s underwear in a bar, while other patrons laughed and refused to come to her aid. During questioning by police, the two men apparently didn’t deny the incident took place, instead cavalierly stating that the whole thing was just a “joke.”

A joke? What’s funny about holding a woman down over a bar and forcibly tearing her panties off with a pocketknife while she yells for help? What’s the mentality of someone who can commit such a frightening and humiliating act on another person and not feel any remorse at all? And what about the mentality of the people who watched, laughed and refused to help? I hope I’m not the only one who finds this completely distressing.

The scene brings back memories of the bar-room gang rape of Jodie Foster’s character in the 1988 movie, “The Accused,” which was based on a true story that took place in Eastern Massachusetts. That scene certainly wasn’t funny -- and neither is what these men allegedly did to this woman in Sartell.

In addition, like the movie, this incident forces us to contemplate how we think we would act and deal with a crime being committed right in front of us.

Quote of the Week: Clarence Thomas

“There’s not much that entices about the job. There’s no money in it, no privacy, no big houses, and from an ego standpoint, it does nothing for me.”

-- Justice Clarence Thomas on serving on the U.S. Supreme Court (from the WSJ Law Blog)

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Two days left to nominate Attorneys of the Year

You've seen the rest, now pick the best.

Minnesota Lawyer is still accepting nominations for its ninth annual Attorneys of the Year awards celebration. The award honors the achievements of 15 people who have distinguished themselves in 2007 through exemplary work.

Criteria include:
• Procuring a successful result in an important case or business transaction
• Leadership in professional associations
• Participating in newsworthy events in the legal community
• Performing significant public service
• Excellence in providing in-house legal services

Nomination deadline is Friday, Dec. 21.

A dinner celebration honoring the selected attorneys will take place in February, and we've become exceedingly good at throwing a swank affair.

An online nomination form is available here. For questions, please feel free to contact me at michael.krieger@finance-commerce.com or 612-584-1554.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

An unlikely source of sympathy in the Vick case

Continuing on today's theme of animal-cruelty cases...

I was talking to my veterinarian last week – with a dog and two cats, I get lots of opportunities – so I decided I’d be the hundredth person that day to ask her what she thought of the Michael Vick verdict. Her response left me gaping.

“I feel sorry for him,” she said.

Excuse me, I said – sorry for him?

“He did some horrible things, but I don’t think he was the mastermind behind the operation at his house,” she continued. “I know this is an easy thing to say about an athlete, but I get the feeling he’s not very bright. Or at least, he seems impressionable – like he has too much money and not enough maturity and he let some people get him involved in this, people who he thought were his friends.”

She went on to say that even with the hideous events Vick was involved in, when she read the last-ditch plea he wrote to the sentencing judge in the case, her heart broke.

“Maybe I’m na├»ve, but he sounded to me like a little kid who knew he was about to be punished, and felt like he could get out of trouble if he promised never to do it again,” she said.

“If it does anything to stop dog fighting or cruelty to animals, then I’m happy with the sentence. But to see this incredibly gifted person throw it all away like this…that makes me sad. His life is basically over.”

Commenter cries fowl over duck piece

My learned colleague, Michelle Lore, recently posted her thoughts about the case of the young federal auditor who came to town and ripped the head off of a duck in a hotel lobby. We received the following comment to the post, which I thought was interesting enough to pull out and re-post here.

Oh Please! Yes, animal cruelty is wrong, but this case is about an
upstanding guy who got drunk & did something stupid. He lost his federal
job, has to come back to this icebox to defend himself, and has to spend oodles
of dollars on an attorney. People can back-date stock options to the tune of
millions of dollars, rip off investors through "creative" accounting, and steal
people's pensions yet not suffer any consequences. Harm one waterfowl and Katy
bar the door. Let's get our priorities straight.I guess it's okay to kill a duck
with a shotgun and then eat it, but if you do it at a hotel, it's a felony. Is
it wrong? Yes. Should he be a criminal because of it? No. Priorities people,

Hmmm. Well, actually I think that it should be a felony to kill a duck with a shotgun in a hotel ...

I have no idea whether the defendant is generally considered "upstanding" or not. I don't think it speaks well of him that the one incident we do know of is tearing a duck's head off -- not something even an inebriated person would typically do. And as for his having to come back to "this icebox" to defend himself, the way around that would have been not to come here and tear the head off a duck in the first place. Pretty simple really. Lots of folks manage to do it.

Personally, I don't have an opinion what the defendant’s sentence should be -- I leave that to the judge who will hear all the facts. However, I can’t help wondering whether the above comment didn’t come from Michael Vick.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Randall's articulate voice will be missed

Court of Appeals Judge R.A. “Jim” Randall has submitted his retirement letter to Gov. Tim Pawlenty effective Friday, April 4, 2008. Randall has served on the court for 24 years.

I hope he spends some time at the court as a retired judge because I will miss his opinions. Not only do I generally agree with him, but in addition, he can really write.

My favorite opinion may be in State v. Thoreson, issued last April, where Randall wrote a 16-page dissent. The defendant was convicted of misdemeanor prostitution after a Hennepin County District Court judge refused to dismiss the case on the ground that police misconduct violated the defendant’s due process rights. The Court of Appeals affirmed.

Randall disapproved of the police officer’s investigative technique, which was to induce the woman to disrobe completely in the front seat of an unmarked squad car at 38th and Nicollet, thereby assenting to prostitution.

Randall thought the woman didn’t commit a crime by taking her clothes off without accepting money for sex. He called the police conduct “somewhat egregious.” Arrest her, if you must, but do not “make sport” with her, said the judge.

Randall's well-thought-out dissent includes the following nugget:

“Respondent argues that asking a strange woman to take off all her clothes and go naked in front of a strange man is a ‘legitimate’ police tactic. Respondent argues this is so because ‘good girls won’t do that but bad girls will.’ Looking back, at my age, perhaps I did miss part of the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. Maybe there never was a senior prom where, after the midnight close of the official school gym dance, the party continued until the wee hours of the morning at some neighboring park by a lake where drinking and swimming, bathing suits optional, were varsity sports du jour. Maybe nobody was ever 19, went to college, went to fraternity and sorority parties, and in a large group both male and coed, ceremoniously ‘mooned’ their school’s arch rival football team as it drove into the parking lot or, for that matter, tried to moon their arch rival’s entire student body until the college president sent security in. Funny how the memory is affected. Funny how life imitates art.”

How about an appellate opinion with that cup of coffee?

It used to be like clockwork. Go grab a bite to eat for lunch, come back to the office and find out how your case did on appeal. Both state appellate courts would release their week's opinions at exactly 1:00 p.m. (Tuesdays for the Court of Appeals, Thursdays for the Supreme Court.)

But, as Minnesota Lawyer reports this week, all that recently changed thanks to those ink-stained wretches who make up the Fourth Estate. (Since journalists don't really use ink now, perhaps I should keyboard-clicking wretches.)

Effective Dec. 11, the appellate courts started releasing the week's opinions at 10:00 a.m., barely giving lawyers time for a cup of coffee and a scone before getting the good or bad news about their case. (The release days stayed the same.)

"It was really a courtesy to the press, so they have a little more time during the day to prepare their story," clerk of the appellate courts Fred Grittner told Minnesota Lawyer.

Meanwhile, appellate lawyers are happy to get the results sooner too. "Once you know [your decision] is coming out, the longer you have to wait, the more painful it is," said Minneapolis attorney Bill Hart.

It's good to see the courts being media-friendly. It will be interesting to see if the media returns the favor by using that time to make the reports on decisions more comprehensive and fair.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Wippman named to head U. of M. Law School

After an intensive search spanning a year and a half, the University of Minnesota is on the verge of getting a new law dean.

Provost Thomas Sullivan has named David Wippman as dean of the law school. The Board of Regents still have to sign off, but is expected to. If things go as anticipated, Wippman will start the new post on July 1.

Wippman is currently vice provost for international relations and professor of law at Cornell University. He is a native of Minnesota and attended high school here. After graduation from Yale Law School, he clerked for Chief Judge Wilfred Feinberg of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. He practiced law in Washington, D.C. from 1983 until joining Cornell Law School’s faculty in 1992. Wippman served in the Clinton administration as a director in the National Security Council’s Office of Multilateral and Humanitarian Affairs from 1998-99.

Wippman holds a bachelor of arts degree summa cum laude from Princeton University, a master’s degree from Yale University and earned his juris doctorate from Yale Law School, where he was editor-in-chief of the Yale Law Journal.

Wippman will be the 10th dean of the law school, which is consistently ranked in the top 20 law schools in the nation. He replaces Alex Johnson, who resigned in 2006. Guy-Uriel E. Charles and Fred L. Morrison have served as interim co-deans.

What's in a name? A lot if it's 'Lawyer of the Year'

Poor Alberto Gonzales. First he resigns from his post as U.S. Attorney General under what can only very charitably be referred to as "a cloud." Then, just as things are starting to look up for him and he is selected as the "Lawyer of the Year" by the ABA Journal, he is almost immediately afterward stripped of the title. Oh indignity of indignities!

We blogged about it when the ABA Journal bestowed the title on Gonzales -- speculating at the time that perhaps the editors there had broken into the holiday cheer a little early. The dubious "distinction" came complete with a bizarre list of runners up, which included Stuart "Scooter" Libby and a fictional movie character.

No doubt they knew at the ABA Journal that the selection of Gonzales would inspire controversy. But they also knew a lot of ink would be spilled talking about their choice, and there's no such thing as bad publicity, right? Wrong.

A torrent of nonstop criticism fell on the magazine and the ABA as whole, creating a public relations disaster of seismic proportions. It was soon announced that the "Lawyer of the Year" designation had been changed to "Newsmaker of the Year" to clarify that the title was not intended as an honor. (Hmmm. I don't mean to quibble, but shouldn't that be Legal Newsmaker of the Year?)

So in the end, the ABA Journal got the national exposure it wanted -- it just wasn't all it was cracked up to be. It puts me in mind of one of my favorite Oscar Wilde quotes: "There are only two tragedies in life: one is not getting what one wants; the other is getting it."

Firms get into the holiday spirit

'Tis the season for holiday parties, fa, la, la, la, la. It can also be a hard season for getting in touch with folks if you are a legal journalist. And an extremely busy season if you are a lawyer who concentrates his/her practice on DWI cases.

But be that as it may, it is also supposed to be the season of giving. And my colleague Dan Heilman has a piece in today's Minnesota Lawyer about some firms and organizations that, in the truest spirit of the holidays, endeavor to give back. (See "Beyond the potluck and fruitcake," password required.)

Examples of holiday largess cited in the article include:

-- Leonard Street and Deinhard's spaghetti luncheon for the homeless (done in conjunction with Catholic Charities) held in the Phillips neighborhood of Minneapolis;

-- Ramsey County Bar Association's "Santa Brings a Law Suit" program collecting and providing professional apparel for those who need it; and

-- Oppenheimer Wolff & Donnelly's efforts in conjunction with the Trinity Mission food shelf to provide holiday gifts to families that can't afford them.

Here at Minnesota Lawyer blog, we hope all our readers will take a long enough break from their billables to make someone's holiday season a little warmer. It doesn't take much. Sometimes just a random act of kindness will do.