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Friday, February 1, 2008

Wapner writes about winning

Remember Judge Wapner?

He is, perhaps, the most famous judge in American history -- at least American television history. Joseph A. Wapner was the first presiding judge of the real-life courtroom-style television show “The People's Court,” which aired 2,484 episodes between 1981 and 1993.

We haven’t heard much from the former TV personality lately. (In fact, Wapner’s lack of recent publicity has landed him on the “Dead or Alive Info” website, where Internet surfers can go to find out when or if a once-famous -- or at least semi-famous -- person has passed away.)
It appears that the now 88-year-old jurist is alive and well, having just launched his new book, “The Secrets to Winning in Small Claims Court.”
On a website touting the tome, Wapner says: “I have presided over thousands of court cases, and over the years I have seen litigants make some colossal mistakes and major blunders. Don’t let that happen to you. This book will take you through the process in an easy to understand, step by step basis so that you will have the best chance to present your side of the story and your evidence in a clear, concise manner.”

The judge says the lessons can apply to both plaintiffs and defendants, and also help to keep people out of Small Claims Court in the future.

At $9.99 I am sure it’s a bargain! And who knows, it might make for some interesting rainy Saturday-afternoon reading.

Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights changes its name

Effective today, Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights has changed its name to The Advocates for Human Rights.

Although its name has changed, its "mission to promote and protect human rights locally, nationally, and internationally will remain the same," the group said in a press release sent out yesterday.

We shall, of course, miss having our state as part of this worthy group's name, but, given the international nature of what it does, the name change makes sense. Fortunately, the group formerly known as the Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights will continue to be based here and do excellent work locally.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

UST Law is fixin' to discuss the topic of Nixon

Good news for local lawyers and law students: You will soon have Nixon to kick around again!

OK, OK, it's actually the topic of Watergate that will be kicked around at a forum at the University of St. Thomas School of Law this April -- but that doesn't make nearly as interesting a lead in, does it? The program is titled, "Watergate revisited: The ethics of lawyers."

UST snagged John Dean as one of the panelists. (Dean was counsel to Nixon, for those of you who only recall Watergate as the place where Monica Lewinsky lived.)

The event will be held on Wednesday, April 2 from 4 to 6:15 p.m. in the Schulze Grand Atrium of UST Law located between 11th and 12th and LaSalle Avenue and Harmon Place in downtown Minneapolis. Admission is $25 for the program ($75 if you want the two CLE credits). Students are admitted free. Reservations required in advance.

For more details, click here.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The AGO unionization flap: Can we talk?

We had a laugh yesterday afternoon at Minnesota Lawyer’s offices. When we put a poll on our main website asking voters whether we thought the attorneys at Minnesota’s Attorney General’s office should be allowed to unionize, votes soon started trickling – and then flooding – in, as people on both sides of the issue frantically clicked the “yes” and “no” options. (The anti-union folks seem to have been much busier.)

The response demonstrated (take your pick) A) the passionate feelings this issue stirs; B) the silly lengths that some on both sides will go to in order to make their point.

We’ve covered this story to some length, but a year after it first emerged, the basic facts remain the same: AFSCME wants to form a union in the AG’s office, the AGO is digging in its heels, lots of lawyers (about one-third) have left the AGO, and morale in the office is bad and getting no better.

In the meantime, we’ve gotten numerous anonymous communications from pro-union folks (both on this blog and via e-mail) about the heavy-handed tactics that continue to be used against AGO employees, but little of substance around which to build a story that wouldn’t be one-sided and full of unsubstantiated speculation.

At the same time, the AGO is as uncooperative with us as it is with other media outlets, refusing to return calls and failing to follow through on Data Practices Act requests. Lori Swanson and her loyalists seem all too happy to see this story go unreported, even if means pushing ethical boundaries. And current and former AGO employees who could potentially contribute to the story are either unwilling to speak for attribution or have a pro-union axe to grind.

That puts us and other outlets in a bind, because while there might still be a story to be told at the AGO, most of what we’ve heard is hearsay, and we can’t use hearsay. We have all the Deep Throats we need on this one.

If there truly is more to be told, we hope a few people from both sides of this issue will drop their cloak of anonymity and let us know.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Voters want to vote on judges

A St. Paul Pioneer Press poll reports the unsurprising news that Minnesotans don’t want to be disenfranchised from selecting judges. It also found that Minnesotans would favor switching to a retention-election system, which is consistent with the recommendation of the Quie Commission’s majority.

A retention system has also received a qualified endorsement from the Minnesota State Bar Association. By a narrow margin, the MSBA voted in favor of switching to an appointment system, but also endorsed retention elections as the "next best" choice.

Interestingly, the PiPress reports that the survey is being released just weeks before the Legislature is scheduled to consider a constitutional amendment that would make judges subject to periodic retention elections.

It’s not my job to disrespect my colleagues, but the Legislature doesn’t go into session until Feb. 12 and the only scheduled “consideration” of judicial elections is a joint meeting on Feb. 4 of the Senate committees on the judiciary, judiciary budget and state and local government operations and oversight. The latter committee is chaired by Sen. Ann Rest, DFL-New Hope. Rest's administrator, Brenda Shafer-Pellinen, reports that the meeting is the only currently scheduled judicial election related event. The list of speakers at the meeting is not yet final, but should be available by the end of the week, Shafer-Pellinen said.

Most Legislature-watchers don’t expect a constitutional amendment to come out of this session.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Is there a right to a jury-waived trial?

One of the more interesting debates going on in Minnesota Lawyer right now is if the state should have a say in whether or not a defendant gets a jury waived-trial. So far, we have published two letters on the issue from Minnesota State Public Defender John Stuart and one from Stearns County Attorney Janelle P. Kendall, the president-elect of the Minnesota County Attorneys Association.

Depending upon how you want to frame the issue, the question is whether:
-- the defendant should have the right to a trial without a jury; or
-- the state should have a right to a trial with a jury.

Right now, defendants can waive juries in favor of having a judge decide their case without regard to how the prosecutor may feel about it. The MCAA recently announced that it plans to lobby for a law change requiring the prosecutor to sign off on such waivers, sparking the recent spate of letter writing.

It's an interesting issue -- and one that both defenders and prosecutors obviously feel very strongly about.