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Friday, April 11, 2008

Dad acquitted in son's death from dog bite.

Zachary Zane King was acquitted today of second degree manslaughter in the death of his son, Zach Jr., who was bitten by the family pit bull. The verdict by Judge Kevin Burke is available here. Burke said that there was no evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that King knew that the dog was dangerous, as required by the statute under which he was charged.

ABA section launches consumer credit website

The American Bar Association Section of Business Law has launched safeborrowing.com -- a website designed to inform consumers about credit issues and increase financial literacy.

The site’s homepage has an eye-catching slogan: “Welcome to the place to stop before you shop.” Safeborrowing.com is a creation of the section’s Consumer Financial Services Committee. It offers free information to help borrowers better understand the risks and obligations of using consumer credit. It’s a comprehensive, single-source site that was developed to include content crossing the credit card, home financing, student loan and automobile lending industries. Specifically, safeborrowing.com provides tips on:

  • avoiding a foreclosure rescue scheme,
  • deciphering credit card disclosures, and
  • understanding the types of federal student loans available.

Additional site features include a glossary of terms, helpful points to consider and links to other resources.

With the downturn in the economy and the foreclosure crisis in full swing, many people are likely turning to credit cards and other high-interest loans to get them through. I would encourage people to check this website out before they sign up.

Should thousands of product-liability cases be wiped from court dockets?

One of the more eye-opening commentary pieces that has appeared in Minnesota Lawyer recently was one penned by Scott Smith of Halleland Lewis Nilan & Johnson. Smith, who defends manufacturers in product-liability cases, discussed a "loophole" in state law that allowed otherwise time-barred product-liability actions to be brought in Minnesota, even though the suits had no real connection with the state. Here is a taste of Smith's piece.

From May 2004 through the end of 2007, nearly 9,700 individual
plaintiffs commenced product liability actions in Minnesota’s state and federal
courts against nonresident corporate defendants. Amazingly, nearly 9,000 of
those plaintiffs also hail from outside Minnesota. Not one of those 9,000 bought
the alleged injury-causing product in Minnesota, was harmed in Minnesota, sought
medical treatment in Minnesota, or has any connection whatsoever with this
state. Nor was a single complained-of product manufactured here. Yet, for the
vast majority of these plaintiffs, Minnesota is their forum of choice for one
reason — their lawsuits are time-barred in their home states, indeed everywhere
else in the country, but not in the Land of 10,000 Lakes. (Click here to see Smith's full piece.)
The Minnesota Legislature amended the law to close the "loophole" that allowed this kind of forum shopping in 2007, but thousands of cases from before it was closed remain on the docket. Smith wants the Legislature to make the 2007 change retroactive, thereby wiping those cases from the docket and freeing up valuable court-time for more Minnesota-related matters.

It's an excellent argument that makes a lot of sense from a court-resources point of view, although no doubt the thousands of plaintiffs who are under the impression that their cases will be heard would be devastated. Any thoughts?

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Representative Simon deserves better than a disinformation campaign

If this blog had a "Profiles in Courage" award, I would without hesitation bestow it upon Rep. Steve Simon, DFL- St. Louis Park.

Simon's name has unfairly been dragged through the mud as of late as a direct result of his having the temerity to break ranks with his party and be the lone DFLer on the Legislative Audit Committee to call for a probe into what is going on in the Attorney General's Office. (Click here for details about the fallout from a recent e-mail sent to a number of DFL lawmakers implying that Simon's real motivation for calling for the investigation was a departmental transfer he received while he worked at the AG's Office.)

As has been recorded here in a numerous posts, the AG's Office has been rocked by more than a year of virtually nonstop staffing turmoil, including unusually high turnover and the alleged use of anti-union tactics. Three staff members publicly stepped forward with some of their concerns in a letter earlier this year. One of them has since been indefinitely suspended after making statements on the radio and in the blogosphere calling into question how AG Lori Swanson is running the office. The allegations include assertions of ethical and legal violations. And yet we are supposed to believe that the one DFL lawmaker brave enough to step forward and ask for a probe to look into these matters could only be doing so because he has an ax to grind?

MinnPost's G.R. Anderson, who attended the legislative hearing at which Simon took his bold stand, reported that the DFL lawmaker then explained his decision to call for a probe as follows: "The attorney general is the people's lawyer. I don't care if you're a Republican or a Democrat. It ought not to matter." Wise words indeed. (And let's not forget that that the auditor's investigation may actually clear Swanson of any legal or ethical violations.)

If, as the e-mail purports, Mike Hatch is in fact the spinmeister impugning Representative Simon's integrity, history provides a simple, yet elegant response to Mr. Hatch's political chicanery: "Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?"

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Local lawyers to argue tribal court jurisdiction case at U.S. High Court

This just in from the Minneapolis law firm of Lindquist & Vennum:

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case challenging the extent of tribal court jurisdiction over non-tribal members. Paul A. Banker and Robert V. Atmore of Lindquist & Vennum PLLP, who petitioned the high court on behalf of their client, Plains Commerce Bank of South Dakota, argue that the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction to adjudicate civil claims between tribal members and Plains Commerce Bank, which is not affiliated with the tribe.

The bank is seeking reversal of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision in Plains Commerce Bank v. Long Family Land & Cattle Company Inc, which held that the tribal court had jurisdiction over the bank.

Bike maker: LeMond "spoke" too loudly

Does working as a celebrity representative of a company mean you're obligated to say nothing but positive things about the industry that company serves?

That's the issue between Wisconsin bike maker Trek and former Tour de France winner (and Minnesota resident) Greg LeMond. Trek has sued to sever ties with LeMond, saying the brand has been weakened by his comments about such bike-racing controversies as the use of performance-enhancing drugs. Trek says his comments have caused sales of LeMond-endorsed Trek products to dwindle. Coincidentally, the Trek suit comes on the heels of a breach-of-contract suit filed against it last year by LeMond.

LeMond's lawyer says Trek should be glad he's advocating for integrity in the sport of biking. It sounds like both parties are crabby after a long winter and could use a nice, relaxing bike ride.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

AGO to get dueling reviews

Even with the preliminary legislative audit being performed at the state Attorney General's office, the AGO is going ahead with an independent review under the auspices of University of St. Thomas Law School dean Thomas Mengler (on right).

AGO spokesman Benjamin Watson said Mengler's investigation is going on in tandem with that of Legislative Auditor James Nobles, but declined to say how long it would take or what Mengler would be trying to determine.

Nobles decided late last month to begin what he called a preliminary investigation of "any sort of inappropriate, unethical, illegal activity" in the AG's office, also reserving the right to launch a more elaborate probe at a later date.

Is the AGO bringing in Mengler in the hopes that he'll paint a sunnier picture than Nobles? It would be interesting to compare the two reviews once they're completed.

Legal aid presents "Masters of the Courtroom"

There’s an outstanding CLE opportunity coming our way in conjunction with the 27th Annual Law Day Testimonial Dinner. Not only that, but it’s an opportunity to contribute to a worthy cause, The Legal Aid Society, since the tuition will be donated to it.

“Masters of the Courtroom” will be presented on Thursday May 1 and offers six CLE credits for $350 with a faculty consisting entirely of Fellows of the American College of Trial Lawyers. The combined value of jury verdicts and settlements obtained by the faculty exceeds $10 billion. In approximately the last 12 months, the presenters have obtained jury verdicts of $131 million, $52 million, $30 million and a number of settlements well in excess of eight figures.

It will be followed by the law day dinner, featuring Tom Goldstein, co-head of the Supreme Court Practice Group at Akin Gump in Washington D.C. and author of the SCOTUSBLOG.

A matter of retention

Nick Coleman has a column about the recent knock-down, drag-out election wrangling that occurred over a seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court. ("Dead fish may be stinky, but this judge's race smells worse.") As we blogged before, the ugly race in our sister state has become the poster child for judicial-election reform here.

Coleman correctly points out in his column that the Legislature appears poised not to act on the reform issue this session. Even if, mirabile visu, lawmakers did vote in favor of the Quie Commission's proposal to switch to retention elections for judges, the change could not possibly occur in time for the upcoming judicial elections.

While bar leaders do their best to present the image of a unified bar supporting the retention route,a group of trial court judges have steadfastly declined to join in the tea party. For example, in a highly unusual move, four trial court judges from four different counties recently sent a joint letter to the editor to Minnesota Lawyer opposing retention elections. (The letter was published late last month.) Here are a couple of excerpts:

The proposed retention-election system puts both the selection and retention of sitting judges in the hands of a very small, elite group, appointed by only two people — the governor and the chief justice of our Supreme Court. Citizens should remain justly suspicious of power exercised by a few. ...

Minnesotans and our governors together have demonstrated, time and time again, their ability to choose responsibly those who hold judicial office. That right should not be compromised by a system that does not address the very concerns of all who wish to preserve a fair and impartial judiciary.
In fact, the retention-election proposal remains fairly unpopular among many of the state's trial court bench. If the bar truly wants to present a unified picture to the Legislature, it's going to have to find a way to sell the plan better to those judges. Right now, the only thing a lot of them appear interested in retaining is their opposition to retention elections.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Back from the summit

I spent most of last week in Arizona for the 4th annual Dolan Media Editorial Summit. It is basically an idea exchange and series of educational programs designed to make sure Dolan Media content providers are providing our readers with the best products possible. I took back a few ideas, which hopefully will lead to making our print and electronic offerings even better.

I am pleased to report that this blog was recognized with a second place Dolan Media "Sammy Award," meaning it was designated as the second best blog in the ever-expanding chain of Dolan Media-owned information platforms. (First place honors went to LI Biz blog, which is administered by our sister publication, Long Island Business News.) We'd like to thank you, our readers, who have been an integral part of making the Minnesota Lawyer blog a success in its inaugural year.

How about a management audit?

We just passed the one-year anniversary of the day (April 5, 2007) when three top deputies and one administrator at the office of then-U.S. Attorney Rachel Paulose stepped down from their leadership posts in protest of her management style. It's an interesting milestone to reach as we await the results of a preliminary investigation by the legislative auditor into what's going on at the Minnesota Attorney General's Office, where similar issues regarding management style have been raised.

Of course, that's not what the auditor is looking into. His investigation is limited to determining whether there is any basis to allegations that AG Lori Swanson committed any ethical or legal lapses in how she has run the office. The narrow focus was designed to show respect for the wide discretion public officials -- particularly elected ones -- are afforded in managing their own offices.

Because the standard for ethical and legal violations is fairly high, it is not an unlikely result that the auditor will find that none exist. If that happens, it would be taken by some as a "clean bill of health" for the AG's Office, even though the underlying management-related concerns would continue to fester. That is unfortunate.

If I had my druthers, there would be a managerial boot camp or some sort of roving advisor who could counsel people such as Swanson or Paulose who, depite their intelligence and work ethic, run into difficulties managing a major public office. It's easy when you're locked into a combative management situation to lose sight of the forest for the trees. An outside perspective would be very helpful.