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Friday, May 23, 2008

New chief gets 'deep thoughts' from former chief

Incoming Minnesota Supreme Court Chief Justice Eric Magnuson made some insightful remarks at yesterday’s 89th annual Hennepin County Bar Association meeting. (Magnuson will assume the role of top jurist on June 1, when the current chief justice, Russell Anderson, retires.)

Magnuson spent some time discussing the importance of maintaining the independence of the state’s judiciary, as well as the budget shortfall that will affect the courts, attorneys and their clients.

On a less serious note, the incoming chief told a story about his friend and mentor, former Minnesota Supreme Court Chief Justice Doug Amdahl. He said that Amdahl was thrilled when he discovered that Magnuson was going to head the state’s highest court and stressed how much he was going to enjoy it.

Said Amdahl with enthusiasm: “It’s the greatest job in the world and you’ll love every minute of it! And when you’re done, you’ll say ‘Hell, I’ll never do that again!’”

It was a joke to be sure, but isn’t there a saying about “truth in jest?”

Undoubtedly, leading the state’s court system, even in prosperous times, is a tough job. So heading the judiciary now -- when money is in short supply and the state could be facing politically charged judicial elections later this year -- will surely be an immense challenge.

I, for one, feel confident that Magnuson is up for the job.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Ban the boot?

I've made my share of trips to the impound lot, but I've never suffered the indignity of being booted.

Hopefully, I never will. Minneapolis officials are considering a ban on those brightly colored wheel clamps. Complaints from motorists range from improper booting to slow removal. The booters argue it's an effective way to enforce parking restrictions.

After hearing testimony from both sides of the issue, a proposal to ban wheel clamps was forwarded to the city attorney's office for further review.

I wonder if the city attorney will be pondering this question: When parked on private property, is booting tantamount to misdemeanor tampering with a motor vehicle?

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Public defenders face losing 61 more lawyers

The public defenders in Minnesota have been hit hard by the Legislature which cut their budget by $1.5 million dollars for FY 2009. It looks as if a serious number of attorneys will lose their jobs, and that doesn’t bode well for any judges or litigants—there will be systemic delays throughout the court system if the criminal calendar gets backed up.

In a press release issued today, the Board of Public Defense said that by the start of the fiscal year the board will have 98 fewer attorneys than it should and a $4.7 million deficit. It now has 19 vacant attorney positions, 18 jobs that have been authorized but not filled, and 17 staff vacancies. The board said another 61 FTE attorney positions will have to be eliminated. That amounts to 14.5 percent of the 421 FTE attorneys now employed. Lawyers in private law firms should consider how they would cope with losing 14 percent of their lawyers.

Environmental advocates claim win in taconite case

The Minnesota Court of Appeals yesterday upheld the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency's denial of an application by Northshore Mining Co. to relax an air quality standard at its taconite plant in Silver Bay.

That standard, known as a control-city standard, states that asbestos levels in the air in Silver Bay can't be any higher than those normally found in a control city, which in this case is St. Paul.

A federal judge in December also let the standard stand in the face of an appeal by Northshore.

The court wrote that processing the ore used at the Silver Bay plant "results in the release of asbestos fibers that may be dangerous to human health," the appeals court wrote in its decision. Northshore insisted that the mineral released is not the same thing as asbestos fibers. The court also said the Northshore was trying to "eliminate a substantive monitoring requirement" and that the company had failed to demonstrate that the control-city standard is obsolete.

Child's brain injury results in $15.35M settlement in Illinois

A $15.35 million medical malpractice settlement was reached Tuesday for an Illinois woman whose infant son suffered a brain injury at a community hospital. Click here to read the full article.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Davis lets cases go forward; Tunheim says DOJ must join settlement conference

There’s been a flurry of rulings sent to Minnesota Lawyer from the U.S. District Court recently.

In Sierra Club North Star Chapter v. Peters, et al., Judge Michael Davis allowed to stand a lawsuit concerning the bridge near Oak Park Heights that would cross the Lower St. Croix River. The Sierra Club has said that the project violates an alphabet soup of environmental protection laws and the lawsuit will go forward at this time.

Davis also ruled in favor of 3M Company in a lawsuit against Moldex-Metric over four patents directed to valved respirator masks, construing the claims as requested by 3M or assigning them their plain meaning.

The judge also denied a defense motion for summary judgment in a hostile work environment and constructive discharge lawsuit brought by a former Cook County jail administrator.

Furthermore, Judge John Tunheim recently told the U.S. Attorney’s Office that it had to provide an assistant attorney general from the Department of Justice to participate in a settlement conference concerning the wrongful death of Randy Scott. Scott died in a motor vehicle collision with former Rep. William Janklow in 2003. Previous attempts to settle the case have been unavailing due in part to the cap on the U.S. attorney’s settlement authority, Tunheim wrote. A magistrate judge ordered the participation of an assistant attorney general, and the government appealed, saying the order interfered with the justice department’s authority. Tunheim affirmed the magistrate judge.

Bitter 3L responds, still bitter

Our regular blog readers may remember a commenter using the name "Bitter 3L" who told us he/she that was a third-year student at the University of Minnesota Law School who could not find a post-graduation job. Some of you responded to 3L's post, offering such comments as law students have no right to expect their school to provide them with a job, and they should not anticipate landing a six-figure salary upon graduation.

After a hiatus, Bitter 3L has responded to some of those earlier comments. Since you may not be in the habit of going back and checking old posts for comments, I have excerpted 3L's response and provide it below. (You can find the comments 3L is responding to and his/her full response by clicking here.)

Never in my post did I mention that I expected to start off with a six
figure salary. I took out 100k grand in student debt to attend law school. Part
of my decision to attend the University of Minnesota Law School was based on its
employment statistics. When you publish 99% employment, in spite of the truth
being very different, as a student I have the right to be bitter.Most of my
classmates have comparable debt loads. You simply can't pay off that much debt
in ten years on a 45k salary. It can't be done. Education costs have been rising
in this country at a rate far higher than inflation. …

I have been searching [for] a job, any job for over a year. I have applied at jobs throughout the country. So have many of my classmates. I don't expect the University to get me a job. I do expect though that it will promote itself properly. Outside of the Upper Midwest, employers don't even realize that an incoming class as the U is academically comparable to Vanderbilt. That's the law school's fault.

If the University published honest career statistics, I know many
of my classmates would never have attended. I can't understand why people feel
that anger at the law school system is unjustified. When you blatantly lie to
your prospective consumers, and they destroy their lives as a result, you
deserve anger.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Moorhead, mandatory retirement and slavery

I was in beautiful Moorhead, Minn., last Friday for the Seventh District Bar Association's annual meeting, which was held at the Hjemkomst Center. (Please don't ask me to pronounce the center's name, but it's the place that has the cool replica Viking ship.)

It looked to be a decent turn out in what is one of the most geographically expansive districts (stretching all the way from Moorhead to St. Cloud). The meeting even featured a guest appearance by none other than Minnesota Court of Appeals Judge Edward Toussaint Jr., who noted that the court has been keeping pretty busy with a heavy caseload and, despite the recent addition of a new three-judge panel, is currently down three judges.

One of the more interesting moments came when Minnesota State Bar Association President-Elect Michael Ford (photo above) started discussing some issues he will make priorities during his upcoming tenure as bar president. Never one to be skittish about such things, Ford soon waded into the controversial subject of mandatory retirement. He noted some law firms force partners to retire at 70, notwithstanding how much they still might have to offer. It's a practice Ford strongly opposes. He also pointed out the state has the same forced-retirement policy with judges -- a practice that has resulted in the state losing some very able jurists, such as John Simonett, who still have a good decade or more to offer when they are forced off the bench.

Ford pointed out that some view the mandatory retirement of judges as a pruning mechanism to get rid of judges who are on auto-pilot after years on the bench or who maybe should never have been appointed to the bench in the first place. He compared such arguments to economic arguments made favoring slavery during the 1800s. Presumably Ford's point was that even if an unfair and immoral practice arguably has a utilitarian purpose, that does not justify the practice. The better practice would be, of course, to find a way to get rid of the bad apples rather than sweeping away all judges over the age of 69.

Ford acknowledged that some would view the slavery-argument comparison as controversial, but also pointed out that he is not one to hold his tongue (which, as he himself noted, could make for an interesting year for the State Bar). In any event, Ford, a St. Cloud attorney, was well-received by the crowd from his home district, which he affectionately refers to as "The Mighty 7th."

Bar hails chief at retirement party last Thursday

A good representative crowd from the local legal community turned out to bid a fond adieu to retiring Minnesota Supreme Court Chief Justice Russell Anderson at the Marriott City Center last Thursday. The retirement party was sponsored by the Minnesota State Bar Association. Most of the state's biggest law firms purchased their own tables at the dinner event to say goodbye to the chief, whose retirement becomes official on June 1.

The highlights included a video presentation from Justice Alan Page, who was in New York City for a previously scheduled commitment. It seems the chief did not give his associate justices enough warning of his retirement to make sure that their calendars were clear for his party. (How very Scandinavian of him!)

Speaking of associate justices at the event, MSBA President Brian Melendez garnered a few laughs when he pointed out during his remarks that Justice G. Barry Anderson had told him he would not stay for Melendez's remarks unless he was given "equal time." In addition to being MSBA president, Melendez is of course, the chair of the state's DFL. Barry Anderson, on the other hand, was active in the state's Republican Party prior to joining the bench, serving as its lawyer for 10 years. After reiterating Barry Anderson's quip, Melendez called out for the justice -- and, sure enough, he had, in fact, actually left.

When Chief Justice Russell Anderson got up to make his remarks after Melendez spoke, he drew laughter when he assured the crowd that Barry Anderson had left to avoid hearing his remarks, not Melendez's.

The chief justice had a few good zingers -- including taking longtime State Court Administrator Sue Dosal to task for spreading around his best stories so he couldn't tell them. Perhaps it was just a coincidence, but earlier in the evening, while Dosal was making her goodbye remarks to the chief and sharing some of those very same stories, a technology glitch caused the microphone to cut out ...