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Friday, June 13, 2008

Conventional wisdom (MSBA style)

The Minnesota State Bar Association is holding its annual convention in Duluth on Sunday through Tuesday -- and it looks to be a good one this year. (Click here for a Minnesota Lawyer article previewing it.)

The Minnesota Lawyer editorial staff will be on hand -- perhaps even posting updates on this blog if we find the time ... If you are going, make sure you drop by our booth and say, "Hey," or tap us on the shoulder at one of the events and give us your input and story ideas.

And, if you haven't registered yet, here's the link to give you one last chance.

Dorsey & Whitney does it again

It’s Friday the 13th -- believed by many of the superstitious among us to be an unlucky day. Not so for Dorsey & Whitney, who this morning announced that for the 8th year in a row, it has been named the best corporate law firm in Minneapolis.

The rather high distinction came from a survey by “Corporate Board Member” magazine. The annual Legal Industry Research Study, sponsored by global business-advisory firm FTI Consulting, identifies the top five corporate law firms in 25 major metropolitan areas, according to directors serving on boards of publicly traded companies listed with the NASDAQ Stock Market, New York Stock Exchange, or American Stock Exchange. Respondents were asked to select the firms they would most likely choose for legal work on a broad range of corporate issues.

“Because this recognition is based on client opinion, we are thrilled to be named Best Corporate Law Firm in Minneapolis for the eighth consecutive year,” said Dorsey's managing partner, Marianne Short (pictured at right). The full survey results are available here.

A fee for all

As some commenters point out on an earlier post, a Hennepin County jury yesterday awarded $1.6 million to a lawyer, Brian Williams, who sued his old firm, Heins Mills & Olson in Minneapolis, over how it divided a massive fee.

The firm collected a $103 million fee in a securities fraud case, of which firm partners Sam Heins and Stacey Mills (who are also husband and wife) pocketed collectively $80 million. Williams, who already received $4.5 million, sought more from both his ex-firm and former partners Heins and Mills. The jury sided with Williams.

Both sides tried to spin the result their way. The lawyer for the firm pointed out that Williams sought much more than $1.5 million he got. However, any case where an individual walks away with more than $1 million is hard not to score as a win for the plaintiff.

We have not covered this case much -- primarily because the Strib has been on top of it like white on rice. (So much so that that the judge actually postponed the trial at one point due to the "unflattering" publicity.) Here's a link to the Strib story on the verdict.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Strange days indeed

It's been an odd kind of news day. The chief judge of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is publicly busted for posting sexually explicit material on his personal website, and the U.S. Supreme Court finds that Guantanamo Bay detainees have rights. They say things happen in threes. Can't wait to see what's next in this series ...

New chief to reveal position on judicial-election reform

State of the Judiciary addresses delivered by chief justices at the Minnesota State Bar Association's annual meeting are typically fairly vanilla affairs. The formula usually goes something like this:

-- Thanks for having me;
-- [insert joke and/or self-deprecating, yet heartwarming tale here];
-- Independence of the judiciary is important;
-- Court funding is inadequate;
-- Access to the justice system for poor people remains an issue;
-- Thanks again for having me --- and go do some pro bono!

However, with a new chief, this year promises to be different. At a meeting with Minnesota Lawyer earlier today at the Minnesota Judicial Center, state Supreme Court Chief Justice Eric Magnuson said he plans to make a much-anticipated announcement -- his view of judicial-election reform efforts in Minnesota -- during his speech next Tuesday at the MSBA's annual convention in Duluth.

Magnuson's predecessor, Russell Anderson, advocated switching the state's judicial elections from a contested-election system to a retention-election system. The retention-election approach -- recommended by a special blue-ribbon citizens' commission headed by former Gov. Al Quie -- has the support of the MSBA. Proponents claim the change is needed to stop judicial races from becoming the big-money, nasty and highly politicized affairs they have grown into in some states. Opponents counter that retention elections are an elitist approach designed to keep judges from obtaining a seat on the bench via the ballot box.

So which camp is Magnuson in? The legal community has been wanting to know since his appointment was announced. We'll apparently get our answer Tuesday in Duluth. Meanwhile, the smart money is on Magnuson coming out in support of retention elections. What better place for the new chief to reveal that his view is in accord with the State Bar's than at the State Bar's annnual convention?

By the way, there's still time to sign up for the convention and see Magnuson make his revelation live and in person.

Slieter faces opponent in Renville County

Assistant Renville County Attorney Glen Jacobsen has advised Minnesota Lawyer that he is running for judge in the Eighth Judicial District against incumbent Renville County Judge Randall Slieter. It’s nothing personal about the judge, Jacobsen says, but just a difference in philosophy. Jacobsen is running a “tough on crime” campaign, saying current law and procedures don’t address criminal behavior appropriately. Jacobsen says he believes in more than a slap on the wrist for criminals. Slieter, who could not be reached for comment, was appointed to the bench by Gov. Arne Carlson in 1994.

Gifts for dad

Of course you know this already, but Sunday is Father's Day.

Before you absent-mindedly wander into a department store for socks or a tie, check out GQ’s Men's Style Blog for a link to gift ideas for the handyman, outdoorsman, gadgetman and every other type of dad out there.

As for me, I'm giving dad the Daily Power Pack for Men — vitamins, minerals and gender-specific botanicals for optimal health and energy. I know it's not the same as that Craftsman lawn tractor he wants, but a mower doesn't say, "I want you to stick around for a long, long time."

Happy Father's Day!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Boorish, maybe; discriminatory, no

Is it necessarily discriminatory to ask a female subordinate to perform tasks such as serving coffee? A Pennsylvania U.S. District Court judge says no.

Tamara Klopfenstein was fired from her job as a receptionist and data entry clerk after she refused to get coffee for the men in the office. Judge Berle M. Schiller denied her Title VII sexual harassment claim, saying there's nothing inherhently sexist about requiring workers to serve coffee, even if that task usually falls to women.

"The act of getting coffee is not, by itself, a gender-specific act," Schiller wrote. "...In the context of other indicators of sexism, getting coffee could evince a discriminatory intent. However, the record is barren of any such supporting evidence in this case."

So, old-school bosses, keep asking for that coffee. But invite your "girl" to take dictation from your lap at your own risk.

On mortgage foreclosures, Swanson gets an 'A+'

Despite the internal strife that has gripped the Minnesota Attorney General's Office, AG Lori Swanson made an impressive showing in a report that ACORN released this week ranking state AGs' efforts fighting mortgage foreclosures.

Swanson was one of six state AGs who got an "A+" from the grassroots community group. The other state AGs getting the highest ranking were from Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, Illinois and Iowa.

Management controversies don't always translate to bad external performance by an office. It's worth recalling that despite the turbulence in the local U.S. Attorney's Office last year, it was reported that the office managed to set a productivity record under Rachel Paulose.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Voted out, Holter's efforts to sit on cases brought to a halt

Our readers in the 9th Judicial District no doubt recall Judge Terrence Holter, one of handful of local judges who have actually managed to lose their seat in an election challenge. Holter was defeated in 2006 by his former law clerk, John Melbye.

Holter subsequently applied to (now former) Chief Justice Russell Anderson to sit on cases by designation as a “retired judge.” (As a means of dealing with resource issues, state law allows the chief justice to appoint retired judges to preside over individual cases.) Anderson, who knew Holter for many years as both a fellow Bemidji lawyer and a fellow 9th District judge, denied the request, concluding that such an appointment would be inappropriate under the circumstances. As was chronicled by City Pages last April, Holter was pretty upset at being spurned by the chief. (See "Judgment call: A former judge accuses retiring Supreme Court Chief Justice Russell Anderson of playing politics.")

A Bemidji couple -- Nick and Patricia Gould -- sought assurances from the state high court that Holter would never get such an appointment. With a new chief coming in, they were worried that Holter’s request would fall on more receptive ears.

Fear not, was essentially the message they got from the high court shortly before Eric Magnuson was sworn in as the 21st chief justice.

“[T]he policy of chief justices has been not to appoint judges who have lost elections to serve as retired judges. Chief Justice-designate Magnuson has indicated he will follow the policy when he assumes office,” wrote Supreme Court Commissioner Richard Slowes in a letter dated May 28.

Nick Gould is happy with the response, but not 100 percent happy. “There ought to be a written policy stating that if you get voted out of office, you don’t get to sit on any more cases,” he said.

Another candidate for judge--Cory Tennison

The race for Judge John Finley's open seat on the Ramsey County bench is gathering momentum. Minnesota Lawyer has heard today from another possible candidate, Assistant Scott County Attorney Cory Tennison. Tennison, who lives in St. Paul, ran against Susan Gaertner for Ramsey County attorney and also is considering running for that spot again, he said. (Gaertner has announced that she will run for governor.) On the other hand, vacant spots on the bench don't come along everyday, and Tennison is thinking things over.

Gail Chang Bohr announces run for judge

Minnesota Lawyer just got a call from another judicial candidate, Gail Chang Bohr, who is the executive director of the Children’s Law Center in St. Paul. Bohr has been the director of CLC since 1995 and wants to expand her work on behalf of children to the Ramsey County bench. “I believe I can work for children in more expansive ways on the bench,” Bohr said. She will seek the open seat being vacated by Judge John Finley.

Dawkins, Iverson may run for judge

As reported here yesterday, Howard Orenstein announced his candidacy for the Ramsey County bench and Paul Godfrey said “maybe.” Now two more possible candidates for the Ramsey County bench have thrown their hats in the air if not exactly into the ring.

Ramsey County Assistant Public Defender Connie Iverson said that she has been approached about running for judge and plans to seriously consider it after checking out the details. Iverson, a managing attorney, has served with the PD’s office since 1992 except for a two-year stint with the former St. Paul firm of Doherty, Rumble and Butler.

Minneapolis attorney and former state representative Andy Dawkins also said that he will be starting this weekend to put together a campaign committee. “What a real opportunity. It would be great to be on the bench,” Dawkins told Minnesota Lawyer. He has been serving as a part-time child support magistrate in Hennepin County for the last two years and is of counsel at the firm Mansfield, Tanick and Cohen. Dawkins served in the Legislature from 1987-2002. He also served in the Mayor Randy Kelly’s administration as Director of Neighborhood Improvement.

Does the Intoxilyzer pass the smell test?

An interesting twist on the Intoxilyzer debate reported in the Pioneer Press today:

Charles A. Ramsay, a DUI defense attorney, on Monday released a copy of
what he calls the "smoking gun" e-mail from a BCA toxicologist to Intoxilyzer
5000 manufacturer CMI Inc. of Owensboro, Ky.

The e-mail, dated Sept. 27, 2006, indicates that the Intoxilyzer "on
occasion" printed out different blood-alcohol readings than what it displayed on
its screen and that the amount of air required to provide a breath sample varied
depending upon the version of software running the machine.

As the article goes on to note that defense lawyers throughout the state have attacked the admission of the results of the Intoxilyzer 5000 because of the manufacturer's refusal to provide the source code in response to discovery requests. Defense lawyers have met with mixed results with the source code argument in the trial courts, with some judges excluding the results and others not.

The Court of Appeals recently issued an opinion putting the onus on defense lawyers to show that providing them with the source code would help their clients. The state Supreme Court has yet to address the issue.

The Attorney General's Office has filed a federal lawsuit to obtain a copy of the source code. But Ramsey, who, along with other DWI defense attorneys seeks to intervene in the suit, is skeptical. He referred to the AGO's efforts to get the code as "lackluster" in a press release sent to Minnesota Lawyer.

Monday, June 9, 2008

ABA accredits its 200th law school

In the "are there too many lawyers' category, I submit for your approval the fact that the American Bar Association just granted provisional accreditation to a North Carolina law school, making it the 200th ABA-accredited law school in the nation.

For the math challenged among you, that averages out to four law schools per state, which is exactly the number that we have here in the Gopher State.

The lucky new ABA-accredited law school is the Elon University School of Law in Greensboro. The school's third class of students will enroll this fall.

“We are especially proud of our focus on leadership and the opportunities our students have to interact with people who have a legacy of civic involvement and community service,” says founding dean
Leary Davis in a press release received by Minnesota Lawyer today.

That's all very well and good, but the bigger question is: Will the school's students be able to land jobs when they get out? The jury's still out on that one.

Howard Orenstein will run for judge in Ramsey County; Godfrey is a 'maybe'

Former State Rep. Howard Orenstein announced today that he would seek the seat on the Ramsey County bench soon to be vacated by Judge John T. Finley. Additionally, St. Paul lawyer Paul Godfrey told Minnesota Lawyer he would “probably” run for the seat.

Godfrey ran for judge in 2006 but was defeated in a primary battle with incumbent Elena Ostby and former St. Paul City Council member Jay Benanav. Ostby then defeated Benanav in the general election.

Orenstein, who served 10 years in the Minnesota House of Representatives from 1986 to 1996, has already assembled a campaign committee chaired by former St. Paul Mayor George Latimer.

Orenstein, 52, has been a practicing attorney in Minnesota for 24 years. He currently serves as an assistant county attorney in Hennepin County, and has also been a partner at Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi. Orenstein also served as a Distinguished Adjunct Professor of Law at Hamline University.

Since 2005, Orenstein has been volunteer chair of the board of the Saint Paul Public Schools Foundation. He is also on the Board of Directors for the Metropolitan State University Foundation; the Edgcumbe Youth Hockey Association, where he has coached youth hockey for 14 years; and the Saint Paul Conservatory for Performing Artists.

While in the Minnesota House, Orenstein served for ten years on the Judiciary Committee, and he also chaired the Civil Law Subcommittee and served on the Judiciary Finance Committee.

Generation Y can study for the bar exam via iPod

I remember back when I was studying for the bar way back in the ancient days when you had only two choices for bar review courses -- go to the "live" lectures or watch the group videos in a classroom full of other recent law school grads. My alma mater -- Boston College Law School -- only provided a video option. In order to attend the "live" lectures, I would have had to have commuted to Boston University School of Law. Because it was more convenient to attend the classes at BC, I settled for spending the month of June watching the video replays with about 100 to 150 other students in a sweltering unairconditioned classroom on the BC campus.

Bar review courses such as BarBri now offer an iPod option. That's right, you can sit at a library carrel, at your desk at home or even by a lake and listen on your iPod to an instructor drone on about adverse possession or the elements of a tort. It'll just be you and Arthur Miller (or whatever other notable law professor is doing the reading of that day's lesson). For convenience, you can't beat it.

Yet I can't help feeling like something might be lost doing it that way. (And I'm trying not to sound too much like crotchety "60 Minutes" commentator Andy Rooney when I say this.) While sitting in the summer heat under the florescent bulbs of a classroom was a less than ideal way to spend an early summer, it was an experience that built camaraderie -- a sort of boot camp for lawyers-to-be. When you graduated law school, you knew you'd see many of your friends at those courses. After a sizzling hot day of torts, you might grab a bite to eat or a drink with your fellow students and commiserate about the grainy video you just watched on mens rea. Attending the classes together also encouraged students to study together rather than on their own. Spitballing ideas and concepts back and forth was a great way to learn.

While the undeniable convenience of the iPod may one day relegate the shared bar-review class to the dustbin of history (along with analog TV), I hope recent law alums will continue to have the good sense to make at least some portion of their bar-exam study a communal activity. There's something to be said for socializing and breaking bread together as you crack the books. You can't split a pizza via text message.