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Friday, August 1, 2008

From small ACORNs, great votes grow

Remember the mini-flap over the settlement terms of a lawsuit the Minnesota Attorney General’s office filed against Capital One Bank? Buried in the June report on the AGO by Legislative Auditor James Nobles was the revelation that the suit (filed by then-AG Mike Hatch) was settled for $749,999. If the case had settled for a dollar more, the money would have gone into the general fund for the Legislature to distribute.

About a third of that amount ($249,999 -- there are those nines again) went to Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), a nonprofit that calls itself the nation's largest community organization of low- and moderate-income families.

If you haven’t heard much of ACORN, you might soon. The group was the focus of a story in the Wall Street Journal that reported that aside from its well-known housing advocacy efforts, ACORN is active in voter mobilization efforts. ACORN is co-managing a $15.9 million campaign with the group Project Vote to register 1.2 million low-income Hispanics and African-Americans, the WSJ article says.

Republicans are crying foul, saying that funds from the $5 billion housing bill will indirectly end up in the coffers of groups like ACORN, which, they feel, have a clear Democratic tilt.

Incidentally, after the Capital One settlement and subsequent distribution of funds, ACORN’s political action committee later endorsed Hatch in his gubernatorial bid. I guess in legal terminology that would qualify as your basic quid pro quo.

Bill would limit immunity for medical device makers

Legislation was introduced in the U.S. Senate today that would make it more difficult for medical device manufacturers to claim immunity from lawsuits.

According to a press release from the American Association for Justice, the bill, The Medical Device and Safety Act, is a response to the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Riegel v. Medtronic.

In that case, Charles Riegel and his wife, petitioner Donna Riegel, brought suit against Medtronic after a Medtronic catheter ruptured in Charles’ coronary artery during heart surgery. The catheter is a Class III device that received FDA premarket approval. The Riegels alleged that the device was designed, labeled, and manufactured in a manner that violated New York common law.

The Supreme Court, affirming both a federal District Court judge and the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, found that the pre-emption clause in the Medical Device Amendments Act of 1976 bars common-law claims challenging the safety or effectiveness of a medical device marketed in a form that received pre-market approval from the FDA.

The Medical Device and Safety Act was introduced by Senator Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass. (Pictured here.) The House of Representatives introduced a similar bill in June.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Too much hot air in the Eighth District

Courthouses in Madison (Lac qui Parle County) and Montevideo (Chippewa County), Minnesota were closed today when severe weather knocked out electrical power to both courthouses. Neither courthouse was damaged in the storm and no injuries were reported.
The courts expect to reopen for business when electrical power is restored.

UPDATE 08/01/08: The facilities have reopened.

Before you complain...

A series of unfortunate events led me to the office of a private towing company in Minneapolis last month, where I helped someone reclaim her vehicle. That got me thinking: not only can towing companies take your private property and sell it back to you, but they set the selling price, too.

Want your car back? Let’s see... Hmmm... How about $281. $281! At least the city's impound lot is governed, to some degree, by the political process. And there's a measure of public good involved, too.

But who sets the price for stealing someone's car, and how come property rights never enter the equation? Extortion must be nice work if you can get it.

And then I read this sign posted outside the towing company's office window:

Ahh... I completely understand now. Gosh, if only all matters of law could be so eloquently resolved.

(Yes, I'm still angry)

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Nominations sought for outstanding judges

You have just two more days to submit your nominations for the eighth annual Minnesota District Judges Association Judicial Awards.

The awards, which will be given at the MDJA’s annual meeting Sept. 4, 2008, will recognize the efforts of judges who have provided outstanding service inside and outside the judicial system.

Nominations will be kept anonymous and may be made by judges, court staff, lawyers and the public in accordance with the following criteria:

Award No. 1 is for a judge who has distinguished himself or herself by/through:
--Active membership in the Minnesota District Judges Association;
--Contributing to the improvement of the judicial system;
--Service as a trial judge (not necessarily length of service);
--Promoting judicial efficiency.

Award No. 2 is for a judge who has distinguished himself or herself by/through:
--Active membership in the MDJA;
--Showing or performing outstanding service to the community.

The nomination deadline is Aug. 1, 2008. Nominations should be no longer than two, double-spaced typewritten pages, and submitted to Carol M. Solberg, MDJA, 4805 Bald Eagle Avenue, White Bear Lake, MN 55110, or to CMSolberg@aol.com. A committee of three retired judges will select the award winners.

Senate race has officially gone too Favre

Independent senatorial candidate Dean Barkley is a bit late to the race, but he’s making up for lost time by zeroing in on the issues that really matter to Minnesotans: the economy, gas prices, health-care reform, and….Brett Favre.

Barkley’s lawn signs, while touting his candidacy on one side, have a separate message on the back: “Brett Favre for Minnesota Quarterback.”

Never mind that as long as Favre’s current team (which shall remain nameless -- after all, this is Minnesota Lawyer) retains his rights, he will never play for the Vikings. Part of the job of a candidate is to tell people what they want to hear.

At the moment, Favre has yet to offer an official endorsement of Barkley’s candidacy. Who knows -- maybe he’s waiting to endorse a candidate from the Green Party.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

A stressful day, Bar none

It was a red-letter day for hundreds of law school grads Tuesday, as they gathered at the Minneapolis Convention Center for the first half of the Minnesota Bar exam.

Minnesota Lawyer Editor-in-Chief Mark Cohen was there to catch test-takers at the peak of their anxiety - moments before the exam began.

Oh, and he brought a one-man camera crew to preserve the moment for posterity ...

Lawyers: Did you shun society, J.D. Salinger-like, in the weeks before the exam? Did you lie awake the night before? And then down eight Grande Mocha Fraps that morning?

Or do you think the stress-filled mythos surrounding the Bar is a bit overblown? (Certainly a couple of these test-takers appear almost Zen-like as they enter the hall.)

Judicial candidate Jill Clark opposes MSBA "Affirmation"

Golden Valley attorney Jill Clark, who is running for the Supreme Court seat occupied by Justice Lorie Gildea, is troubled by the “Affirmation” the Minnesota State Bar Association recently requested that she sign and adhere to.

The affirmation, created by the MSBA’s Judicial Election Campaign Conduct Committee and sent to candidates in this year’s judicial election, requests that they refrain from:
--making public comments about pending court proceedings;
--announcing their opinions on disputed political issues;
--identifying themselves or their opponent as members of a political organization; and
--personally seeking campaign contributions.

In a July 28, 2008, letter to David Stowman, chair of the JECCC, Clark said that the committee is “essentially, pressuring me to abide by the clauses [of Canon 5] that were declared unconstitutional in the White cases.”

Clark writes that while she doesn’t want judges to agree to platforms in advance or single-issue politics to select our judges, “freedom of speech means we get to discuss these issues in our own way.” Clark goes on to say that it’s “na├»ve” to suggest that politics doesn’t affect the system we have now. For the full text of the letter, click here.

Also running for Gildea’s Supreme Court seat are assistant state public defender Rick Gallo and Hennepin County District Court Judge Deborah Hedlund.

Child protection workgroup, redux

The Children’s Justice Initiative has formed a workgroup to make recommendations to the Judicial Council concerning representation of parents in child abuse cases, now that the Board of Public Defense has said that defenders will no longer represent them. The CJI Parent Representation Workgroup, chaired by Justice Helen Meyer, will hold its first meeting Aug. 18. from 8:30 a.m. to noon in Room 230 of the Minnesota Justice Center.

No agenda has yet been released, but the members have received a 2006 CHIPS Public Defender Workgroup Final Report that was prepared at the direction of the Legislature. It’s frustrating to read. It concluded:

“The CHIPS Public Defender Workgroup spent several months discussing the crisis in the child protection system caused by lack of resources to provide appropriate legal representation to indigent parties, and the critical role well-trained, culturally competent, adequately compensated attorneys with realistic caseloads, not just in protecting the legal rights of children and parents in child abuse and neglect proceedings, but in counseling parents about their responsibilities in the process and facilitating better outcomes for children.

“The Workgroup concludes that the legislature must address the current crisis in child protection cases caused by the lack of resources for adequate legal representation in child protection cases. The need for adequate funding for well-trained, culturally competent attorneys with realistic caseloads that permit them to fully participate in the collaborative resolution of these cases is immediate. The legislature can also take the leadership in designing and implementing a statewide entity whose primary mission is to provide advocacy and legal representation for families (parents and children) in child-protection cases to ensure a permanent safe and nurturing home for every Minnesota child.”

Of course, this has not happened. Shall we anticipate that this latest group’s recommendations will meet the same fate? Obviously the Legislature needs more help, i.e. pressure, from the public and particularly the bar.

Monday, July 28, 2008

A stressful time for future members of the Minnesota bar

The Minnesota Lawyer blog would like to extend its best wishes to the hundreds of law school grads who will gather at the Minneapolis Convention Center tomorrow for the first day of the two-day Minnesota Bar exam.

Typically, the bar exam is administered at the RiverCenter in St. Paul, but the facility is currently in the process of being retrofitted for the Republican National Convention. The good news is that change of venue allows exam- takers who fail to blame the GOP. ("I coulda' done better in the RiverCenter!")

Exam-takers on the first day need to bring in a driver's license, a white admissions card and a black pen. I found more interesting the list of things they can't bring in, which includes: highlighters, digital clocks, beeping watches, cell phones and pagers (do people outside the medical profession still own pagers?). On the second day, exam-takers must bring in a No. Two lead pencil. With all the advances in technology, it's good to know somethings never change -- at least for those who did not opt to take the test on laptop in the specially set up computer room. (Worried about the clickety-clack of the keyboard? The scratch of pencil hitting paper? The screams of those who put in inadequate preparation time? No sweat! Ear plugs will be made available to any exam-taker who requests them.

Results of the exam will be mailed on Oct. 7 and posted on Oct. 8. May the force be with all of you taking the bar exam -- and may the rest of your summer be a little more enjoyable than the last few weeks have been!