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Friday, September 19, 2008

Think you've got the answers to judicial elections? Take the MWL quiz

No legal group in Minnesota makes more of an effort to distribute useful information about the judicial races to voters than does Minnesota Women Lawyers. For example, the group maintains a website, "Judges & Politics Don't Mix" (www.dontmix.org) and puts out a regular newsletter during campaign season, "MWL Judicial Election News."

Public information efforts like MWL's are valuable. Since judicial elections tend not to get a lot of media attention, many voters find these races quizzical. And speaking of quizzes, MWL recently devised one to teach the public about judicial races. Click here to give it a try. Participants have a chance to win a valuable prize. (See the quiz site for details.)

So how did your truly do? I actually got a few of them wrong despite thinking myself fairly attuned to the topic area. It is an entertaining way to learn more about some issues of vital importance to the judiciary (and everyone else, for that matter). Give the quiz a shot -- and perhaps pass along the link to some members of the public who want to learn about judicial elections in Minnesota.

Study shows employees fare poorly in federal court

A study released by The American Constitution Society for Law and Policy yesterday corroborates the practice of many plaintiffs’ employment lawyers to avoid federal court like the plague.

The report, to be published by the Harvard Law & Policy Review, shows that workers bringing employment discrimination lawsuits increasingly fare poorly in the federal courts.

The authors of the report -- Stewart J. Schwab and Kevin M. Clermont, both with the Cornell Law School -- studied data from the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, and concluded that they have “unearthed an anti-plaintiff effect that is troublesome.”

Highlights from the study, “Employment Discrimination Plaintiffs In Federal Court: From Bad To Worse?” include:
-- As a result of the likelihood of unfavorable rulings in employment discrimination cases, more employees are declining to bring actions in federal court. Over seven years, 1999-2007, there has been a drop of 37 percent in the number of cases brought by plaintiffs.
-- Employment cases fare much worse than other types of cases that are filed. Between 1979 and 2006, the win rate for plaintiffs in job discrimination cases in the federal court system was 15 percent, in contrast to 51 percent for non-job related cases.
-- Employment discrimination plaintiffs are not likely to experience any greater success at the appeals court level. Data reveal that plaintiffs who lose at trial achieve reversals in less than 9 percent of their cases. In contrast, defendants who lose at the trial court level are granted reversals in 41 percent of their cases.

The findings of the study will be a subject of a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the federal courts scheduled for next Tuesday.

I don’t think the results of this report are much of a surprise, especially to employment lawyers. For years, I’ve been hearing from plaintiffs’ attorneys (and some defense attorneys who will admit it) that federal court is not the place to bring an employment discrimination claim. I’m sure this study will at least validate their feelings on the issue.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Birthday and a book

Riding into the Sunrise: Al Quie, A Life of Faith, Service & Civility
As if an 85th birthday wasn't enough reason to celebrate, former governor-slash-judicial watchdog Al Quie gets some fresh ink today with the release of Riding into the Sunrise: Al Quie, A Life of Faith, Service & Civility.

The book, written by Mitch Pearlstein, chronicles Quie's decades of public service through personal (sometimes-emotional) interviews and exhaustive historical research.

We just got our paws on a copy in the morning mail. Look for a review soon in Minnesota Lawyer.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Happy Constitution ... errr ... Citizenship Day

Happy Constitution Day! Or is that "Citizenship Day?" ...

On this date in 1787, the delegates at the U.S. Constitutional Convention signed the Constitution. Until 2004, today was known as "Citizenship Day." An amendment to a budget bill, sponsored by West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd changed the official name of the holiday to "Constitution Day and Citizenship Day." (Click here for more on the holiday from Wikipedia). More and more I'm seeing it abbreviated as just "Constitution Day."

I could delve here into the politics of naming a holiday, but I just don't have the constitution for it today. Instead, I would just like to offer a tip of the hat to the Founders for coming up with one of the greatest openings ever for a document establishing a new government: "We the people ..." As Abraham Lincoln would allude to many years later, it was evident from the outset that it was to be a government "of the people, by the people, for the people." Not a bad way at all to start the American experiment.

Happy Constitution (and Citizenship) Day!

UPDATE: John Kostouros over at the State Courts Information Office has kindly provided me with a helpful link to some highly educational information on the courts' website pertaining to Constitution Day (including lesson plans for teachers and parents). Click here for all you've ever wanted to know about Constitution Day, courtesy of your local judiciary.

Krivosha continues to tread lightly --- at least according to the New York Times

Terri Krivosha has gotten a lot of mileage out of the treadmill desk she uses to keep fit while she works. There's been a prior post about it on this blog, two articles mentioning it in Minnesota Lawyer (see here and here) and most recently a New York Times piece making prominent mention of it in the paper's fitness & nutrion section. (The first two words in the article? "Terri Krivosha").

So in true media style, we are reporting on all the coverage, thereby giving the subject even more coverage. Plus it gives us a good chance to again run our nifty file photo of Terri using the desk. But don't expect us to report on this again anytime soon. At this point, it's not a stretch for us to say that Terri's desk has had its run. (Phot0: Bill Klotz)

News of the weird

A couple of strange-but-true recent news items:

Duluth native Howard O. Kieffer, who has been accused of impersonating a lawyer in federal courts in at least 10 states, pleaded not guilty in Bismarck, N.D., to two felony charges, mail fraud and making false statements. Among other clients he quasi-represented, Kieffer defended former St. Louis Blues hockey player Michael Danton, who was charged four years ago with plotting to kill his agent. That didn't work out too well: Danton pleaded guilty and is serving a 7 1/2-year sentence at a minimum-security federal prison in Sandstone, Minn.

Meanwhile, Gabriel Schwartz, a Denver personal-injury lawyer, says he was drugged and robbed of $50,000 in cash, clothing and jewelry (including a $30,000 watch) during the Republican National Convention. Unlike the rest of the Colorado delegation, which stayed at the $130-a-night Four Points Sheraton in St. Paul, Schwartz stayed at the Hotel Ivy in Minneapolis, where rooms range from $300-$3,000. That's where he says he was ripped off by a woman he picked up in a bar. Interviewed during the convention, Schwartz was asked what change he would like to see in a McCain presidency. His response: “Less taxes and more war. Bomb Iran!”

Some people are pretend lawyers, and some people you sort of wish were pretend lawyers.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Chiropractic accounts for majority of no-fault payments

No-fault insurance rates going up? Blame your chiropractor. According to a study by the Insurance Research Council, chiropractors now account for a greater share of total provider charges in Minnesota's no-fault insurance system than all other types of treating providers combined. A new IRCstudy says that 58 percent of all provider charges for treatment of no-fault insurance claimants in 2007 were from chiropractors. In a study conducted five years earlier, IRC found that 41 percent of all treatment charges were from chiropractors.

The recently released study, Analysis of No-Fault Auto Insurance Claims in Minnesota, is based on a review of more than 500 personal injury protection (PIP) insurance claims closed with payment in 2007. The claims were among the 42,038 claims examined in the IRC's countrywide report, Auto Injury Insurance Claims: Countrywide Patterns in Treatment, Cost, and Compensation. Twenty-two automobile insurance companies representing 57 percent of the countrywide private passenger auto insurance market, and 61 percent of the Minnesota market, participated in the study.

According to the study, the growing cost of chiropractic treatment in Minnesota's auto insurance system is attributable primarily to rapid growth in average charges per visit to chiropractor offices. Between 2002 and 2007, average chiropractor charges in Minnesota increased 30 percent, from $122 to $158 per visit. In addition, the percentage of PIP claimants receiving chiropractor treatment increased approximately 5 percent. Minnesota had the third highest utilization rate for chiropractors (42 percent) among 17 states with no-fault insurance claims. Only Washington and Florida had higher chiropractor utilization rates in 2007.

MSBA is now conducting its judicial election poll

I just voted in the Minnesota State Bar Association's plebiscite for the upcoming judicial elections. It's actually fairly easy. You get an e-mail with your member number and "e-signature" along with a link to the voting site. Once on the site, you enter your information, and all the appellate races and the District Court races from your district are listed out. You click your mouse when the cursor is next to the box of the candidate for whom you wish to vote and a check mark appears in the box. You also have the option of reading the brief statements provided by the candidates and seeing their pictures.

My ballot had the three appellate races on it along with the District Court races in Hennepin County, where I both live and work. However, it occurred to me there might be a glitch in this system if I lived and worked in different counties. The MSBA might have someone listed as Hennepin County, when, in fact, Ramsey County is where he lives and votes. (This is particularly true since atttorneys are apt to give their work addresses to the MSBA.) The safer route would have been to list out all the trial court races, but limit users to voting in a single district. It will be interesting to see if this creates an issue for anyone using the system.

There is an interesting twist in the voting for one of the Supreme Court seats. The ballot provides only two choices for the seat currently occupied by Lorie Skjerven Gildea -- Gildea and Hennepin County Deborah Hedlund. That match-up is, of course, not yet official. The race is subject to a recount because Minneapolis attorney Jill Clark lost to Hedlund, the #2 vote-getter, by such a narrow margin (.5 percent). In the admittedly somewhat unlikely event that Clark should pick up enough votes in the recount to displace Hedlund on the November ballot, the MSBA will have to commission a second poll just for that seat. (The MSBA ballot does note with an asterisk that the race is currently subject to a recount.) In any case, Clark would probably not like the MSBA ballot, since it specifically designates who the incumbent is for the seat.

Overall, I think the MSBA balloting-process was very user-friendly. The only glitch I ran into was that since I took the time to read the bios the candidates had provided, I was told my session had "timed out" when I went to cast my ballot. However, when I used the information the MSBA gave me to log back in, I noticed my choices were all still checked off. I just had to click the "cast my ballot" button and I was done.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Minnesota Lawyer updates judicial election site for November races

Minnesota Lawyer has updated its online Judicial Election guide to reflect the results of the recent primary. The site now includes information about all the races that will be on the November ballot including candidate photos, bios and responses to Minnesota Lawyer's questionnaire.

There is one race -- the race for Justice Lorie Skjerven Gildea's seat -- which is not yet final. Gildea, the top vote-getter in the primary, will be on the ballot in November. However, two of the challengers -- Minneapolis attorney Jill Clark and Hennepin County District Court Judge Deborah Hedlund -- were seperated by such a small margin in the primary (less than .5 percent) that a recount is necessary to determine who will get to challenge Gildea in the November election. (The unofficial count has Hedlund in the lead by 1,369 votes.) Once the recount is done -- which could be as soon as the end of the week -- we will add the challenger's information to our site.

In the meantime, there is plenty of information up about the other races to keep you busy. Click here to check it all out.

Some innocent fun for a good cause

One month from today -- on Wednesday, Oct. 15 -- the Innocence Project of Minnesota will hold its annual "Benefit for Innocence" at the Depot in Minneapolis.

The project has a noble goal, which is to keep innocent people from being convicted and to free those who have been. (It's hard to argue with that objective.) This annual fundraiser is a big part of helping the group to fulfill this mission locally, so I would urge you to support it by attending or being a firm sponsor. (Click here for info). In the interests of full-disclosure, Minnesota Lawyer is a "media sponsor" -- as it has been, I believe, since the group formed -- but it's a worthy cause that I would be in favor of supporting regardless.

Even if the philanthropic reasons don't catch your interest, there is another reason to go to this year's event -- the keynote speaker is none other than lawyer/ author John Grisham. Grisham's legal thrillers have been blockbusters to say the least --- and the movie versions have starred such folk as Tom Cruise, Susan Sarandon, Denzel Wahington, Claire Danes and Julia Roberts.

So, whether you are "The Rainmaker," "The Partner," or "The Associate" where you work, make "The Firm" commitment to have a little innocent fun on Oct. 15. Sorry, but I'll have to end my series of of eye-rolling Grisham puns here, as I have no more "Time to Kill." But for any of you still with us who want to have a good time at a worthwhile event, I'll repeat the link to the Innocence Project's information.