Our blog has moved, and is new and improved.

You should be automatically redirected in 3 seconds. If not, visit
and update your bookmarks.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Rocking for legal charities

It's that time of year again -- time for lawyers to put down their legal pads and briefcases and pick up their guitars or drum sticks to jam with their colleagues!

The sixth annual Attractive Nuisance Tour --"ANT" as it's affectionately known in the legal community -- will be held Friday, Oct. 3, at the Fine Line Music Cafe in Minneapolis. The event is a benefit rock concert featuring bands that include at least one lawyer or law student. You might be surprised to discover who among your professional colleagues has a totally separate, secret life as a rock star, or at least as a rock star wannabe ...

Proceeds of the show benefit two legal service organizations, the Minnesota Justice Foundation and the Hennepin County Bar Foundation. The MJF sponsors and funds law student summer clerkships at Legal Aid offices and public interest organizations in Minnesota. The Hennepin County Bar Foundation supports programs that facilitate legal services to people of limited resources, among other services.

You can go and enjoy the music -- and contribute to a worthy cause while doing it -- for just $20. VIP tickets are available for $60 and include a T-shirt, preferred seating and appetizers. For more information, click here. To buy tickets, contact Joy at (612) 752-6614 or by e-mail at joy@hcba.org.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Why run when you can walk?

While assembling our judicial election website, I noticed that several challengers are running because of their distaste for the governor's selection process. For these folks, yesterday's news must've been particularly bitter.

To fill two vacancies in the 4th Judicial District, the Commission on Judicial Selection named Gov. Tim Pawlenty's own counsel, Karen A. Janisch, as one of four finalists.

Kinda makes you wonder why someone would bother spending all that time and money on a campaign — and on another level — why we bother with judicial elections in the first place.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Citizens' meeting lacking one thing: citizens

Last night we attended what was promoted as a "community listening session" in Eagan that was meant to engender discussion about racial fairness and how residents of Minnesota's First Judicial District perceive the justice system where they live.

Despite aggressive efforts by the meeting organizers to get the word out, only one of the 25 or so people in attendance was a member of the community who didn't have a tie to law enforcement, the courts, or the corrections system. Unfortunately, as those in attendance acknowledged, coming to such a meeting is a tall order for a lot of the people for whom it would be the most relevant: the growing numbers of minority and working-class residents of Dakota County. On a rainy Tuesday evening, many of those folks are likely to be either working, watching their kids, or reluctant to leave the comfort of home after a long day.

The meeting's organizers (The First Judicial District Equal Justice Committee and the Minnesota Judicial Branch Racial Fairness Committee) are all ears when it comes to hearing from members of the community about how relationships between citizens and the courts can improve. But the people need to speak out on those issues, whether that means getting on the phone to the court office or making times for meetings such as this one. The judicial system has shown its willingness to meet the people it serves halfway.

Minnesota Lawyer will run a more extensive article in its next issue about some of the issues and trends discussed at the meeting.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Advocates calls for stronger community response to sex trafficking

The Advocates for Human Rights has issued a “Sex Trafficking Needs Assessment for the State of Minnesota” that finds that Minnesotans are facing a huge challenge in creating an adequate community response to the problem of sex trafficking in the state. As announced at a press conference yesterday by Cheryl Thomas, director of The Advocates Women’s Program, among the group’s recommendations are:

· That the federal definition of sex trafficking be amended to exclude the requirement of force, fraud and coercion – consistent with the Minnesota law;

· That Minnesota law be changed to include all victims of commercial and sexual exploitation, not just those cases where there is sexual contact or penetration involved;

· That there be a widespread effort to provide training and awareness on the issue and that the Legislature provide funding for this purpose;

· That there be increased funding to meet these needs of sex trafficking victims and training to ensure that service providers have the expertise to respond effectively in assisting trafficked persons; and

· That prosecution of sex traffickers and patrons be prioritized at all levels of law enforcement – local, state and federal – and that the sentencing guidelines be amended to increase sentences for these crimes, and that officials prioritize the protection and assistance of trafficked persons over their arrest and prosecution.

The report was prepared at the request of the State of Minnesota Human Trafficking Task Force and was to be presented to the task force today at a conference in St. Paul. The task force will meet in October to discuss recommendations to the Commissioner of Public Safety. On Thursday, Sept. 25, the University of St. Thomas School of Law will hold its fall law journal symposium on “Human Trafficking: Global and National Responses to the Cries for Freedom,” although registration for that event is closed.

Clark to Gildea: "Drop incumbent"

Golden Valley Jill Clark in an open letter to Minnesota Lawyer has congratulated Hennepin County District Court Judge Deborah Hedlund on her primary victory and appears to have thrown her support to Hedlund by commenting, “Think it doesn’t matter whether the district bench is represented on the appellate courts? Think again.” She has also challenged Supreme Court Justice Lorie Gildea to voluntarily remove the designation “incumbent” from the ballot. Although Clark lost that argument before the Supreme Court, Clark says, “Just because she [Gildea] can, doesn’t mean she should….”

Minnesota Statute 204B.36, subd. 5 addresses the incumbency designation and says “the word ‘incumbent’ shall be printed after that judge's name as a candidate.” It is silent about a candidate’s ability to opt out.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Memo to the U.S. Navy: So long, and thanks for all the fish

I spent a little time this weekend reading the briefs for a case on the U.S. Supreme Court's docket next month. (I know, I know, it's a gripping way to spend one's off time, isn't it?) Actually it was for a piece I was putting together for Supreme Court Preview, an excellent ABA publication that provides a sneak peek at upcoming high court decisions.

The case I was turning my attention to -- Winter v. Natural Resource Defense Council -- involves an epic battle between the U.S. Navy and err ... dolphins. OK, OK, the parties on the other side of this mammalian struggle are really environmental groups. You may have heard about the case -- which has made quite the media splash. It involves a federal court injunction limiting the Navy's use of sonar during training exercises off the coast of California. The dolphins -- and certain type of whales -- apparently don't appreciate the high pitch blasts of sound. The extent of the injury to their populations is part of the litigation.

It's a serious environmental case that brings up a bevvy of legal issues. For example, when must environmental-protection concerns yield to military preparedness? I can't help recalling those above-ground atomic tests in Nevada back in the 1950s. Those weapons tests obviously wreaked havoc on the environment, but a very good case can be made that they were a necessary part of our national-security strategy. What would have happened if today's environmental laws had existed then? Of course, that would have been the least of the government's potential problems. Officials were allowing spectators in the area to watch the tests with only sunglasses for protection ...

The Winter case also implicates a number of interesting procedural issues that involve the interplay of the three branches of government. It will be interesting to see how the Supreme Court treats the case in a world faced with an increasing number of both national-security and environmental hazards.

Meanwhile, the dolphins (and whales for that matter) have no idea that this is playing out in the highest court in the land of something called the United States of America. Yet, despite their ignorance of our legal system, Douglas Adams, the late author of the very humorous "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" series, referred to dolphins as the second most intelligent mammal on the planet-- next to, of course, us. However, even that was the subject of some dispute. The following is one of my favorite quotes from the Hitchhiker series:

"It is an important and popular fact that things are not always what they seem. For instance, on the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much -- the wheel, New York, wars and so on -- whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man -- for precisely the same reasons."

Recount done -- It's Gildea vs. Hedlund for high court

It's now official -- Supreme Court Justice Lorie Skjerven Gildea's challenger in the November election will be Hennepin County District Court Judge Deborah Hedlund.

In the primary, Gildea was top vote-getter for the seat she currently occupies, receiving more than 53 percent of the vote. Hedlund and Minneapolis attorney Jill Clark finished within a half of percentage point of each other for the #2 spot spot on the ballot (Hedlund had 17.86 percent to Clark's 17.43 percent), necessitating a recount under state law. With a margin of more than 1,300 votes separating the two candidates, the gap was narrowed by just 7 votes in the recount. (Click here to see the breakdown of the voting.) The results were certified yesterday.

A shout out to the counties and the office of Secretary of State Mark Ritchie for getting this recount done so speedily. The retabulation by hand of thousands of ballots in a statewide election is no easy feat, and in this case was carried out with record alacrity.

The Gildea-Hedlund race should be an interesting one if, for no other reason, for the first time in recent memory it pits two sitting judges against each other. Stay tuned for more coverage of this and other judicial races ...