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Friday, October 10, 2008

AAJ upset over pre-emption language in new seatbelt rule

The American Association for Justice is upset over a rule issued this week that it says will diminish consumers’ legal right to hold vehicle manufacturers accountable through the civil justice system.

According to the AAJ, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s final rule on designated seating positions includes specific language that would pre-empt state tort law claims related to seatbelt positions. The language essentially prohibits consumers from legally claiming they were unable to wear a seatbelt because of lack of sufficient number of seatbelts or the seatbelt’s location in the vehicle.

The AAJ says that the “designated seating position” rule had two main objectives: (1) to revise the definition of “designated seating position” to determine the number of seat belts that are required in a particular vehicle; and (2) to eliminate the exclusion of auxiliary seats from the definition so that all seating locations intended to be used while a vehicle is in motion would provide the appropriate levels of crash protection.

But the final rule issued Wednesday specifically includes the pre-emption language, in addition to the preamble, where NHTSA has included pre-emption language in past rules.

Before when the language was only in the preamble, the agency was giving an advisory opinion,” AAJ president Les Weisbrod said in a press release. “Clearly the agency wanted to give the manufacturers a free pass on seatbelt safety.”

Correction: Candidate fundraising for appellate races

Last Monday, in a chart accompanying a story on the appellate court races, Minnesota Lawyer reported the amounts of the contributions to the appellate court candidates in the upcoming election. There was an error in the information listed for Court of Appeals Judge Terri Stoneburner, who faces a challenge from International Falls attorney Dan Griffith. The chart erroneously showed that Stoneburner has raised $25,066. As of Oct. 8, Stoneburner's campaign had, in fact, raised only $8,700. The figure reported for Griffith, $2,275 is correct.

So far, Justice Lorie Skjerven Gildea, who has reported contributions of about $35,000, is in the lead for fundraising in the appellate races.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Happy Leif Erikson Day!

Today is dedicated to that famous Norse explorer who made landfall some 1,000 years ago in what is now known as Newfoundland.

I'm not sure how you celebrate such an event, but I plan on brushing up on my history at NOVA's excellent website, "The Vikings."

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Debt-laden student escapes job market by going to law school

The Wall Street Journal has an interesting article today about parents having to "bailout" loan-laden students having trouble finding well-paying jobs in today's abysmal economy. I found the following excerpt particularly relevant to our readership:

Some parents are taking a deep breath and upping the ante. A Pennsylvania mother says that after her 23-year-old daughter took on $20,000 in loans to help finance a $160,000 undergraduate degree, the best job she could get last year paid less than $40,000, failing to cover rent, expenses and loan payments. In hopes of helping her gain entry to a higher-paying career, her parents picked up her loan payments, paid off $2,000 in credit-card debt and persuaded her to move back home, where she's preparing to apply for law school. The mother asked that her name not be used to avoid embarrassing her daughter.

As many of you know and have pointed out on this blog, competition for legal jobs is fierce, with many younger lawyers having trouble finding the kind of jobs that pay enough to allow them to service their ever increasing student debt loads. Hopefully it will work out for this young woman, but it's not always the best plan to treat the law as a safe haven in an economic storm.

The First Amendment: not always pretty

Prosecutors last week dropped charges against a Winona, Minn., teenager who was ticketed in September for desecrating an American flag.

Police had charged the 14-year-old boy after he wrote song lyrics on a flag, burned holes in it, and tore it into several pieces. He then scattered the pieces throughout his high school before skipping class to attend the Rage Against the Machine concert on Sept. 3rd in Minneapolis during the Republican National Convention.

While the U.S. Supreme Court has invalidated prohibitions on desecrating the U.S. flag, Minnesota is one of 47 states with laws on the books prohibiting such acts. Why was this incident allowed to slide? Perhaps city prosecutors had bigger fish to fry, or as legal blogger Sam Lea speculated, maybe they didn't want Minnesota's anti-flag desecration law to be held up to constitutional scrutiny via the courts.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Judicial candidate keeps interesting company

I recently came across a disturbing website connected to the Stanbury Law Firm, P.A., run by Minneapolis lawyer Alfred Stanbury. The site asks visitors if they’ve been injured when removing a Pampered Chef knife from its sharpening case – but that’s not what’s alarming.

Stanbury's site features such things as a mock traffic sign stating “Warning: Muslims nearby” in which there is a silhouette of a person with a knife in one hand and a severed head dripping blood in the other.

Interestingly, Stanbury was co-counsel a while ago in a case with attorney John Dehen, who is running for a judicial seat against incumbent Judge Robert Varco in the 10th Judicial District. Dehen and Stanbury were involved in a nuisance suit against Dehen’s elderly neighbors, according to Anoka attorney Joan Quady, who represented the neighbors. The case has since settled. Dehen has also been involved in Pampered Chef knives cases, one of which led to a public reprimand for violating a court order regarding the use of information obtained in discovery. Dehen hasn’t returned several phone calls seeking comment

Obviously Stanbury has the right to put anything up on the Web. But voters in the 10th District should remember, as our mothers used to say, that you are known by the company you keep, or kept.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Lawyers an instrumental part of 'Attractive Nuisance Tour'

I had the pleasure of stopping by the sixth Annual “Attractive Nuisance Tour” at the Fine Line Music Cafe last Friday evening. The tour is always a great legal community event with an excellent objective -- raising money for the Minnesota Justice Foundation and the Hennepin County Bar Foundation. Over its five year lifespan, the event has raised more than $200,000 for these worthwhile causes.

The Attractive Nuisance Tour features music from an array of bands – each of which includes at least one member who is from the local legal community. The festivities last Friday were led off with the all-lawyer band “Noisy Withdrawal.” (For more on the band, click here.) I had the chance to chat with three of members of band – Laurie Hartman, Steve Beck and Ryan Johnson. When they are not practicing their music, all three of these bandmates can be found practicing law at Fredrikson & Byron.

Below is a clip of “Noisy Withdrawal’s” performance at Friday's fun-filled event along with a few comments from the above band members.

Click here to see this clip on YouTube.

Judge Venne charged with four gross misdemeanors

The Associated Press and the St. Paul Pioneer Press have reported that Anoka County District Court Judge Donald Venne has been charged with four gross misdemeanors for failing to pay all his taxes from 2003 to 2006.

The Minnesota Department of Revenue reported today that the Dakota County attorney's office filed the charges.

The criminal complaint filed Friday alleges Venne owes the state more than $3,100. It also says the state has had to take action to recover his taxes for the 2002 and 2003 tax years.

His lawyer, Doug Kelley, has said the judge was not trying to avoid paying his taxes, and that the needed tax returns are being prepared.