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Friday, October 17, 2008

ABA working towards a smooth election day

The American Bar Association is doing its part to ensure that the upcoming election goes as smoothly as possible.

As part of its effort, the association is providing materials to prepare state trial judges and lawyers who may become involved in election-related litigation. Posted on the ABA's voting website is a state-by-state directory of election statutes that answer basic questions about who can cast a ballot and when votes can be challenged. The site also contains links to video lectures and a manual on election law produced by the National Center for State Courts and the College of William & Mary Law School.

The ABA is also seeking lawyers to provide counsel through the Election Protection Project. This program, co-sponsored by the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and the ABA, is recruiting lawyers from large and small law firms nationwide to staff voter-assistance hotlines and perform other election-related work. For more information or to register, contact nafziger.jamie@dorsey.com or go to http://www.abanet.org/2008election/.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Joe the Plumber 2, Joe the Lawyer 0

Pity poor "Joe the Lawyer."

While both presidential candidates professed support for the Ohio man mulling buying a plumbing business, they both disowned trial lawyers to some degree.

In the case of John McCain, the subject came up in reference to a U.S. Supreme Court decision holding that a woman who discovered on the verge of retirement retired that her employer had paid her less than male counterparts was time-barred from suing for pay discrimination. McCain thinks the case was rightly decided; Barack Obama has supported congressional attempts to amend federal discrimination law to allow claims such as the woman's. In referring to the bill during the debate, McCain dismissively called it a "trial lawyer's dream."

Meanwhile, Obama, citing examples of times at which he had broken with fellow Democrats in his voting, pointed to a bill he had backed limiting some lawsuits when he first arrived in Congress. The measure "wasn't very popular with trial lawyers," he said.

But I bet Joe the Plumber loved it.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

High court candidates come Facebook-to-Facebook, but not face-to-face

A lot has been written about the use of social-networking sites by lawyers. Now it has even permeated into the arena of judicial elections.

Both Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Lorie Skjerven Gildea (right) and her opponent in the upcoming election, Hennepin County District Court Judge Deborah Hedlund (left), have entries on the Facebook networking site for their campaigns. In fact, Hedlund has two.

One Hedlund Facebook entry-- entitled, "Deborah Hedlund for Supreme Court" -- boasts 12 members, and includes some biographical information and a photo. The second Hedlund Facebook entry, which also has a photo, has a prominent message at the top stating: "Deborah Hedlund is trying to get my opponent to show up for a debate. She has canceled six times now."

Hedlund also has put a series of campaign videos on YouTube.

Meanwhile, 53 supporters have publicly stated that they are backing Gildea on her Facebook page, which includes a "fan photo" of one supporter wearing a Gildea T-shirt while eating something or other on a stick at the State Fair. A couple of statements of support came from folks with the last name Skjerven, including on from a Josh Skjerven, who exclaimed, "im with her." In addition to the standard headshot, the Facebook entry for Gildea's campaign also includes pictures of Gildea being hugged by the University of Minnesota Mascot (Goldy Gopher), riding on a horse in western garb and marching in a parade in Thief River Falls.

While campaigns run in the virtual world are all well and good, I would like to see a real-world debate between Gildea and Hedlund. They have one of the more engaging races, and I think it might generate some public interest in judicial elections.

Anoka County buys a big bag of CHIPS

Does someone in Anoka County have a magic revenue-generating machine in their basement? Recipients of county services had better hope so.

The county board voted yesterday to hire a pair of private law firms to handle the 170 new Child in Need of Protection (CHIPS) petitions and up to 70 new termination of parental rights hearings that come before Anoka County courts each year.

The Anoka law firm of Randall and Goodrich will be paid $5,000 a month and attorney David Cossi will earn $4,500 a month as the second primary lawyer on those cases.

The board estimated that processing all the county’s CHIPS cases will cost between $160,000 to $180,000, none of which had been set aside in the county’s budget. It remains to be seen which county programs and services will have to be scaled back to pick up the slack.

Facing a multimillion shortfall, the State Board of Public Defense decided in June that counties should pay for lawyers for poor adults who are losing parental rights or are otherwise involved in cases in which children need help.

Tough break for Anoka County. But hey, at least there haven’t been any new state taxes during the current gubernatorial administration. That's the important thing, right?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Bridge fund deadline looms

Tomorrow, Oct. 15, is the deadline for survivors of the I-35W bridge collapse to file claims with the State of Minnesota.

The state has established a $37 million fund to compensate survivors of the August 1, 2007 bridge collapse. The law established a special master panel to consider claims, make settlement offers and enter settlement agreements with survivors. The Special Master Panel of Chair Susan Holden, Steven Kirsch and Michael Tewksbury was appointed by Minnesota Supreme Court Chief Justice Russell Anderson on May 29.

The law authorizing this compensation process defines an eligible survivor as “a natural person who was present on the I-35W bridge at the time of the collapse.” A survivor also includes family members who survive a person who perished in the collapse or the legally recognized representative of a survivor, such as the parent or legal guardian of a survivor who is under 18 years of age, or a court appointed trustee authorized to bring a claim under Minnesota’s Wrongful Death Act, Minn. Stat. sec. 573.02.

The claim application forms required to submit a claim in this special compensation process are available, together with instructions, online at the website administered by the panel of Special Masters: www.BridgeCollapseClaims.com. If you are not able to access the claim forms on this website, you may contact us or call the Office of the Special Master Panel at (651) 485-1153.