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Friday, October 31, 2008

A Halloween tidbit from Minnesota Lawyer

I’ve always loved Halloween. I love to decorate my house with Halloween items, put pumpkins out on my doorstep, hang “Happy Halloween” signs on my doors and go to at least one super scary movie. As my co-workers will attest, I even like to put out Halloween stuff on at my desk at work -- usually more than a month ahead of time. My interest in this spooky “holiday” got me wondering how many times our appellate courts have considered cases that are linked in some way to Halloween.

A search of all Minnesota appellate cases decided since May 1996 revealed that there are only two cases from the high court that even contain the word “Halloween.” There are no published decisions from the Court of Appeals with the term, but there are 13 unpublished cases.

A cursory review of the cases indicated that most of them are criminal matters, some stemming from acts related to Halloween partying. The most interesting -- or in this case, “scary” -- decision involved a Halloween mask found under a dead body eight years ago. It turns out that the mask contained the DNA of the man who was ultimately convicted of murder.

Hopefully nothing quite so horrific will result from all the partying that is sure to go on tonight.

On that note, have a happy -- and safe -- Halloween!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Second protective order filed against candidate John Dehen

John Dehen, who is running for District Court judge in Sherburne County against Robert Varco, is the subject of an order for protection in Carver County. According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Mr. Dehen allegedly got in an argument with his 15-year-old daughter, Calen Dehen, while they were in a car, and that he shoved her into the car door causing a bloody nose and a swollen lip. The protection order was sought by Mary Briol on behalf of Calen Dehen. I called Mr. Dehen and he refused to come to the phone, having the person who answered the telephone tell me he was in the process of drafting a comment for the Star Tribune and I could read it there. That was more than three hours ago, and there is nothing up on the Strib's website.

By the way, this is the second time Dehen has been the subject of an order for protection. The last one was in 1995 and went up to the Court of Appeals. The petitioner there was named Mary Vos, and the case said the parties were the parents of a 21-month-old child, C.D. In that case, the Court of Appeals said, Dehen pushed the petitioner away from a door, causing her to fall and sustain injuries. That unpublished opinion is Vos v. Dehen.

Other information about the judicial candidate is available on the Minnesota Lawyer blog and in the Oct. 10 issue of Minnesota Lawyer.

Bohr, Orenstein face off as Second District race winds down

Last night, Second District judicial candidates Gail Chang Bohr and Howard Orenstein faced off in the only public forum between the two prior to Tuesday's election.

Given that the race is one of the tightest of any district court race in the state, the tone of the forum was cordial. But both candidates were determined to shine a spotlight on their experience and temperaments in an effort to impress the 70 or so attendees who crowded into the Hamline University School of Law's mock courtroom.

Bohr stated that among her priorities as judge would be to work to reduce the incidence of youth contact with the judicial system, especially among minorities.

Orenstein, meanwhile spoke about his passion for justice and his belief that “courts can be a place where people who aren’t respected in other parts of society can find justice.”

Bohr touted her temperament and her background as an advocate for disadvantaged children, hinting that she would transfer that demeanor to her court if elected.

“I know people,” she said. “I know how to deal with them respectfully and talk to them.”

Orenstein pointed to the diversity in his legal background, ticking off a dozen practice areas in which he’s worked. He also indicated that his five terms in the Minnesota House of Representatives made him more qualified to interpret the law.

“A judge needs to know lots of areas of the law,” he said. “As a legislator, I was involved in crafting laws in just about every area that would come before the bench.”

A full story about the candidates' forum will appear in Monday's Minnesota Lawyer.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Picking judges: Two views from two very different sources

It's easy to forget sometimes that the conventional wisdom of the legal community is not always the conventional wisdom of the world in general. A case in point: Most in the legal community would acknowledge that appellate lawyers are best situated to know who is (and who is not) a good candidate for the Supreme Court and Court Appeals. Appearing before these courts on a regular basis gives you a pretty good idea of what is required. Veteran court watcher and fixture of the Minnesota appellate bar Chuck Lundberg made that point in a piece he penned for the Star Tribune to help voters at the polls in a quandary about who to vote for.

However, lawyer stereotypes can lead members of the general public to distrust any voting advice given by a lawyer, as Lundberg quickly learned from comments made when the Strib put the article on line. A second Strib opinion piece -- written by a member of the public in response to Lundberg's piece -- takes Lundberg to task for his advice to voters that incumbents are usually a good pick because most of them were vetted by a merit-selection commission prior to appointment.

Lundberg's point that the Minnesota bench overall has an excellent reputation is well-taken. Most of the judicial appointments have been very good. On the other hand, voters can and should educate themselves about particular races by looking at resources such as the Minnesota Lawyer online judicial election guide. That may be the best strategy, short of taking an appellate lawyer with you in the voting booth.

Swenson responds to Haeg campaign

Last week we included a blog entry on a press release issued by the Thomas Haeg for Judge Committee concerning the $75,000 settlement of a discrimination and retaliation charge that had been filed against Hennepin County and Haeg's opponent, Judge James Swenson, by a former Hennepin County referee. Haeg is challenging Swenson, chief judge of the county, for his seat on the bench.

We gave the Swenson campaign an opportunity to respond last week, but they were unable to immediately do so. We received their response today, which we link to here.

More chances to see and hear judicial candidates

Judicial elections are in the air.

Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Paul Anderson and his challenger, Tim Tingelstad, were featured this morning in an MPR news report profiling their race. Justice Lorie Skjerven Gildea and Hennepin District Court Justice Deborah Hedlund will both be guests on an MPR program today at 11:00 a.m. (See post below). And Ramsey County District Court candidates Gail Chang Bohr and Howard Orenstein face off tonight at a candidates' forum at Hamline University School of Law in St. Paul (click here for info).

Meanwhile, in its online Judicial Election Guide, Minnesota Lawyer has added in links to video clips for all the candidates for whom we have video. This is the first year Minnesota Lawyer has taken video of the candidates and made it available. (We always offered to take video of both candidates in a race where we made video available, although not every candidate took us up on the offer.) We'd welcome any input as to whether the video component this year was helpful.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Gildea, Hedlund to be on MPR

Minnesota Public Radio will feature a radio discussion between Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Lorie Skjerven Gildea and the challenger for her seat, Hennepin County District Court Judge Deborah Hedlund, tomorrow (October 29) on "Midday With Gary Eichten." The show starts at 11:00 a.m. on 91.1 FM.

Controversy over 2010 judicial races is underway

As we enter the home stretch of the judicial elections, a controversy that may influence the 2010 judicial elections is shaping up. U.S. District Court Judge Ann Montgomery heard cross-motions for summary judgment last week in the case Gregory Wersal v. Patrick Sexton, chair of the Minnesota Board of Judicial Standards, et al. Wersal challenges the portions of the code of judicial conduct that prohibit judicial candidates from endorsing other candidates and restrict solicitation of funds.

Wersal sought a preliminary injunction from Montgomery earlier this year that was denied because he did not file for office, his attorney, James Bopp of Indiania, said. Bopp said Montgomery asked many questions at the injunction hearing but very few this time around.

Wersal said last summer he would definitely run for the Supreme Court in 2010. Apparently referring to the court, he said at the time, "By then they better damn well watch themselves.”

Wersal was a co-plaintiff in Republican Party of Minnesota, et al. v. White, et al., in which the U.S. Supreme Court and 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down as free-speech violations most of Minnesota’s restrictions on judicial campaigns. The rules at issue in Wersal’s current lawsuit were not addressed in White -- although the sweeping language of White has left their vitality suspect.

It’s worth remembering that Wersal lost the first rounds in White when U.S. District Court Judge Michael Davis dismissed the case. The 8th Circuit affirmed in an 89-page decision written by Judge John R. Gibson. But the Supreme Court accepted cert, thereby permanently altering Minnesota’s judicial landscape. It’s certain that the summary judgment decision will be just a step on a long path.

The terms of four justices of the Supreme Court will be at stake in 2010—Chief Justice Eric Magnuson and Justices Christopher Dietzen, Helen Meyer and Alan Page. Wersal ran against Page in 1998.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Stowman: 'Relatively few complaints' about judicial candidates

With the judicial elections a week from tomorrow, I thought I'd check in with former Minnesota State Bar Association president David Stowman, who chairs the MSBA committee overseeing judicial campaign conduct. Stowman confirmed my sense that things have been relatively quite and the candidates for the most part have steered away from politicizing their races.

"By and large the candidates are conscientious individuals who want to conduct themselves appropriately," he said. "We've received relatively few complaints, and, in some of those cases, [the candidates] agreed to modify their behavior when we talked to them." (Citing his concern that it would be counterproductive to the committee's efforts, Stowman declined to reveal specifics about the complaints that were received.)

Stowman acknowledged that one idea he had -- getting the opposing candidates to meet over a meal -- didn't work out.

"We were not successful in getting them together in the heat of the election process while they are busy campaigning," Stowman said. However, the committee was able to talk with many of the candidates on the phone to discuss how their races are being conducted, he added.

With eight days to go until voting day, Stowman isn't quite ready to give the all-clear signal yet. "I'm still waiting for the other shoe to drop," he said with a laugh.

After the election, Stowman plans to solicit input on the role of the MSBA candidates' conduct committee and how it might be refined in future elections.

For more information about the judicial candidates, visit the Minnesota Lawyer's online judicial-election guide.

St. Kate's students make a great point

I think the future of our country is in good hands if the student body at the University of St. Catherine is any indication.

As the Star Tribune reports, a group of students at the all-female Catholic school in St. Paul is taking the administration to task for its well-meaning, but ultimately wrongheaded policy in banning otherwise interesting speakers in the name of political "neutrality." During the recent election cycle, the school's policy has led to its decision to decline visits from Senator Hilary Clinton and conservative commentator Bay Buchanan, a John McCain proponent.

The following is an excerpt from the students' petition that appears in the Strib article:

"Do we then need to invite an equal number of Socialist, Green, and Independent
party members to campus as well? And what of the anarchists? It is quite evident
that a path of 'neutrality’ is, in actuality, more difficult to negotiate than a
path of political engagement. ...

[The notion of] political neutrality is a figment of our administration's collective imagination," the petition writers add. "We believe that our administration's decision to disallow both Ms. Buchanan and Senator Clinton is embarrassing and inappropriate on the grounds that this college was rooted in stronger stuff."

Bravo to the students! Meaningful discourse is a process, not a zero-sum game where one viewpoint must be immediately negated by an opposing viewpoint. While it's laudable that the school doesn't want to offer an unfair advantage to one side or the other of the partisan divide, I think the sharp young women at St. Kate's are savvy enough to realize a speaker's political agenda without being unduly swayed by it.

Some of the students are reportedly meeting this afternoon with administration officials to discuss their concerns about the speakers' policy. I wish them well.