The Smallest Units of Government

Community meetingAs the 2016 election season fades behind us, it is a good time to reflect on our government structures and their various functions. It is easy follow government at the federal and state levels by reading the news, but not so much where local government is concerned. In fact, people often cannot name or identify the very people who represent them at the city or county levels. This is unfortunate, as many visitors to the law library might be surprised at how close their visit brings them to their local governments in action. The Ramsey County Board of Commissioners and St. Paul City Counsel both conduct their public meetings in the Court House.  People who come to the library and inquire about seeing a public trial might also consider sitting in on a commissioners meeting.  (Minutes and ideotapes of these meetings are also available online.)

What is going on beyond the Court House? Starting at the top, you can go to USA.gov to find all divisions of the federal government, and learn exactly where to direct your questions or complaints.  Websites like Common Cause can help you identify all of your elected officials at once, plus see their sponsorships and contributors.  On the other end, what about the most local levels?  To learn who your neighbors are and what they are concerned about, consider joining an online community such as Nextdoor.   If you want to become more involved, you may also consider using some of your spare time to volunteer in the community. Ramsey County has a page just for you, with opportunities to serve on county advisory boards and committees.  You may be just one person, but don’t underestimate your power to make a difference!

 

police officer sidearmJust recently law enforcement in our tiny jurisdiction has come more visible than usual.  Obviously police officers are in the news every time a major criminal act in our community is investigated or a suspect is apprehended.   But this week the headlines went further, capturing a public meeting wherein citizens weighed in on potential changes to the St. Paul Police Civilian Internal Affairs Review Commission.  This 20-year old commission reviews complaints against police and makes disciplinary recommendations to the chief. It has always consisted of two officers and five civilians, but several meeting participants expressed their point of view that officers don’t belong on this commission. This debate is all the more significant given the fact that St. Paul Police began wearing body cameras only last week.

Also significant was this week’s announcement from Ramsey County Attorney John Choi that criminal manslaughter charges were being brought against Falcon Heights police officer Jeronimo Yanez in the shooting death of Philando Castile, which made national news. You can read Choi’s press conference transcript from his announcement and the complaint at the County Attorney’s website.

There is not much this blog can add to these events that isn’t already covered.  However, this is a good place to bring up some of the special resources that our library has regarding law as it pertains to police officers and police misconduct.  If this is something you are researching or plan to, we have some tools that might help:

  • Will Aitchison, The Rights of Law Enforcement Officers (7th Ed. 2015)
  • Michael Avery et al.  Police Misconduct: Law and Litigation (3d Ed. 2015)
  • Isidore Silver,  Police Civil Liability (1986- )

We also have plenty of criminal law materials that explore the constitutional parameters in which police officers do their jobs. Be aware that many of the police civil liability materials are library-use only, so set aside some time to visit our library!

 

Arthur A. Stewart (1946 – 1970)

Judge Arthur Stewart

Arthur Stewart was born in St. Paul on January 29, 1888 to parents John and Anna, who had settled in St. Paul in the 1870s.  John originally had a hardware store at Seventh Avenue and John Street (close to the present location of Red’s Savoy Pizza), but lost his business in the 1893 crash. John eventually became an executive with the Smyth Printing Company. According to a St. Paul Dispatch article, young Arthur got his lucky break at age seventeen when he landed a job in the clerk’s office of the Minnesota Supreme Court. That’s where then-Chief Justice Charles M. Start took a liking to him and urged him to go to law school. Arthur Stewart graduated from the St. Paul College of Law in 1908, and was admitted to the Minnesota Bar the following year. In August of 1917 he enlisted for service in World War I and was commissioned a first lieutenant of the infantry. After his honorable discharge in December of 1918 he returned home to St. Paul, where he had married Hermione Peterson the previous January. The couple later had two children, Hermione and Charles.

Stewart took up law practice of law in the firm of Barrows Stewart & Metcalfe, where he stayed for the next twelve years. (Their office was on the fourteenth floor of the Pioneer Building in downtown St. Paul.) In 1922 he became assistant corporation counsel for the City of Saint Paul, working under senior counsel Carlton F. McNally. He himself became corporation counsel for the City in 1925, when McNally was appointed to the bench of the Ramsey County District Court. Stewart also served on the Ramsey County Board of Commissioners, as well as the City Hall and Court House Building Commission in its planning of the present courthouse. He was serving as a member of the State Industrial Commission when he was appointed to the Ramsey District bench in 1946 to fill the vacancy left by the death of Judge James C. Michael.  Judge Stewart served in this position until he died in 1970, at the age of 82.

Judge Stewart’s portrait was painted by local artist Ken Fox, who is the last known surviving artist of the portrait collection.  We were honored to have Mr. Fox attend our 80th Anniversary celebration and tell about his work as an artist.  Additionally, history buffs may be sad to learn that Judge Stewart is the last judge of the portrait collection to be featured on this blog, but there are other historical figures of the local legal community that can be explored here.  Please share if there are any particular ones you would especially like to read about.

Sources:

J.A. Burnquist, Minnesota and Its People (S.J. Clarke Publishing Co., 1924) p. 3:342-343. 

Stewart–Judge Aurthur A. (Obituary) St. Paul Pioneer Press, June 23, 1970 p. 20.

“Thye Selects Former City Attorney,” St. Paul Dispatch, April 10, 1946.

 

 

Voter Fraud vs. Voter Disenfranchisement

BallotsVoter eligibility and disenfranchisement is a subject this blog has looked at before, especially as it relates to felons. Different states have different levels of participation allowed by felons, with Minnesota falling somewhere in the middle by allowing felons to vote again after completing their entire sentence including probation.  With this limitation in mind, Minnesota Statute §204C.12 states that election judges must give ballots to voters who have been challenged as ineligible to vote, but who self-certify that they are in fact eligible. Recent local news presents the scenario where the polling roster might have someone marked as challenged due to status as a felon, as well as ward of the state, or non-citizen status. If the potential voter certifies that they are none of those things, election judges are being told that they should allow the person to vote.

In a case currently filed in the Second Judicial District, the Minnesota Voter Alliance asserts that the polling roster should be taken as the final word, and that the election judges should not be allowed to override it by letting the person vote.   They have encouraged election judges to refuse to follow the rule, claiming there is more election fraud in Minnesota than is officially acknowledged.  The Minnesota Secretary of State’s office says that refusing to apply the rule is not an option, and that only a court has the authority to challenge the statute. (See how the Secretary of State’s 2016 Election Judge Guide explains how the situation should be handled.) In the delicate operation of conducting democratically sound elections, election fraud and voter disenfranchisement are the two opposite sides of the same coin. State officials have asserted that the danger of election fraud is minimal.  Other groups assert that the real danger is not fraud, but voter suppression.  A judge will rule on this issue today (Friday), at least for purposes of the upcoming election.  It could easily find its way to the Court of Appeals or the Minnesota Legislature, especially if there are close election results.

 

One of These Things Is Not Like the Others

capture

Here are pictures of some objects which could qualify as ”dangerous weapons” under MN Stat. § 609.02 of the criminal code. They are (from top left) a flintlock pistol, a compound bow, an air pellet gun, and a liquid grenade (three of them in fact).  But (as sung on a popular children’s television show) one of these weapons just doesn’t belong here. Last week the Minnesota Supreme Court analyzed what kind of objects could actually be firearms, even though the objects might qualify “dangerous weapons.”  In State vs. Haywood, the Court specifically examined whether or not appellant’s BB gun qualified as a firearm under MN, because he had originally been convicted in Ramsey District Court under MN Stat § 609.165 for possessing a firearm which he was barred from doing due to his felon status. Now’s it’s time to play our game: Can you guess which dangerous weapon doesn’t belong here, now that the Court has finished its song? (Hint: It’s not the one that the Court gave special analysis to in Haywood.)

If you guessed that the  flintlock pistol is the only weapon here doesn’t belong, then you are right! In applying the reasoning of Haywood, the compound bow, the canister grenades, AND the BB gun might all be dangerous weapons, but they are not technically firearms. Why? First, the Court held that it was not necessary to look at past decisions of whether or not BB guns were classed as firearms. And since the Minnesota Legislature had never bothered to officially define a firearm, the Court concluded it was appropriate to apply the plain meaning in defining a firearm.  Sources including Merriam-Websters Collegiate Dictionary (“weapon from which a shot is discharged by gunpowder”’) and Black’s Law Dictionary (“weapon that expels a projectile …by the combustion of gunpowder or other explosive”) were consulted for their definitions.  The Court then concluded that appellant’s BB gun was NOT a firearm, since it did not operate by a gunpowder explosion.  Strictly speaking, the bow and grenades would not be either.  The flintlock pistol WOULD operate via projectile and gunpowder explosion, and also has MN Stat § 624.712 defining it specifically as an antique firearm.

Of course, future legislative action or court decisions might present us with a different game to play, with entirely different answers.

 

 

RIP to I-CAN!

I-CAN brochures in trashWe were stunned to learn of the recent demise of I-CAN! Legal’s online form system, which their website indicates is down due to “technical problems.”  Its popular divorce pleading application was a mainstay of the Minnesota Courts website, and we were always happy to promote it t our pro se patrons seeking divorce. The I-CAN! tool allowed users to prepare customized divorce pleadings much more quickly and accurately than they could with the traditional printout forms. They could be saved and edited electronically at the patron’s convenience.  They were also more compact and involved less paper to contend with. I-CAN! offered users the added advantage of electronic discretion as they prepared their forms, which they could later print out and file at the time of their choosing. In comparison, the hardcopy forms are lengthy and cumbersome, with the entire packet for a contested divorce with children numbering well over 150 pages.

The Minnesota Judicial Branch will no longer be offering I-CAN! on the Courts’ webpage, which it says is due to the company’s decision to no longer support the application. Website users are thus being directed to the od hardcopy forms instead. I-CAN! customers can still access their electronic documents that they have already prepared by calling 1-657-232-8281. Users who have other questions can always contact the state Self-Help Center at 651 259-3888.

Considering how valuable I-CAN! was for pro se divorce pleadings, we look forward to the Minnesota Judicial Branch’s next electronic divorce application.

 

cigarettesLast week we learned of the passing of former Judge Kenneth Fitpatrick, who served the Ramsey district bench from 1986 to 1998. Looking back, Judge Fitzpatrick might share the same fate as the late Judge Olin Lewis in that his page in history will forever be that of the presiding judge of a history-changing trial. The case of State of Minnesota v. Philip Morris alleged a 50-year conspiracy to defraud America about the hazards of smoking, to stifle development of safer cigarettes, and to target children as new customers.  Called the largest lawsuit in Minnesota history, the 1998 trial ended in a settlement agreement of roughly 6.6 billion dollars.  This guts of this trial essentially boiled down to the discoverability of over 30,000 sensitive corporate documents, and Judge Fitzpatrick made historical rulings which forced the disclosure of said documents.

R.J. Reynolds lawyers stated that they felt forced into the settlement by what they considered unfair court rulings and a biased judge, but these rulings were upheld all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.  And if jurors are to be appreciated for their fundamental role in our justice system, the 15-week sacrifice of the tobacco jurors should be noted. Then-Chief Judge Lawrence Cohen (also recently deceased) lobbied the Minnesota Legislature to pay the tobacco jurors lump sums for their hardship.  Judge Fitzpatrick himself retired shortly after the long and stressful trial, citing health reasons.

Much has changed when it comes to tobacco consumption and marketing since the time of this trial, which wasn’t so long ago.  You might actually remember the hip and edgy Joe Camel ads gracing billboards and magazine pages well into the nineties.  Bars and restaurants at one time not only permitted smoking, but encouraged it with the availability of cigarette vending machines (which bore warning signs not to purchase them if you were under 18).  Even the recent restorations of the judge portraits involved tedious removal of yellow tobacco film from the canvasses, as smoking was once permitted and common in the law library.

 

Quick and Easy Election Information

ballotRecently the law library has started to see a stream of inquiries about voting eligibility and absentee voting.  This matches recent news reports that a record number of Minnesotans registered to vote via absentee ballot last week.  Minnesota is one of 37 states with absentee voting.  There are no formal criteria for casting an absentee ballot in Minnesota, and you can request one through the Minnesota Secretary of State, but time is of the essence to submit your application and then receive and return your ballot!  Learn more about absentee voting through this article.

Similarly, you can also register to vote through the Secretary of State’s website.  Call them if you live in the metro area and have questions at 651-215-1440.  Ramsey County residents can also find local election information and even cast their vote early at their Plato Street election office ahead of election day.  At this point are you wondering if you are in fact eligible to vote? This questionnaire will help you find out.   (Hint:  You must have completed your entire sentence if you have been convicted of a felony.)  Plan to vote the typical way on the typical day (Tuesday November 8)?  It’s easy to find your polling placeFinally, no matter how or when you choose to vote, don’t be caught off-guard or surprised by your ballot.  Use this function from the Secretary of State to see what it will look like beforehand!


 

A frequent issue that arises for users of the court system is that of finding contact information of the parties they need for their court case. This could be the intended defendant that must be served, or a potential witness to be subpoenaed. The task is made all the more challenging with the modern need to keep personal information personal for security reasons. So what is a litigant to do? Even though there is no single perfect method for locating someone, you may find one of these resources useful.mailbox

  • Consider the old printed white pages and yellow pages. This used to be the standard tool, but has declined with fewer persons having “land lines” for phone service and even fewer publishing their numbers. Still, they can be valuable especially for business information. Most libraries will have this resource, and a public library or historical society is likely to have printed phone directories from past years.
  • The post office likely has forwarding address information for a person that has moved. It is not generally publicly available, but you can opt to fill out a 5-2 Requests for Employee or Customer Information, and provide the requested information pursuant to legal process service.
  • County property records can also be a resource, especially if you are looking for a landlord or other property owner. For Ramsey County, look up address and then see taxpayer reports for the identified taxpayer for the year in question. (You don’t necessarily need to be a subscriber.)  This will normally give the taxpayer’s address as well.  You can also find the official name of the owning business this way, and then look that up through the Secretary of State to find a person and contact information behind that business.
  • Does the person in question have a business (or used to)? Use the Minnesota Secretary of State’s office business filings lookup and get their Registered Office Address.
  • If the person in question has been in court on a traffic citation, their address may be part of that file which can be found in court records (MNCIS).  Similarly, they may have been served as part of another court action and their address is given on a service list. You will still have to go to the courthouse to access the actual records, but there you can check pleadings like the complaint for addresses.
  • Might they be in prison?  Try the Department of Corrections offender locater search.  Even if you have no plans to sue someone in prison, you may still need them as a witness.  If so, speak to a court administrator about getting a subpoena.

These are just some of the possible tools that might help you locate your person in question.  Also read the Courts’ webpage for information on this task.  Do you know of other any handy resources for locating people? Feel free to share them here!

 

Marshall F. Hurley (1908-1960)

Judge Marshall F. Hurley (1959-1960)

Judge Marshall F. Hurley (1959-1960)

Marshall Hurley was born on Feburary 13, 1908 in St. Paul, Minnesota. His father, Joseph “J.J.” Hurley was apparently one of the prominent undertakers of the St. Paul community of the time, and was elected to the Minnesota Legislature two years after his son’s birth.  Marshall attended St. Mark’s Parochial School, St. Thomas Military Academy, and St. Thomas College (now the University of St. Thomas.) He received his L.L.B Degree from the University of Minnesota in 1931 and was admitted to the Minnesota Bar that same year. Sometime not long after that he married Catherine Donohue and they had two sons, Marshall and John.

Hurley engaged in private practice with the firm of Walsh, Jackson, Walsh and Yackel until 1940, when he became Assistant Corporation Counsel for the City of St. Paul.  He held this position until 1954, when he was promoted to the office of Corporation Counsel. There he served until 1959, when he was appointed to the Ramsey District Court by Governor Freeman to fill the vacancy left by the sudden death of Royden Dane from a heart attack. Hurley’s tenure ended less than 15 months later when he had a sudden heart attack of his own and died on May 13, 1960.

Judge Hurley’s portrait is one of two in the library painted by artist James Artig, the other being Judge Carlton McNally.