Was your vehicle or other property recently seized by law enforcement as part of an investigation?  You might feel that your car’s impoundment was downright criminal, but getting it back will require civil action on your part.  And it’s not just cars that can be seized.  Firearms are also subject to government seizure, as are recreational vehicles like your snowmobile or boat if they suspected to be tools in the commission of DWIs or fishing/gaming offenses.  Last year brought some changes to Minnesota civil forfeiture law.  In May the Minnesota Legislature passed legislation wherein the government would no longer be allowed to keep property and cash seized in drug cases when there is no criminal conviction.  In August the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled in Garcia –Mendoza v. 2003 Chevy Tahoe that the exclusionary rule applied to civil forfeiture as well as criminal search and seizure actions.   Despite these changes, this Minnesota House Research Information Brief from 2010 still provides good information on what Minnesota civil forfeiture law covers.

Unlike you, your property has none of the constitutional rights protected under criminal law, so actions to recover government-seized property have to be brought in civil court.  More often than not, your seized property will be worth less than $15,000, so such recovery action would properly be brought in Conciliation Court.  If you recently had your property seized in Ramsey County, and were served with a Notice of Seizure and Intent to Forfeit as part of a DWI arrest, you can find helpful procedural information at the 2nd Judicial District website.  Demand Claim and other related forms are available at the Minnesota Courts website.   You will also want to read the current Minnesota forfeiture statute (MN Stat. §609.531) for more information.   Also consider coming to our Housing and Conciliation Court clinic for a free lawyer consultation to see where you (and your car) stand.

Despite the recent changes to Minnesota forfeiture law, civil forfeiture remains a controversial government tool.  For example, this recent article from the Institute for Justice presents an investigation into the very usefulness of civil forfeiture as a force for civic good.


Judge Charles Bechhoefer (1864-1932)

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Charles Bechhoefer was born on January 1, 1864 at Woodbury, Pennsylvania.  He graduated from the University of Michigan Law Department in 1985.  He moved to Minnesota shortly thereafter, arriving in St. Paul on July 4th, 1885.  He was admitted to Minnesota practice on July 25, only three weeks after his arrival.  He worked as law clerk in the firm W. H. and John B. Sanborn for the next two years, after which he started his own practice of probate, real estate, and taxation law.  He continued this solo practice until he was appointed Judge of the Ramsey County District Court by Governor Preuss on January 23, 1923.

Bechhoefer married Helen Goldman at Holidaysburg, Pennsylvania on April 28, 1892.  They had two children.  Helen died on October 24, 1917, shortly after which her surviving sister Caroline Goldman came from Pennsylvania and took charge of Bechhoefer’s household.  Judge Bechhoefer married Caroline on November 8, 1924.

The Minnesota Supreme Court affirmed the final district court order issued by Judge Bechhoefer in the case of In re Estate of Taylor,  222NW 528 (1928), holding that the state could levy an inheritance tax on Minnesota-based state and municipal bonds, even though the deceased lived in New York.  Two years later on appeal, the United States Supreme Court reversed the Minnesota Supreme Court decision, holding in the case of Farmers Loan & Trust Co. v. State of Minnesota, 280 U.S. 204 (1930) that a state may not tax anything beyond the boundaries of its jurisdiction without violating the 14th Amendment (280 U.S. 204).    Farmers Loan & Trust came to be a much-cited case in regards to inheritance taxes and states’ powers of taxation.

On March 10, 1931, Judge Bechhoefer resigned from the bench due to ill health.  He died on January 25, 1932, and was buried at Mt. Zion Cemetery in St. Paul, Minnesota.


The Ramsey County Bar Association, MEMORIAL:  Judge Charles Bechhoefer (1864-1932), THE MINNESOTA LEGAL HISTORY PROJECT;,d.aWw

Judge Bechhoefer Weds, St. Paul Pioneer Press, Nov. 9, 1924


My Way is the Skyway

This skyway sign above 5th Street has since been removed.

This skyway sign above 5th Street has since been removed.

The St. Paul skyway system has generated its own discussion among the downtown community in the last year, particularly after last year’s arrest incident. Debate over what human behavior was acceptable in the skyway system, versus when law enforcement efforts were going too far was predictable. The role of the skyway has generated even more attention lately, what with plummeting temperatures and the new stair access connecting the Metro Green Line Central Station to the skyway. Also noteworthy: The city is facing a lawsuit from last year’s skyway arrest.

Controversy surrounding the regulation of activity in the skyway is nothing new. Back in the early 1990s, the issues of skyway safety and police presence were frequently in the news. Reports of criminal incidents were frequent, as were charges of race-biased policing. Clearly those were stormy times for the skyway system, yet it also played a key role in downtown St. Paul’s preservation, and perhaps its recent renaissance. The now-active St. Paul Athletic Club once faced demolition, but its skyway role likely saved it from the wrecking ball. At one time the project of connecting the historic Union Depot to the skyway system by way of TPT was feared to be a “skyway to nowhere”– hard to imagine now that the Depot is an active and vital transportation hub.

As a publicly owned amenity, the St. Paul skyway is governed by St. Paul Ordinance 140. Some of the prohibited listed acts include (but are not limited to) littering, sitting on floors or steps, and playing audible music. Citizens can keep abreast of St. Paul skyway issues and express their opinions through the Skyway Governance Advisory Committee of the Capitol River Council. This is an advisory body to the City of Saint Paul and the City Council on issues and policies of the downtown Saint Paul skyway system “including but not limited to its design, signage, and hours of operation, in an effort to uphold the skyway system’s purpose to enable safe pedestrian traffic while also contributing to the economic viability and aesthetic and cultural enrichment of the city as a focus of activity in the downtown area.” Meetings are free and open to the public.


IMG_9482The combination of the holidays, the weather, and professional demands are challenging enough for the best of us.   In addition, you may find that personal problems are pushing you dangerously close to your own Coach Yeo meltdown moment.  Let us give credit to the Wild head coach for reminding us that we all have our breaking points (staged or not).  Before you reach yours, consider the options to get a handle on your stress.

Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers (LCL) provides “free, confidential peer and professional assistance to Minnesota lawyers, judges, law students, and their immediate family members on any issue that causes stress or distress.”  Their services include up to four free counseling sessions through their counseling partner organization DOR & Associates (DOR).  For more hands-on help, a multi-session workshop “Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction” will begin on January 20, 2015.  DOR will also be presenting a stress-management webinar on January 20, with opportunity to “learn to recognize and manage stressful situations, practice relaxation techniques, and understand the benefits of making the mind-body connection.”  These two events are both presented on the front page of the LCL website.


The “I” in DWI


The new year means new beginnings for many, especially with the revised expungement law taking effect this month.  Those who were picked up on a DWI (driving while impaired) over the holidays may be seeking a new start of a different sort.  Courts are starting to recognize that DWI offenders need more from the judicial system than the typical charge-convict-sentence cycle.  Preventing future offenses means getting to the varied and personal root causes behind DWI, specifically, the “I” component.  This is why DWI courts are gaining attention, with their dedication to changing the behavior of alcohol and other drug dependent offenders arrested for DWI, while using the drug court model to address the root cause of impaired driving.   DWI court efforts are led by the National Center for DWI Courts, which is supported by entities including the U.S. Department of Transportation.

DWI rates are decreasing nationwide as a result of several factors.  Recent studies have shown that Minnesota’s specialty courts for chronic drunken drivers reduce recidivism and save taxpayers money.  At the end of 2014, Minnesota had 16 DWI or hybrid DWI/drug courts.  For 2015, DWI courts are expanding into Norman, Polk and Red Lake counties .

The Ramsey County DWI Court is for persons charged with three or more gross misdemeanor DWI offenses.  This specialty court program provides “intensive supervision for persons who are interested in changing their drinking and driving behavior and ending their cycle in the criminal justice system.”   The program, which accommodates approximately 60 participants at a time, involves regular court appearances for at least 24 months, participation in a substance abuse treatment program, and attending a MADD victim-impact panel.



Job ApplicationAfter months of waiting, Minnesota’s new criminal expungement law takes effect January 1, 2015. This new law will give Minnesota judges statutory authority to seal criminal records covering a broader range of circumstances than were previously available. This is significant considering that according to the Council on Crime and Justice, one in four Minnesotans has a criminal record.  MPR posted an article which helps illustrate how a well-meaning person might wind up with a criminal record and why he or she might benefit from expungement as a tool to get back on track.

For Ramsey County residents with prior criminal convictions or arrests, there has never been a better time to attend a local expungement workshop. In addition to the Court-sponsored workshops that take place on the second and fourth Thursday of each month workshops in the Law Library, workshops are also available on the Third Friday of each month at the Rondo Outreach Library.  Starting in February, workshops will also be available the first Friday of each month at the Arlington Hills Library and Community Center.  See this poster for handy reference to all the workshops.

Take a look at the law and see how it has been expanded.  This article from the Bench and Bar of Minnesota helps explain the legal foundations of the new expungement law, as does this practice tip sheet from Volunteer Lawyers Network (VLN).


A Warm Holiday Thank You to Our Volunteers

Volunteer attorney Ryan Peterson greets a clinic visitor

Volunteer attorney Ryan Peterson greets a clinic visitor

It’s no secret that one of our most popular offerings at the Law Library remains our Tuesday afternoon Housing and Conciliation Court clinic.  Our clinic allows Ramsey County residents (and those with potential Housing and Conciliation Court cases in the 2nd Judicial District) the opportunity to speak with an attorney for up to 30 minutes.  The clinic is specifically designed to help with legal matters that include landlord-tenant issues, debt collection and judgments, and unlawful detainer expungements.  In 2013 our clinic helped 437 visitors, with similar or greater projections on track for 2014.

Of course, none of this would be possible without the service of our volunteer attorneys.  Their generous time and attention is what our clinic ultimately depends on.  So we are shouting out a big THANK YOU to them this holiday, plus to all attorneys who give their time and resources in order to bring the access to justice concept that much closer to reality, especially for struggling members of our community.

We look forward to continuing our clinic in 2015.  If you are a practicing attorney interested in volunteering for our clinic, please see this information and contact us.


Courtroom 050If you are an attorney with a major hearing or trial coming up in the 2nd Judicial District, do you have your game plan ready as far as the courtroom technology you intend to use?  Will you have all of your exhibits properly saved and ready to display electronically?  Will you be presenting a PowerPoint slideshow for the jury?  Will you be directing all of this from your own portable laptop or will you bring an assistant to do this?  Do you have other presentation needs to plan ahead for?

You would do well to read the Courtroom Technology Resources page for the Second Judicial District at the Minnesota Courts webpage.  For your laptop, VGA, HDMI and DisplayPort connections are available, but you should bring your own cable.  Certain equipment can be borrowed from the Court (such as DVD players or projectors).  Make these reservations at least a week in advance with Court Administration.  The Court does not furnish laptops, and only wireless guest internet access is available (under MJB Guest).  Note that the Court staff is also not available to serve as your tech support, other than for those items supplied by the Court.  If you still have questions, prepare a list of them regarding your presentation needs and ask your judge’s clerk about the technology setup in your particular courtroom.  Do this at least a week in advance of your appearance.  For added peace of mind, ask if you can come to the actual courtroom ahead of time to set up a “dry run” and see if everything works.

Even though they are not directly applicable to Minnesota state district courts, it may be helpful to consult the Courtroom Technology Manuals for the Minnesota Federal Courts.  At the very least, they can help you draft a list of questions to ask your judge’s clerk.  If you are still concerned about the possibility of unforeseen technical problems, being able to present your case on a simple dry erase board is always a reliable backup.  You can also come up to make a quick print-out or photocopy as needed in the Law Library for 15 cents per page.


Sun Setting on the West

December 5, 2014(2) 001Now that the County plans to raze the buildings that housed the former West Publishing Company, it is time to look back at this local chapter in the history of legal research.  It’s easy to forget that many of the tools used by lawyers and librarians were developed right here in downtown St. Paul.

The instigator of all this was John Briggs West, a relatively uneducated man.  John came to Minnesota from Massachusetts in 1870 when his father, a bookkeeper, was transferred per his employment with the railroad.  Eighteen-year-old John soon found work for himself with a book company, which had him peddling books and office supplies to local lawyers.  These frontier lawyers (hoping to practice something better than frontier justice) complained to John about the difficulty in getting current legal information and other practical tools.  Seeing an opportunity, John quit his job and opened his own downtown St. Paul business in 1872, dedicated to serving the needs of the local bar.  His creations included a line of legal forms, reprints of hard-to-find treatises, and an index to the Minnesota statutes.  With his brother Horatio as his business partner, he soon began publishing a weekly report of the opinions handed down by the Minnesota Supreme Court.  This report was a huge hit, soon to be named the North Western Reporter.  Ten years later, John came up with a bold and original index scheme to catalog cases by subject matter that would later become the well-known key number system.  John left his company in 1899 and was largely forgotten thereafter.  Librarians will be interested to know that John spoke at the 1908 annual meeting of the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL).  He died in 1922 in Pasadena, CA.  The details of John Briggs West and his life are detailed in this article (whose author graciously allowed it to be referenced and linked for this blog).

See this other excellent article which illuminates little known facts of the past West Publishing Company itself.  Many don’t realize, for instance, that the company was responsible for Black’s Law Dictionary.  Also see the included appendix/brochure Law Books by the Million (West 1901) that detailed the day-to-day inner workings of the company at the turn of the previous century. Consider the fact that 5000-6000 sheep skins became the covers for the West Reporting System every month.  Take a minute to see the historic photos, for they speak volumes. (Proofreading at West was probably the epitome of employment opportunities for sharp young women back then.)  The best photos are of the buildings in their heyday, which locals can easily recognize.

One of the buildings marked for destruction became the site of the Ramsey County Jail after the company’s exodus up until 2003. Another was briefly home to the Ramsey County Law Library. It’s worth taking a walking tour of this part of downtown St. Paul to see these buildings while they still stand.   Waiting to see them on Lost Twin Cities 7 is not guaranteed, and won’t be quite the same as seeing them in person.



Law enforcement is extra-busy during the holidays keeping the roads and streets safe from drunk drivers and other hazards.  Sober or not, you might still be cited for a traffic violation.  Likewise, snow emergencies and shopping traffic pose additional challenges to drivers hoping to avoid parking citations.  But let’s say you have been ticketed, and unjustly in your opinion. What are you options?  What can you can anticipate? The easy resolution is to pay the fine, of course.  (This will be considered a plea of guilty.) Doing so as soon as possible will help you avoid any late fees.  But what if you feel you are in the right and want to contest the ticket?   After you confirm that your ticket has been posted, you may call to set up an appointment with a hearing officer.  This person has the authority hear your side of the story and to dismiss certain offenses.  (This is easily your best opportunity to present your view of the facts and get the matter resolved.  In neighboring Hennepin County, about 90% of those who meet with a hearing officer settle their case!)

If you cannot resolve your issue with the hearing officer, and your particular offense requires a court date, you will be mailed the time and date of when you need to appear.  You may decide to contact a lawyer for this appearance. (Note:  Only charges carrying the possibility of jail time are eligible for public defender representation.)  If you can’t appear on your court date for whatever reason, you must contact the court administrator to inquire about a continuance.  If you do miss your court date, the charge may be certified to your driving record and a bench warrant may be issued for your arrest.  If you have already missed your court date through no fault of your own, you should contact the Court Scheduling office to learn what you need to do.  All of this information and more is available at the 2nd Judicial District section of the Minnesota Courts webpage.

Let’s say you have followed these steps through to your pre-trial conference and trial dates, and the court has still found you guilty. Or you didn’t make your court date and a default judgment has been entered against you. Legally you have the option of filing an appeal.  This is not a small task.  Appellate filing fees are currently $550, and you will have to plead the merits of your case as it relates to its reviewability as well as its grounds for reversal. (See the new 2014 Appellate Standards of Review.)  “The judge was rude” or “I forgot my court date” probably won’t help for either requirement.  Time is also of the essence – See MN Rules Crim. Proc. 28.02 for the time window allowed to appeal misdemeanor judgments.  If you are still determined to proceed at this point, seriously consider consulting an attorney.

However you choose to proceed with your parking/traffic citation, you are far better off addressing it promptly rather than burying it in your glove box.  Consider stopping by the Law Library to consult print resources like Beat Your Ticket (Nolo 2013) or Minnesota Misdemeanors: DWI, Traffic, Criminal, and Ordinance Offenses (LexisNexis 2014 Ed.)  to learn more.