Minnesota Capitol from Ramsey County Law Library

The Minnesota Capitol is visible from the law library

Last weekend the Minnesota Capitol hosted its open house to celebrate its recent extensive renovation and remodel project yet some might be surprised that the 112 year old building is actually Minnesota’s third capitol.  The history and timeframe of Minnesota’s capitols has some interesting parallels to the history of the Ramsey County courthouses. Each has had three buildings, with the present ones standing apart from the rest for their architectural significance and their longetivity. Similarly, their second buildings are both noteworthy for their short lifespans due to dissatisfaction of their users.  You might recall that Minnesota’s original capitol burned to the ground in 1881.  Built in 1854, it had become a patchwork of expansions by the end of its 27-year life.  The second capitol is the one probably most forgotten, for it served in its original capacity for a rather short time. Indeed, the state began planning the third capital in 1893, only ten years after the second one was dedicated.  The third-and-present capitol was completed and occupied in 1905, leaving the second vacated after just 22 years.  Ironically, this second building served another thirty-plus years as meeting space, storage, and parking until its demolition in 1937. This story of short-lived usefulness is similar to the second Ramsey County courthouse, which at least managed to serve its original function for 43 years before it was replaced and demolished.

Why such a short lifetime for a state capitol?  Granted, it had been hastily built, what with the need to replace what had been lost in the fire. The budget for the new capitol was also very lean and strict, with a misdemeanor penalty for exceeding the budget. (Never mind whether or not the finished project would last through the next generation.) Apparently, it was the faulty ventilation that led the push to replace this nearly-new building so shortly after its construction.  It was also postulated that the second capitol was insufficient in that it was little more than a “glorified county courthouse,” and inadequate to represent the grand state that many Minnesotans felt their state was becoming. (Decide for yourself if the capitol then looked like the county courthouse  located down the street.)

Minnesota’s trial-and-error history of building a capitol that could function and inspire through the ages is all the more reason to celebrate this recent renovation project.  If you missed the festivities, you can always take a tour or check out the excellent restoration photos.  Alternatively, track down the new book Our Minnesota State Capitol by Denis P. Gardner.

 

Federal District Court of MinnesotaWe probably take our easy access to state court materials for granted, what with much electronic access offered in all Minnesota courthouses, backed up with archived material at the State Law Library.  On the other hand, how do you find the federal case information you need, with as little inconvenience and expense possible?  Sounds simple if you just want an appellate opinion from the Eighth Circuit (Google Scholar of course), but it is trickier if you need a filed motion or complaint at the district court level.  We investigated three different options for locating federal materials.

Courthouse Access - For one or two items filed in the U.S. District Court of Minnesota, a visit to the Warren Burger Courthouse might be your easiest answer. There you will find two public computers in the clerk’s area for accessing filed materials. Be aware that you can only get Minnesota district or appellate materials this way, and that printing them will cost you10 cents per page. If you need assistance from the clerk staff, the document will cost you 50 cents per page to print. If a filed item is listed electronically but not linked (probably because it is greater than 50 pages long), you must get it from the clerk staff who will copy it at the 50 cents per page rate.  Clerk staff told us that this electronic system will allow users to search records back to “the early 1990’s.” If a case has progressed to the 8th Circuit appellate level, the documents are still accessible provided it started or became a Minnesota district case. (You cannot access 8th Circuit appellate documents that started in Iowa, for instance.)  The Minnesota clerk’s office can send materials out-of-state either electronically or in hardcopy, but that a person must send in their money first. The charge will again be 50 cents per page.  For more information contact the clerk’s office.

PACER – Federal court users are strongly encouraged open an online PACER account, which might be the most convenient and affordable option of all. Simply go to the PACER homepage and select the registration tab. The “registration wizard” will then walk you through the steps to get started. One must provide credit card information, or allow PACER to verify their address to allow for billing. Pacer will allow you to search and print district, bankruptcy, and appellate courts, and print filings from any of their districts and not just Minnesota. By Judicial Conference policy, if your usage does not exceed $15 in a quarter, fees are waived. PACER’s greatest value is in accessing filings for out-of-state districts, as opposed to having to contact the respective clerk’s office.  For additional information, you may want to print out this handy PACER users guide, or take their online training.

Westlaw -  We offer free Westlaw in the library, and our subscription offers much (but not comprehensive) federal case law coverage.  Federal case coverage available through Westlaw begins with 1790. At the district level this will be opinions only, but Westlaw does offer brief access for U.S. Supreme Court and Courts of Appeals cases.  And not all cases are available, as the Westlaw scope note states that “[c]overage varies by court.”  Westlaw allows free email delivery of documents, but not every document is offered with the email option.  We charge 15 cents per page for print jobs at the library.

 

 

Ramsey County Law Library - Police misconduct collectionOur local law enforcement has been and continues to be conspicuously in the news over the last year following high-profile incidents.  After it looked like the spotlight might finally be fading in Ramsey County, it shifted over to Minneapolis.  Make no mistake that the subject of police actions and accountability is a sobering one, and one that history has shown can have significant fallout.  This spring marked the 25th Anniversary of the Rodney King riots, and that this summer marks the 50th Anniversary of the Detroit riots, and that both riots were sparked by what local residents considered unjust police action.

If you experienced a police encounter that left you feeling that officers overstepped their proper authority, what are your options?  To start, the Minnesota State Law Library has an excellent LibGuide of resources for researching police functions and duties.  Also be aware that cities frequently post their police manuals online, including both Minneapolis and St. Paul (albeit with redactions).  Locally, St. Paul has the Police Civilian Internal Affairs Review Commission (PCIARC). This group of nine civilians reviews complaints against Saint Paul Police Department Officers and makes disciplinary and policy recommendations to the Chief of Police. They can also help individuals file complaints and navigate the process.  There is also this online resource from the Department of Justice regarding police misconduct with the option of filing a complaint.  But be aware that filing one of these investigatory complaints at either the local or federal level is not a substitute for filing a lawsuit in civil court.  You still may wish to contact a lawyer to discuss this legal options.

Book-wise, we have a few gems here on our own shelves for more advanced reading and research (pictured above).  These include such titles as Police Misconduct: Law and Litigation (M. Avery, et al.), Police Civil Liability ( I. Silver.), Civil Actions Against State & Local Government: Its Divisions, Agencies & Officers (Thomson-Reuters 2d), and The Rights of Law Enforcement Officers (W. Aitchison).  Don’t forget that our latest Westlaw subscription now gives easy access to many other related titles to assist you as you research this area of law.

 

 
The very beginnings of the courthouse! (Courtesy of the MN Historical Society)

The very beginnings of the courthouse! (Courtesy of the MN Historical Society)

You may not have time to visit a museum during your workday, but courthouse employees are often delighted to discover the what lies on the other floors of the building.  We welcome these resident visitors to the law library, where they can appreciate historical and architectural details here, as well as the fantastic judge portrait collection.   Stunning though the library space is, however, it is only the frosting on the cake of this this historic architectural confection.  Indeed, for those who have never visited, entering the courthouse itself can feel like stepping onto a vintage movie set.  This is why a formal tour is probably the best way to discover some of the lesser-known details of this building, and can easily be arranged by contacting the Ramsey County Historical Society.

The tour includes information on the historical beginnings of the courthouse.  This present-day courthouse basically resulted from a general dissatisfaction with the previous courthouse, which was dedicated in 1889.  Perhaps local leaders felt slightly embarrassed when a grand jury remarked in 1925 that the then-36-year-old courthouse was “antiquated, inconvenient, and an architectural mistake.” Surely the pressure was then on to build something not only beautiful for the community, but also something functional and timeless for future generations.  After much planning and construction, the final result was our current courthouse, which was dedicated on November 21, 1932. (See this write-up of the festivities held that day.)  Indeed this building has survived well beyond its novelty stage, as it was inducted into the National Register of Historical Places in 1983.  (See also the original nomination form.)

What often gets overlooked in the courthouse is the impressive list of artistic masters showcased here.  To start, the building was designed by Holabird & Root of Chicago and Thomas Ellerbe & Co. of St. Paul.  Holabird and Root were masters then of what we call art deco, the style famous for sleekness of form and simplicity of ornament.  The actual construction was performed by Foley Brothers, Inc. of St. Paul.  The most obvious and familiar of the art installations is the onyx Indian God of Peace by Carl Milles, but fewer people may know that the actual hands-on carving was done by local St. Paul stonecutter John Garatti and his crew.  The exterior stone decorations are the work of Lee Lawrie, who was the most successful American architectural sculptor of his time.  (See this fantastic article about his work.)  There are also the six bronze elevator doors which were made by Albert Stewart.  The city council chambers feature murals which were painted by John W. Norton.  For quick reference see this handy brochure of the artistic features throughout the courthouse and the people behind them.

Unfortunately, these walls can’t talk, so sign up for a tour to hear what they would tell you if they could!

 

Would You Go to Jail for Your Dog?

27f547ebf09ce9be65090c8c5d800733Despite the scary caption, your dog has far more to lose in a court of law than you.  Minnesota allows Buster to face “jail” or far worse fates depending on his actions or your non-actions.  This is essentially because the state does not consider your dog a member of your family. Your dog is property, meaning he or she has no rights of their own. You protect your dog’s rights by protecting your property rights, or otherwise face possible economic consequences.

Consider the bite of Minnesota’s dog liability statute, which states that “[i]f a dog, without provocation, attacks or injures any person who is acting peaceably in any place where the person may lawfully be, the owner of the dog is liable in damages to the person so attacked or injured to the full amount of the injury sustained [emphasis added].” For similar liability reasons under MN Stat § 347.01, you may want to think twice about rooting for Rover should he get into a fight with another domestic critter.  Under MN Stat § 347.03, ”any owner or caretaker may kill any dog found chasing, injuring, or worrying its sheep or other livestock or poultry owned by or in care of such owner or caretaker, on lands or premises owned or controlled by the owner or caretaker, and any owner or caretaker of sheep may kill any dog found on the owner’s or caretaker’s premises where sheep are kept, not under human restraint or control.”  The law also allows anyone attacked by your dog beyond his or her enclosure to likewise defend themselves to the strongest measure possible, as well as any livestock the dog may attack.

Is your dog licensed?  Don’t consider yourself or your dog too independent for such, for an unlicensed dog can lawfully be seized and destroyed by authorities. And Minnesota law does not think your dog is just “being friendly” if it repeatedly chases or bothers public road users.  Rather, such behavior could result in your dog being declared a public nuisance, which could potentially result in harsh consequences to Buster.  And maybe you don’t consider Daisy dangerous, but depending on her past, she might be.  Dangerous dogs essentially spend the rest of their lives on “probation” of sorts, and are subject to their own strict registration requirements.  Again, the potential peril to the dog is great if the owner doesn’t comply with these.

Beyond these unforgiving statutes, most dog regulation comes under local ordinances which you would do well to consult, along with local resources.  The St. Paul Animal Control page, for example, offers instructions for getting your dog licensed. (If your licensed dog gets lost in St. Paul, he or she gets a free ride home!)  There is also information on how to register your dangerous dog and what you should do in St. Paul if you are bitten by a dog.  Think your municipality has totally exceeded its authority in dealing with your dog?  See this guide from the League of Minnesota Cities specifying how municipalities may lawfully regulate dogs in their communities. Also, come up and check out Every Dog’s Legal Guide: A Must-Have Book for Your Owner by Mary Randolph.

To conclude, where your dog’s safety and your liability are concerned, you are the one holding the leash.  Don’t ask your dog to lay down its life for your neglect.  Use YOUR rights to make sure both you are both stay safe and happy together!

 

Good news for workaholics who don’t have round-the-clock access to Westlaw or other subscription databases for their legal research needs.  If you  have internet service, you can likely find what you need on Google Scholar  Of course, the tools and filters available through Westlaw have no equal, but being able to simply access and search case law can make all the difference for most research needs. Here is where Google Scholar probably offers more than you realize.

Many people know that they can use Google Scholar to access cases by citation, but you can use Boolean terms or natural language to search words and terms as well.  To this end you can also use this court selection interface to fine-tune your search.   With the “My Library” function on the left side of your results page, you can set up an account to save what you find and come back to later.  From your same results page you can even create an alert for any new cases that may come down later.  Besides case law, does your research task require you to access law review articles?  Google Scholar can serve these up through its “articles” search feature on its home interface.  To learn more about all of these and other features, consider printing out this handy tutorial for Google Scholar users that we recently discovered through this recent article in the Minnesota Lawyer.

We are proud to offer free Westlaw access to our patrons, but Google Scholar can be a research lifeline when you cannot be here.  It can be a lifesaver for the solo attorney without a Westlaw subscription, the pro se litigant, or anyone who must do their research away from the law library.  Give it a try and see what you think!

 

 

Wedding ring exchange

A few years ago people were surprised when Saint Paul was named by USA Today as “the most romantic getaway city in North America.”   Saint Paul’s surprise victory was predicated in no small part to the historic architecture that adds a romantic backdrop to any downtown scene.  With its own stately architecture, it logically flows that the Ramsey County Courthouse offers a lovely setting for an otherwise informal civil wedding ceremony.  June is the perfect month to be aware of its possibility as the venue for any upcoming nuptuals in your life.

In Ramsey County, marriage licenses are handled by the Department of Vital Records.  You must apply in person for your license at their office in the Ramsey County Public Health Center If your marriage plans include name change, you can also access the needed information and forms. Then you are ready to consult this generous list of Second District judges who would be honored to perform your courthouse wedding ceremony.   (You should call your desired judge and ask what their fee for this service is, since it varies from judge to judge.)  Notice that most of them are just as happy to perform  offsite ceremonies, if you prefer, but the point is that there is no extra charge to use this elegant downtown venue!  Depending on the time of day, there is also the free service of beaming courthouse staff smiling and offering their congratulations as they leave work for the day.  Convenient access to downtown restaurants and hotels for celebrating afterward are also part of the “most romantic getaway city.”

See how one Ramsey County Courthouse wedding was beautifully showcased on a wedding planning blog.  If you still need convincing, google “Ramsey courthouse wedding” to see dozens of couples taking advantage of the historic architectural-marvel-of-a-courthouse for their big day!

 

Happy Fathers’ Day From the U.S. Supreme Court

father and childThe U.S. Supreme Court has struck down a federal immigration law that favors mothers over fathers in determining the citizenship of a child.  The law in question, 8 U.S.C.§ 1409, created an exception which automatically granted citizenship to the child of an unwed mother if said mother resided in the U.S. for at least a year. In contrast, 8 U.S.C. §1401 requires the unwed father of a child to live in the U.S. for 5 years for the child to be granted U.S. citizenship. As Justice Ginsburg wrote for the Court, this difference violates the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection of the law. (She was joined by justices Kennedy, Breyer, Sotomayor, Kagan, and Chief Justice Roberts, with Justices Thomas and Alito filing a separate concurring opinion.)

You can read the entire opinion in the case of Sessions v. Morales-Santana, wherein Luis Ramón Morales-Santana was born abroad to unwed parents. His mother was from the Dominican Republic and his father was a U.S. citizen who had previously worked on a construction project there.  Morales-Santana’s father fell 20 days short of the U.S. residency requirement for Morales-Santana to receive automatic citizenship at birth. Morales-Santana later came to the U.S. with his parents as a permanent resident, but the government sought to deport him in 2000 after he was convicted of several felonies. Morales-Santana challenged the citizenship law as unconstitutional sex discrimination, and Supreme Court agreed: The child of an unwed American mother cannot be granted automatic citizenship more quickly than the child of an unwed American father.

This post might just as appropriately be named “[U]nhappy Mothers’ Day from the U.S. Supreme Court.” The Court’s recent decision is not a boost to fatherhood per se, but more specifically one to gender equality.  As this article explains, the Court’s temporary fix was to strike down the special exception law for mothers, since it was not at liberty to establish the “exception to the rule.”  Congress may opt to resolve this unconstitutionality in a way that is unfavorable for those in circumstances like Morales-Santana’s.  And since the Court is only requiring that the corrected law treat mothers and fathers equally, resolution might mean extending this citizen-residency requirement for mothers, shortening it for fathers, or doing away with it completely.  You might recall the old 1971 case of Palmer v. Thompson, wherein the Supreme Court held that closing public swimming pools altogether was a constitutionally-acceptable alternative to racially segregating them.  The result was a long, hot summer for all.

 

Appellate briefsAny lawyer writing a brief will consult relevant case opinions, but the most inspirational tool for the job is often other briefs (especially those that inspired past favorable opinions.) And we all know that those briefs are not as quickly and easily obtained as the opinions.  Our patrons may be afraid to ask us about briefs, for fear of being taken to that huge microfiche viewer in the back. Fortunately, the electronic age is slowly making inroads in this much-requested area, and access to the brief you need may be at your fingertips.

  1. First, users might be surprised that both appellate and district court briefs can be accessed via public access computers in any Minnesota state courthouse. (In the main Ramsey County courthouse, go to Room 72 in the basement.) So long as they are not sealed or confidential, briefs are available from January 2015 on, and include both published and unpublished cases.  The familiar drawback is that the MNCIS and MACS interfaces only allow searching by case numbers or names, with no option for subject matter searching.
  2. Second, be aware of the Minnesota State Law library’s online archive for briefs and oral arguments, with coverage beginning with volume 705 of the Northwestern Reporter 2d series (2005). Though not as sleek as a Westlaw interface, the search blank can be filled with statute numbers, terms like “limine”, or with Northwest Reporter citations. Criminal opinions are only available for the Supreme Court, and not the Court of Appeals, and appendices and exhibits are not electronically available.   Are you looking for an appellate brief that is very new and not yet on MACS?  You can send an email to the State Law Library to request it.  For more assistance in locating briefs, see also the State Law Library’s excellent page on finding briefs and oral arguments.
  3. Third, our expanded Westlaw subscription now allows access to many (but not all) briefs.   The “briefs” link on the Minnesota page allows access to selected briefs or petitions filed with a federal or supreme or appellate court, beginning with 2001.  (Briefs for other states can be accessed from their respective pages.)  A limited number of district court briefs are also available through the “Minnesota trial court documents” links.  You may not be able to find exactly the case brief you need, but the advanced interface lets you search for briefs in certain subject areas, such as “motion to quash” or “motion to dismiss.” (Be aware that few Ramsey District briefs are available through this source.)
  4. The old-fashioned brief options are hardcopy and ….microfiche.  The Minnesota State Law Library keeps hardcopy briefs for published opinions back to 1917 Those of the 300 NW2d Reporter series onward may be borrowed.  (A money deposit may be needed.)  And yes, we still have briefs on microfiche here at the Ramsey County Law Library for published cases, going back to the 300 NW2d Reporter volume forward (roughly 1981 and after.)  You can at least use the microfiche to see if a brief is helpful, and either print it or go to the State Law Library to borrow it.

We hope your brief searching is itself brief and painless.  When you are ready to start writing your own, consider borrowing our copy of A Brief Guide to Brief Writing: Demystifying the Memorandum of Law.

 

Legislative Chapter 184 from 1949You might have missed it, but county law libraries made a surprise appearance in the Minnesota legislative session this spring.  You can read the original Senate File 1113 here, which would have allowed for the diversion of county law library funds for construction of a courthouse.  This legislation passed both the Senate and the House, but was vetoed by Governor Dayton.  But bills  concerning county law libraries could always come up again at the capitol.

Without examining now-vetoed bill, this occurrence presents an opportunity to consider some history behind county law libraries in Minnesota. Their modern incarnation formally came into existence with what became Minnesota Statute §134A.  You can read in the 1949 Session Laws wherein the Legislature laid out the specifics for the establishment, operation, and function of county law libraries.  This original text reveals that amazingly little has changed to the county law library statute over the years, such as which sectors must be represented on governing boards, how funding is to be provided, and who must be allowed to use the libraries.  Keep in mind that this was all back in 1949, predating modern “access to justice” efforts.  Of course, what might have been casually called a ”county law library” existed in Minnesota prior to this statute, often growing from local bar association libraries.  (This was how the Hennepin County Law Library got its start way back in 1883.)  But the original statute overwhelmingly set the standards for our modern county law libraries.

Today you can find county law libraries throughout the state, and this brochure from the Minnesota Coalition of County Law Libraries (MCCLL) lists those which offer professional staff to assist users.  But history-wise, its not easy to determine when Minnesota’s various county law libraries come to be.  Public law libraries existed in St. Paul, Minneapolis, and Duluth back in 1955, as evidenced in this article in the Law Library Journal about the founding of the Minnesota Association of Law Libraries (MALL).  Since this sort of historical information can be elusive, we would like to know more about the history of your county law library (including this library).  If you have any such  inside knowledge, please share it with us.  And- if you have found the services and resources of your county law library helpful, by all means tell your legislator!