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!

 

Scales of JusticeAs we appreciate the historical significance of the Fourteenth Amendment throughout May, we can consider two lesser-known figures.  This is first the story of a man named John born in Kentucky in 1833 to a slaveholding family. His father was a loyal Whig political leader and lawyer, who served both in Congress and as Kentucky’s attorney general. The father wished the same political stature for his sons, and named this particular son for his favorite Supreme Court justice. This son indeed followed in his father’s footsteps, even attending law school before it was standard to a legal career. It wasn’t long thereafter that he himself was elected attorney general of Kentucky. Although John strongly supported efforts to keep Kentucky in the Unionleading up to the Civil War, he was staunchly opposed to the Emancipation Proclamation. But since the Proclamation only applied to rebel states and not Kentucky, he continued to be responsible for his family’s slaves after his father’s death. His pro-Union, pro-slavery position was politically precarious, and he lost his bid for the US Senate in 1867, as well as his bid to remain attorney general of Kentucky.

John retreated from politics into his law practice, but he was quietly undergoing a philospical metamorphosis. Specifically, he began championing ideas of racial equality which he had previously scorned.  Now affiliating himself with the Republican party, he soon embraced both the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments.  His passionate campaign speeches helped bring about the election of Rutherford B. Hayes in 1876, which led to his appointment by President Hayes to the Supreme Court in 1877. Thus began the epic high court career of John Marshall Harlan, with his reputation as the Court’s “great dissenter.” His famous dissents included the lone ones in both the Civil Rights Cases (1883) and Plessy vs. Ferguson (1896). We may see his opinions as heroic in our age, and indeed, his Plessy dissent was later regarded by a young Thurgood Marshall as his “bible” as he argued the case that led to the historic Brown vs. Board of Education decision.  But Harlan was considered by his peers and contemporaries a contrary and eccentric  justice.

John Marshall Harlan’s dramatic political turnabout may be cause for speculation, but this Smithsonian article presents an interesting theory. John grew up in the presence of a “light-skinned, blue-eyed” slave named Robert, who was believed to be John’s half-brother. Indeed, John’s father treated Robert as his son, which he likely was. Robert grew up to have a keen business sense, operating both a barbershop and a grocery store in the 1840’s. The proceeds of these ventures allowed him to buy his own freedom when he was thirty-two. Robert traveled from place to place after the war, amassing a fortune in real estate and other ventures. He also became involved in Republican politics, and President Chester A. Arthur appointed him to the U.S. Treasury as a special agent. In 1886 he was elected a state representative. He and John stayed in contact throughout his life. It’s plausible that Robert’s quiet but dramatic success may have inspired John’s evolution into an early champion of racial equality. Robert James Harlan died one year after the Plessy decision. Justice John Marshall Harlan remained on the Supreme Court until his death in 1911.

 

Does this Outfit Make Me Look Guilty?

Woman poses in dressThe Law Librarian has blogged about courtroom etiquette before, but this post looks at dressing for the occasion. Think this is a shallow concern that doesn’t apply to you? If you were spending hundreds of dollars on an attorney to represent you at your DWI trial, and he or she showed up dressed for yoga class, you wouldn’t appreciate it.  And you might just feel that you weren’t getting your money’s worth.   Further, the Rules of General Practice require attorneys to wear appropriate courtroom attire Most attorneys in any jurisdiction instinctively get this, but fashion history has given us some unfortunate exceptions.

The attire of litigants themselves is just as key. Jurors, being human, might easily pick up a guilty vibe from obvious lockup attire. In 1976, the U.S. Supreme Court basically held in Estelle v. Williams that orange would NEVER be the new black (or navy or charcoal gray) in that a defendant could not be compelled to stand trial before a jury while dressed in identifiable prison clothes. The Minnesota Rules of Criminal Procedure 26.03, subd. 2(b) thus state that “[a]n incarcerated defendant or witness shall not appear in court in the distinctive attire of a prisoner.”

For these reasons, it is probably the non-inmate that needs to take the most care in dressing for court.  If you have a lawyer, they’ll likely remind you to dress conservatively.   If you don’t, the Courts’ webpage advises you to “dress conservatively” with “shorts, T-shirts, plunging necklines, and torn clothing” NOT being appropriate Also, rare is the juror or judge that will be impressed by your tattoos or underwear.  For more detailed guidelines, consult this dress code ordered by the Judges of Kent County, Delaware for what to avoid.  Also, the Teen Court of Crowley, Texas offers a great visual guide to court-appropriate attire for younger litigants.  And one last factor to keep in mind:  Even if you outfit isn’t “inappropriate,” bored jurors may become distracted from the merits of your case by the bold details of an unusual outfit.  So play it safe by keeping it simple and understated!

 

PencilsIt was big news earlier this year when Harvard Law School announced that it would no longer require applicants to submit LSAT scores, but would also accept GRE scores as well. The Law School Admissions Test (LSAT) has long been a mainstay of law school applications alongside the undergraduate transcript. In acknowledging that many students already take the GRE (Graduate Record Exam), Harvard’s position is that accepting the GRE  scores reduces the financial burden on applicants who would otherwise be required to prepare and pay for an additional test would be alleviated.   It is too early to know whether or not other schools might follow this example, for the LSAT is still mandated by the bulk of US law schools.

An interesting history of the LSAT can be found here.  Obviously there was once a time when even law school itself unnecessary for a successful career in law. (See this prime example!)  Even after law school became standard, greater social stratifications before World War II managed to keep applicants to a minimum,  with less need to evaluate them against each other.  But the war and the GI bill made educational dreams much more achievable for many, so the selection process had to be sharpened. Schools also wanted a tool to address to the wide variation in college records of their applicants.  This led to administration of the first LSAT in 1948.

The Harvard move now begs the question of how useful is the LSAT is for modern purposes.  Does it serve to broaden the applicant pool or constrict it?   The underlying rationale for the use of the LSAT is to avoid the biases that come with more arbitrary methods of selection, and yet the biggest criticism against the LSAT is that it is likewise biased.  There is also assertion that LSAT scores do not accurately predict a law student’s grades.   And even though the test costs $180, preparatory classes to maximize one’s score can easily reach into the thousands.  Yet opponents of the Harvard decision assert that law school is already is seen as a default choice by undergraduates uncertain of their next career-building step.  Thus, the LSAT presents a purposeful obstacle, requiring the potential student to consider carefully if law school is a worthwhile investment of their time and money.