A Page-Turning Career

July 27 2015 001Following last Sunday’s front page feature in the Star Tribune, now is the time to recognize Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Alan Page, who must  retire next month when he turns 70 years old.  (This is the mandatory retirement age for judges under Minnesota Statute §490.125.) From gridiron to gavel, the modest man in the grey beard and bow tie has truly had an inspiring career. On Minnesota’s highest court, he has been known to bring “a common sense and a common humanity” that is mindful of the real people behind the cases.  (Consider his dissent in the 2013 case of  Dykhoff v. Xcel Energy wherein the Court overturned a workers compensation award involving slip-and-fall facts. Page’s opinion speculated that the Court may be punishing the plaintiff for wearing 2-inch heels.)

Page dreamed of being a lawyer long before he ever seriously considered a football career. Growing up in Ohio’s Rust Belt, he saw relatives spend decades in steel mills, and decided that the “Perry Mason” show depicted a more appealing existence. So while still in the middle of his 15-season football career (including MVP in 1971), Page enrolled at William Mitchell College of Law but dropped out after only three weeks. In 1975 he tried again, at the University of Minnesota Law School.   Page graduated in 1978, shortly before he was cut by the Vikings. (According to Encyclopedia.com, he didn’t pass the bar exam on his first try, and this disappointed him more than any of his Super Bowl losses.)  After spending his last three NFL years with the Chicago Bears, Page retired from football in 1981. Having finally passed the Minnesota bar, he logged legal experience in private practice and the Minnesota Attorney General’s office.   He won election to the Minnesota Supreme Court in 1992, after a controversial failure to be appointed by either Governors Perpich or Carlson.

Besides his position on the Court, Page has remained visible in other public arenas. The Page Education Foundation has distributed more than 6,000 college scholarships to Minnesota students of color since 1988.  He also wrote a children’s book with his daughter, “Alan and His Perfectly Pointy, Impossibly Perpendicular Pinky.” He and his wife’s extensive collection of Jim Crow memorabilia harken a previous era, but his sobering talks with his four children about conducting themselves safely during unexpected police encounters have present-day relevance.  Page’s next life chapter might be as page-turning as the previous ones, with more philanthropy and teaching being likely possibilities.

Do you have any special memories of Justice Alan Page?  Feel free to share them!


July 22 2015 007Once upon a time a Minnesota prize fighter retired from the ring and went on to become a beloved public servant. Maybe Tommy Gibbons was not the first name that first came to your mind. Nonetheless, his story is that of a man who was probably Ramsey’s most colorful and charismatic sheriff. Born in St. Paul in 1891 to Irish immigrant parents, his heavyweight fighting career spanned from 1911 to 1925. Boxing became legal in Minnesota in 1915, and that change was heralded at the St. Paul Auditorium with a fight between local fighting boys Tommy Gibbons and Billy Miske. (Gibbons narrowly won.) One of the most visible moments of his career came in 1923, when he fought Jack Dempsey. He did much of his training for this event at his brother Mike’s Rose Room Gym located in downtown St. Paul’s Hamm Building.  He lost the decision after 15 rounds.  His final fight (a knockout loss) came two years later when he was 34 years old, against Gene Tunney. This event and concern for his health prompted him to retire in 1925.

Gibbons sold insurance for years before deciding to run for Ramsey County Sheriff in 1934.  By this time, many voters were feeling that the job required a heavyweight of sorts to clean up the local corruption and gangster activity. Gibbons was elected, and quickly developed a reputation as a tough, no-nonsense sheriff who wouldn’t take deals. He served as the county sheriff for 24 years. His retirement in 1959 captured much attention, and even Jack Dempsey flew in from New York to attend the dinner. Gibbons died in 1960 at the age of 69.

This local story makes a good lead-in to highlight the positive work of local law enforcement, and specifically the services of the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Department.  Their Warrants Unit processes all warrants issued by the Ramsey County District Court.  (Check out their warrants search page.)   Similarly, their Gun Permit Unit handles all new and renewal permits to carry firearm applications for the county.  They can also carry out a writ of execution from court if you are trying to collect on a judgment.  For residents of certain Ramsey County cities, the Sheriff’s Department will provide a premise survey to evaluate the security of your property. (This service, which is available at no cost to residents and businesses of select Ramsey County cities, involves examination of window and door locks, patio and glass doors, lighting, shrubbery, and safety habits for possible security risks.)  Similarly, the Department is also happy to offer crime prevention presentations for your local group.



Sheriff Tommy Gibbons Retiring; Recalls Ring Days, Chicago Tribune, January 4, 1959.

Tice, D.J., Ringside Seat / Virginia Schweitz, Growing up in the Famous Gibbons Boxing Family and Working in Law Enforcement for Years, had a Unique Perspective on St. Paul’s Raucous, Romantic Past, St. Paul Pioneer Press, June 27, 1999.

Tommy Gibbons, Boxer, 69, Dead, The New York Times, November 20, 1960.

Tommy Gibbons by George D. Blair,  Tom & Mike Gibbons Preservation Society Page,  http://www.tmgps.com/Tommy%20Gibbons%20Biography%20By%20George%20Blair.htm.


Beyond the Yellow Ribbon

file0001223708026Last week the Second Judicial District’s Veterans Treatment Court was spotlighted in both the Star Tribune and Pioneer Press. Ramsey County’s newest problem-solving court was started in December of 2013 to respond to the unique challenges faced by returning veterans. Fitting back into society can be difficult, and veterans can easily find themselves pulled into the criminal justice system. (Specifically, the instincts which serve and protect a soldier in wartime are not the ones that foster skills needed in peacetime.)

The Court is part of the Ramsey County Veterans Justice Initiative, whose purpose is to “assist and support veterans by creating a coordinated response through collaboration with the VA, community-based services, and the criminal justice system.” This evolving project is meant to identify and address lapses within the criminal justice system and related systems veterans may come into contact with once they have returned from service. It is a joint effort among city, county, state, federal and community resources.

Also committed to the well-being and successful re-integration of Minnesota veterans is the Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans (MACV).  Their Vetlaw program helps veterans address civil legal issues related to housing, employment, child support, back taxes, or defaulted student loans.  In addition to legal assistance, MACV’s outreach extends to assistance in procuring employment and preventing homelessness.  Their Stand Down events and legal clinics are held in different Minnesota locations throughout the year.  Other services for the special legal needs of returning veterans returning home can be found through LawHelpMN on their resources for veterans page.  In addition, their legal needs check-up interface drafts customized marching orders for getting to the right legal resources for a veteran’s own unique situation.  If you are in the Law Library, you can also grab the free Veterans and Service Members brochure, published by the Minnesota Attorney General’s office.


Sebastian Taheri UomoIts elegant first impression in navy blue seems as timeless as your favorite suit. For faithful users of a classic legal tool, this is your last summer. I speak of Westlaw Classic, which will be discontinued as of August 31. Classic has remained surprisingly popular among regular users of the Law Library. It’s no surprise that some folks are pretty unhappy with its discontinuation.

The Law Library has long offered users free access to both Westlaw Classic and Westlaw Next, and we are happy to offer assistance to users unfamiliar with the latter. West also offers this special transition page to assist those making the switch.  This comparison chart of the two might also make the process easier.  (Hint: Select “Advanced Search” on the homepage of Westlaw Next to get to the terms and connectors interface.)

AALL Spectrum did an interesting feature on Westlaw Classic and its history last December. Read it and file the memory of old Westlaw alongside that of other old technologies like rotary phones, pagers, and mimeographs. (Note: You can still use the fax machine at the Law Library.)


S.O.S. for Sexual Violence

file1801281015946Sexual violence awareness was never just for college campuses. The school’s-out days of summer, in fact, are when sexual assault numbers peak. Now is the time to become aware of Ramsey County’s own resource against sexual violence. A service of Ramsey County Public Health, S.O.S. Sexual Violence Services provides “free and confidential services for victims of sexual violence, their partners, families, friends and other concerned persons.” Their phone ( 651.266.1000) is answered 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Services include support groups, counseling, assistance with medical and legal issues, plus medical and legal advocacy for victims. Could your organization benefit from some education in this important area? They also provide informational workshops for both children and adults. (See brochure.)

Working closely with S.O.S. is the Ramsey County Sexual Assault Protocol Team (RCSAPT) This team provides trainings for member agencies, including Ramsey County’s first county-wide sexual assault investigator training and sexual assault nurse examiner training. They also develop written professional protocols for the handling of sexual assault cases, including that for police officers.

For more resources pertaining to sexual violence, see the Minnesota Department of Health Sexual Violence Prevention Program.  For more specific information plus statistics on sexual violence in Minnesota, see also their legislative report released earlier this year.


Royden S. Dane

Royden Dane 002

Royden Smith Dane was born on December 24, 1893 in the Minnesota Iron Range town of Biwabik.  He spent his youth working in logging and mining camps.    Here he learned to operate steam shovels and fire locomotives, and even held a boiler operator license for years.   Through his life he remained proud of his humble beginnings.

He entered the University of Minnesota, but left to join the Army when World War I began. After serving in this capacity for 18 months, he returned and entered the St. Paul College of Law.  He graduated in 1926 and was admitted to the bar that same year.  He spent 17 years in private practice before he was appointed as Municipal Court Judge in 1943.  He was elected to the Ramsey District bench in 1946 to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of Judge Hugo Hanft.  In 1956 he married Roseville teacher Fern Nelson.  Judge Dane suffered a heart attack in his chambers on February 4, 1959 and died four days later at St. Joseph’s Hospital.  He was 64 years old.

Judge Dane was a colorful storyteller, plus an avid horse trainer and conservationist.  He kept a duck farm between Lexington and Victoria Avenues, between County roads E and F (present day Shoreview).  He was also active in the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars.  Shown in the painting wearing a fresh flower and a friendly smile, Judge Dane just might be the most handsome image in the judge portrait collection.  Having died in office, Judge Dane wouldn’t have posed for a traditional portrait as part of a judicial retirement. The Law Librarian speculates that his portrait might have been based on a snapshot taken at his wedding three years earlier.



Bar Indorses Dane for Judge, St. Paul Dispatch, Oct. 1943

District Judge R.S. Dies, St. Paul Dispatch, Feb. 7. 1959.

Just How Does a Judge Relax?  St. Paul Pioneer Press, May 17, 1953




file000704919536The Law Librarian would be amiss in not acknowledging the huge decision handed down by U.S. District Court Judge Donovan Frank in the case of Karsjens et al. vs. Minnesota Department of Human Services et al. today, better known as the Minnesota Sex Offender Program case. This case involved 700+ committed sex offenders who had essentially been locked up indefinitely under the veil of “treatment,” which the program residents claimed was neither adequate nor appropriate. They key factor is that their “incarceration” was never criminal, in fact, most of them had already completed criminal sentences.

This case has been observed by the Law Librarian before, but now Judge Frank has ruled that that Minnesota’s Sex Offender Program is in fact unconstitutional, stating that “there is something very wrong with this state’s method of dealing with sex offenders.” Over time, he has warned the Legislature that they must change the draconian program, or expect a court-ordered to do so. (It’s probably no accident that this ruling came shortly after the Minnesota Legislature had ended its last session.) Predictably, legislators have been in no mood to change the program, lest risking their electability. Read the MPR article about this ruling, plus the Judge’s Order.

Stay tuned for the next exciting development of this legal-political drama. Its next season will commence on August 10, when the Judge has scheduled a conference to begin planning suitable remedies for the situation. State officials, including Governor Dayton, have quickly assured Minnesotans that the state would defend its law and the sex offender program. Questions remain unanswered. Can any of these offenders be rehabilitated? Released? Which ones? What will the Minnesota Sex Offender Program look like in the future? Will the locked up “inmates” seek civil damages? We must wait and see.


Legislating Biology?

DSC06157As warm weather settles in, people are predictably taking walks, riding bikes, and enjoying other outdoor public activities. Of course, nature will eventually call on people as they enjoy her summer gifts. So this blog entry is about public restrooms. Not about the correct number of women’s facilities to men’s, or about where baby changing tables should be located, or about which restroom a transgender person should use, but about the simple availability of public restrooms.

In short, public restrooms seem to be in short supply in the places and times they are needed, especially if they are locked during certain time spans. This can leave people with few or no options when they desperately need to use them. The Minnesota Legislature sort of recognized this problem when it passed the Restroom Access Act, which essentially requires retail establishments to allow customers access to employee restrooms provided they have an “eligible medical condition.” This doesn’t help the medically ineligible, plus it holds businesses responsible for meeting a basic human need. (Restaurants provide restrooms for customers, of course, but you might not need it until 30 minutes AFTER you ate their blistering curry.)

If you are out walking your dog, Fido might conveniently opt to relieve himself on the spot (backed up by your baggie please), but don’t be tempted to follow suit. In Minnesota, one who relieves oneself publicly can be charged under the state indecent exposure statute (MN Stat.§617.23). St. Paul also has a municipal ordinance against public urination. No numbers are available as to how many people are so charged under these laws, but it would be interesting to see if there is any relationship between the proximity of public restrooms and the cases that were fully charged.

Perhaps there is a relationship between limited public restroom availability and possible Fourth Amendment implications. The old Katz vs. US 389 US 347 (1967) case was about the expectation of privacy in an enclosed phone booth with a door. (…Public phone stations then evolved to be doorless.)  In State v. Bryant 177 N.W.2d 800 (1970), the Minnesota Supreme Court extended Katz and held that this expectation of privacy extends to public restrooms, so perhaps there is concern that public restrooms encourage criminal activity by creating constitutionally-protected privacy zones.   There is also the concern that public restrooms may encourage the congregation of homeless and transient people, with Denver being a good example of one municipality’s struggle with this real-life problem.  But the leaders there discovered that when they opted out of public restrooms and all of their perceived problems (including drug use and prostitution), they were faced with a new problem in that areas without restrooms predictably got turned into restrooms.

Concerned citizens wishing to see more public restrooms may simply have to pressure their own local leaders, but also be aware of the mission and activities of the American Restroom Association.


Revenge a la Porn

Hand Holding Cracked SmartphoneIt appears that a Minnesota criminal statute from the 1890’s is obsolete for certain modern prosecution needs. In this age of smart phones, Minnesota’s criminal defamation law has been ruled overbroad and unconstitutional by the Minnesota Court of Appeals.

The appellant in State v. Turner (A14-1408) had posted sexually explicit solicitation ads of his girlfriend (and her teenage daughter) on Craigslist, which he admitted to doing out of retaliation. When charged with criminal defamation in the District Court of Isanti County, Turner filed a motion to dismiss said charges, asserting that the statute was unconstitutionally overbroad and vague. The Court denied Turner’s motion, and found him guilty of criminal defamation. But the Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the defamation statute was indeed overly broad and vague. So even though it described Turner’s conduct as “reprehensible and defamatory,” the Court did not uphold his conviction.

The Turner decision may be simplified as follows: In Minnesota, “revenge porn” cases are typically charged under criminal defamation statute MN Stat. § 609.765, which was drafted in the 1890’s and last revised in 1963. The problem is that the U.S. Supreme Court decided New York Times Co. v. Sullivan in 1964, which established the well-known “actual malice” standard for defamation suits.  That same year, the Supreme Court also established truth as a defamation defense in the case of Garrison v. Louisiana. Now the Turner facts have seemingly little to do with “truth,” and definitely much to do with “malice,” but unfortunately,  MN Stat. § 609.765 was never updated to reflect the standards of these groundbreaking Supreme Court decisions.

Does this recent decision leaves Minnesota without necessary tools for prosecuting this predictable sort of offense made possible by smartphones, Skype, Craigslist, YouTube, etc.? (It was suggested that Turner should have been prosecuted for disorderly conduct.) One Minnesota legislator is making it his project to usher in a new criminal legislation for these particular twenty-first century offenses. If successful, Minnesota would join 16 other states in having  specific statutes against “revenge porn.” The timing seems rather unfortunate, with the legislature is unlikely to take up this new issue in its special session. Still, its also unlikely to take another 52 years before Minnesota gets legislation to prosecute such modern misdeeds of the digital age. Read more about revenge porn law in this detailed Wake Forest University Law Review article.


DSCN3343Before we arrive at wedding season’s summer peak, people might as well know what resources exist for their divorce.  It is easy to find the official divorce forms on the Courts webpage.  Filling them out is even quicker and easier with the I-CAN! online interactive forms.  The language of the forms has been updated for gender neutrality. Likewise, it is easy to work with the Family Self-Help Center to have your forms reviewed, or to speak to a volunteer lawyer about your situation.  If people still have questions, they are more than welcome to check the information resources we have at the law library.  After all, divorce can be complicated, especially where children or real estate are involved.

One modern trend might come with unique complications of its own.  Here I speak of the growing trend of senior divorce (commonly known as “gray divorce”).  Even as divorce rates have stabilized or declined for other age groups, the  rate among people 50 and older has doubled since 1990.  This increase is due to numerous reasons, but is mostly just an evolution away from a time when an unhappy older couple automatically stayed legally married regardless of marital satisfaction or circumstances.   Regarding the complications, senior divorce is likely to involve more assets to divide and more health and retirement issues to account for.

Whether you are a senior facing divorce in your  near future, you may as well know that your divorce is less likely to be quick and simple.  Read Nolo’s Special Issues in Late-Life Divorce to get an idea of what you may face.   We also have Divorce after 50: Your Guide to the Unique Legal & Financial Challenges  (Nolo 2013) by Janice Green.  If you are an attorney that works with older divorce clients, valuing the couple’s unique assets may not be a simple task.  There is always the trustworthy Family Law Financial Deskbook (MN CLE 2d Ed. 2014) for your convenience, but be aware of some of the other resources we have available to help:

  • Valuation and Distribution of Marital Property (LexisNexis) by J. McCahey & B. Aldeman. (Three-volume set - annually updated.)
  • Valuation of Divorce Assets (ThompsonWest Rev. Ed. 2005) by B. Goldberg.  (Two-volume set – annually updated.) 
  • Valuation of Pensions in Divorce (Wolters Kluwer 5th Ed.) by M. Altschuler.  (One volume - annually updated.)