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

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

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


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

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

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


Quick and Easy Election Information

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

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


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

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

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


Marshall F. Hurley (1908-1960)

Judge Marshall F. Hurley (1959-1960)

Judge Marshall F. Hurley (1959-1960)

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

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

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


Growing and Nurturing your Law Firm

Photo of three books mentioned

As the Law Librarian returns from vacation, it is amazing to behold the recent legal news in our community.  Last weekend we learned of the passing of local legal icon and former Ramsey District Judge Larry Cohen.  We also received news of the final breakthrough in the decades-long mystery of Jacob Wetterling’s disappearance.  To properly acknowledge these recent happenings, we want to recognize the significant public service career of the late Judge Cohen, who also served as the mayor of Saint Paul.  We also wish to extend our deepest condolences the Wetterling family as their long saga reaches its sad close.

As the drum continues to beat steadily that legal markets and law practices are changing, be aware of some new books from the ABA that address these changes.  These books might be helpful tools as you chart the future course of your law firm, and avoid the hazards along the way.  We also remind you of our 80th Anniversary celebration and free CLE coming up on Monday, September 26, 2016, so checking out one of these books will be easy if you plan to attend.

  •  The Lawyer’s Guide to Succession Planning: A Project Management Approach for Successful Law Firm Transitions and Exits by J.W. Olmstead. The purpose of this book is to provide guidance to all firms, but especially smaller ones. After examining the “silver tsunami” of senior attorneys headed for retirement in the near future, the book offers transition approaches and action plans for dealing with the inevitable departures. Case studies and sample agreements are included, as well as downloadable files of sample worksheets and agreements.
  • Building Rainmakers: An A to Z Guide to Business Development Training by D.K. Keller.  Business development is not a traditional legal skill, but nowadays it is a necessary one.  This book is essentially an encyclopedia of business development training tools for firm management, including tips and tools from interviews with business leaders and rainmakers of leading firms.
  • Risk Management: Survival Tools for Law Firms (3d Ed.) by A.E. Davis and K.M. Lachter. Significantly updated from its 2007 edition, this book covers recent sea changes in law that relate to technology, the financial crisis, and the rise of non-lawyers. Just “staying out of trouble” in the professional sense now involves much more than avoiding traditional malpractice and ethical snags.  This revised book now includes special guidance for risk management and due diligence in light of these new forces.


Central light rail station

One of Minnesota’s earliest legal hangings happened here.

Now that Brendan Dassey’s murder conviction has been overturned, it is timely that another overturned murder conviction comes into the news. This one, however, will not and indeed cannot end as Dassey’s apparently has. The 1944 case of George Stinney is not well-known, probably overshadowed by headlines of the war at the time. It started when fourteen-year-old George was herding his family’s milk cow in rural part of South Carolina, when two white girls happened by and asked young George about local flower picking possibilities. When the girls went missing, George joined the search party and revealed that he had seen them the previous day. As soon as the girls’ murdered remains were found, George went on record as being the last to see them alive. So when George’s parents were away from home that day, officials came and took away George and his brother.  (His frightened sister watched from a chicken coop she was hiding in.) The officials whisked George into an interrogation, and emerged one hour later claiming that he had confessed to the murders. George was immediately transported to Columbia, SC where he was executed. The details of his electrocution are heart-wrenching, as he weighed only 95 pounds and was too small for the electric chair accessories. Stinney’s entire legal proceedings transpired over only 83 days. Though Stinney’s conviction was overturned in 2014 on grounds that his confession was false and coerced, his case is emblematic of the skewed justice that was typically experienced by black Americans in the Jim Crow South. Last week we learned that lawyers are currently planning to file a civil rights lawsuit on behalf of Stinney’s surviving family.

Think hurried executions following convictions based on unsupported evidence could never happen in our fair community? One of Minnesota’s earliest executions left many doubts as to the subject’s actual guilt. Ann Bilansky was convicted in 1859 of murdering her husband with arsenic. The evidence brought against her was largely circumstantial, and consisted mostly of testimony from a witness with questionable credibility.  Numerous petitions for Bilansky’s commutation were submitted to Governor Ramsey.  Even the prosecutor himself wrote the day before her scheduled execution that he had come to experience “grave and serious doubts” about Bilansky’s guilt. Nonetheless her execution was carried out publicly at Cedar and Fifth Streets (now the Central Station of the light rail), with about 100 spectators in attendance. She maintained her innocence until the end, proclaiming that she would find “justice in heaven.” With the 2016 election season cranking up, it’s noteworthy that both the Bilansky and the Stinney judicial proceedings were clouded by various political motives and ambitions of its participants. Her story is a fascinating read you can enjoy over Labor Day weekend.


Olin B. Lewis (1861 – 1936)

Judge Olin Lewis

Olin Bailey Lewis was born on March 12, 1861 in Weyauwega, Wisconsin. He graduated from Omro High School in 1879 and entered the University of Wisconsin the same year.  He taught school to support himself during this time, including as a chemistry instructor at the University. During this time he also married Della Barnett in 1885, and they eventually had one son and two daughters. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin in 1889. After being admitted to the bar he came to St. Paul and formed a law partnership with Oscar Hallam

Lewis was nominated and elected to the St. Paul City Council in 1894. In this capacity he formally represented the city at the launching of the ocean liner “St. Paul.”  In 1896 he was also a member of what became known as the “retrenchment committee,” which was committed to reducing government expenditures and revaluing the City’s real property.  The movement ultimately reduced the valuation of property of St. Paul by $30,000,000.  Lewis was nominated for a Ramsey County district judgeship in 1896, and was elected that same year.  Under Lewis’s direction as senior judge, the Ramsey Judicial District likewise gained a widespread reputation for docket efficiency, but Lewis’s page on history is not for his efforts to reduce government expense.  His most notable case as a judge was the double murder trials of Gottschalk and Williams, wherein both were sentenced to hang.  Gottschalk committed suicide before his execution, but Williams’ execution was the botched hanging which ultimately led to Minnesota ending capital punishment.

Judge Lewis retired in 1929. He had been ill and applied to the governor for this retirement with a note from his doctor. He stated in his application that he had “become incapacitated physically from performing the duties of my office.”  The doctor’s note also indicated that Lewis suffered a stroke the previous November, leaving him brain damaged and his left arm and leg paralyzed.  Judge Olin Lewis died on March 28, 1936.


Other Sources:

“The Bench and Bar of Saint Paul” p. 34-36, (1897).

J.D. Bessler, Legacy of Violence: Lynch Mobs and Execution in Minnesota, p. 141-160 (2003).

E.V. Smalley, A History of the Republican Party from its Organization to the Present Time to Which is Added a Political History of Minnesota from a Republican Point of View and Biographical Sketches of Leading Minnesota Republicans, p. 276-277, E.V. Smalley  (1986).

Olin B. Lewis, Judge Here for 30 Years, Dies.  St. Paul Dispatch, March 28, 1936.


So You’re NOT a Kid…Or Are You?

teenaged girlThe same legal issues that snag adults can just as easily snag minors.  But answers and solutions might be different simply because of the age factor.   If you are an adult seeking expungment of a criminal record, being a minor at the time of the offense could bear on the expungment remedy available.  Working a job when you are a minor has special limitations and caveats.   You might earn a paycheck, but your tax obligations may boil down to whether or not someone else claims you as a dependent.

In Minnesota you are an adult if you are eighteen years old,  but where do you stand if you are under 18 and on your own?  For instance, do you always need parental consent for medical treatment?  If you are living on your own you may be able to consent to your own treatments.  If you have been married or have given birth, you may also consent to treatments for you or for that of your minor child, plus you are responsible for the payments of such.   See this brochure from for more information about minors and medical treatments.

Are you are a minor but don’t want to (or cannot safely) stay with your parents?  You may have other options.  Are your parents willing to let someone else take on the authority of being your parent?  A Delegation of Parental Authority might be the answer.  If you feel you have been abused, you may file for an Order of Protection.  If you believe the circumstances are such that you feel you should be able to live independently and make your own decisions, see about emancipation.

If you are a minor and have run away from home, can your parents force you to come back?  Probably, because you can’t legally live away from home except in cases of consent, marriage, enlistment, or having a court order to do so.  You might also consider the online resources available through the Children’s Law Center.  Even though their mission is providing legal representation to foster children, wards of the state, or kids who have been removed from their homes, their publications are a great place to start.  For instance, their Resources for Youth Experiencing Homelessness is a comprehensive list of organizations that can offer assistance to homeless youth. For legal information, also consider the huge Homeless Youth Handbook with its extensive coverage of numerous issues.

If you still have questions consider consulting a lawyer.


Voter Disenfranchisment?

Voter registration card

Wisconsin, North Dakota, Texas and North Carolina all had voter fraud laws struck down recently by various federal courts.  In each case, the state law in question was found to disenfranchise nonwhite voters. North Carolina was the leader of this pack, with laws that the Court found to be tailored with “surgical precision” to disenfranchise black voters. All of these cases come a mere 3 years after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down essential parts of the 1965 Voting Rights Act in  Shelby County v. Holder.  In that case, the Supreme Court determined that the Act’s more “extraordinary measures” and “disparate treatment of the states” were no longer necessary tools to combat voter discrimination.  Previously the Act had required that states identified with a history of discrimination obtain approval from the federal government before they could make changes to their election laws that might restrict voting rights.  Looking at the named four states, only parts of North Carolina had been specifically targeted by the 1965 Act.  But with the exception of Texas, the offending laws for each of these states had been enacted shortly after the Supreme Court’s Shelby County ruling.

Minnesota enjoys high voter participation, likely the result of such voter-friendly tools as same-day and online registration However, Minnesota’s voter registration has not always been completely inclusive.  The word ”white” remained in the Minnesota statutory requirements for voter registration until 1868, and Minnesota only ratified the 15th Amendment in 1870.   Even today, Minnesota’s big voter disqualifier remains the ineligibility of felons to vote until their civil rights have been completely restored, including (sometimes lengthy) time spent on probation or parole. It can be argued that the effect of felon disenfranchisement is disproportionately race-skewed, and some might say intentionally so, given that many such laws were enacted shortly after the Civil War.

If you would like to learn more about the history and application of the Voting Rights Act, consider reading The Most Fundamental Right: Contrasting Perspectives on the Voting Rights Act edited by Daniel McCool.  It is available here in the law library.  If you would like to hear more about voter eligibility and registration in early Minnesota, be sure to attend our program this September 26, wherein Dr. William Green will present ”Civil Rights in Minnesota: The Early Years.”