Elevate Your Voting Game

file000652921227Will this year be another election that catches you blindsided in the voting booth with an assortment of names that you haven’t researched?  Don’t you want to know more about a candidate than mere party affiliation before marking their box?  You know that properly vetting candidates doesn’t mean putting your faith in the television campaign attack ads, and yet it’s not always easy to find good information on a candidate that doesn’t carry partisan flavors.  With this in mind, the Law Librarian searched around and located some potentially helpful websites for voters:

  • www.ontheissues.org – This site provide a wealth of easy-to-understand information in a matter-of-fact format on national-level candidates.  Quotes from books, speeches and debates are offered to shed light on these issues for the voter.   The Law Librarian found that this site examined the issues to a finer degree than any other.
  • www.votesmart.org  – Much more flashy (but perhaps not as “fleshy”) as www.ontheissues.org.  Their “Political Galaxy” and “Political Courage Test” are both entertaining and informative.  These interactive features, however, make it difficult to see and locate desired information at a glance.
  • www.ballotpedia.org – To see what you can expect to see on your ballot, check out this site.  Sponsored by The Lucy Burns Institute and www.ivoters.com, This site allows you to customize your ballot to the races in your geographical location.  You can also use this site to read the details of particular candidates.
  • http://judgepedia.org -   Closely related to Ballotpedia.org, this site details all the incumbent state and federal judges for every district in every state.  On this note, don’t forget the Minnesota Courts website and its judicial directory as a voters’ resource.
  • MN Secretary of State  – Have you recently moved and don’t know where you should go to vote?  The Secretary of State’s MNVotes webpage can help you find your voting location via their Minnesota poll finder.  You can also register to vote at this website or check about absentee voting.
  • League of Women Voters  - Long devoted to protecting and educating voters, this organization is also a great source  for voter education.  Check out their affiliate site, www.vote411.org and also their Voter’s Bill of Rights brochure.

Have you found another great resource for informing voters?  Share it with us!


On Getting that Second Chance

Shon Hopwood as he appears in Wikipedia

Shon Hopwood as he appears in Wikipedia

The Law Librarian shared her enthusiasm last year about the life change of bank robber turned future-lawyer Shon Hopwood (who is clerking for U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Janice Rogers Brown).   Hopwood graduated from the University of Washington School of Law this year.  According to the October 6, 2014 edition of the National Law Journal, the Washington state Supreme Court has ruled that Hopwood will be allowed to sit for the state bar exam next year, and be admitted to the bar should he pass.  The future is looking bright for Mr. Hopwood, not to mention his wife and two children.  At the root of the Shon Hopwood story are the people and institutions that believed in him:  A prison law library, a law school, a federal appeals court judge, and a state supreme court.  Stories like Hopwood’s are only possible when people are given the tools to mend their ways and change their paths.

Early this week an editorial in the Pioneer Press explained how former offenders are blocked from finding meaningful employment, which is their key to transitioning to a law-abiding lifestyle.  The result is a “cycle of poverty and incarceration for hundreds of thousands of Americans and their families.”  The article referred to data suggesting that more than half of released ex-offenders remain unemployed up to a year after their release from custody.  In addition to the twice-monthly expungement workshops that take place in the Ramsey County Law Library, there are now workshops being presented by VLN at the Rondo Outreach Library.  The next one will take place this Friday (October 17, 2014) from noon to 3:00 PM.


shopping[1]Be it judges or attorneys, there is nothing unusual nowadays about seeing women serve key roles in Minnesota’s modern justice system.  After all, Minnesota even boasted the first state Supreme Court bench that had a majority of women.   Yet despite its Midwestern-progressive vibe, Minnesota has had something of a reputation in the past for dragging its feet where gender equality is concerned.  Our judge portrait collection visibly demonstrates this fact.  Another case in point- Coya Knutson was elected to represent her Minnesota district in the U.S. House of Representatives in 1954, where she served two terms.  From that point on, Minnesota never again elected a woman to Congress until the 2000 election of Betty McCollum.

With a forward by Senator Amy Klobuchar, Her Honor: Rosalie Wahl and the Minnesota Women’s Movement (Minnesota Historical Society Press) covers not only the Coya Knutson story, but other eye-opening details regarding the  sometimes-slow progress of women in Minnesota law and politics.  For instance, the book speaks of a Gender Bias Task Force  of the late 1980s which discovered that judges and male attorneys often assumed that women attorneys were assistants or secretaries, made comments about their sexuality, and addressed them as “dearie,” “ma’am” or “little lady.”

This book is also treasure for anyone who simply enjoys Minnesota history, particularly the life of the late justice Rosalie Wahl.


Congress.com for Election Season

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPerhaps this election season you would like to be a little more astute about your voting choices.  Rather than taking information from the vague blaze of election attack ads, become familiar with the free information available through Congress.gov.

As the official website for U.S. federal legislative information, this tool provides access to accurate, timely, and complete legislative information for Members of Congress, legislative agencies, and the public.  It is presented by the Library of Congress (LOC) using data from the Office of the Clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives, the Office of the Secretary of the Senate, the Government Printing Office (GPO), Congressional Budget Office, and the LOC’s Congressional Research Service.

Congress.gov allows you to look at both legislation and members (plus their biographies) both present and back to 1973.  You can use the member feature to view not only committee assignments and legislation sponsored or co-sponsored by a member in question, you can also access remarks they may have made on the floor. Congressional records going back to 1996 are also available, as are links to congressional audio and video coverage.  If timeliness is essential to your research, Congress.gov is usually updated the morning after a session adjourns.  See also the new alphabetical Resources link if you are searching for an answer to a unique question.

Congress.gov is intended to replace THOMAS, which is nearing the end of its life cycle and will soon be retired.  In short, it will remain your federal legislative go-go link long after election season ends.


Minding your Manners in Court

Courtroom 050

What attorneys are allowed to say and do in court might be subject of common discourse, but less discussed is the courtroom decorum expected of spectators and litigants.   The Minnesota General Rules of Practice  enumerate what is required of court attendees, namely that “[d]ignity and solemnity shall be maintained in the courtroom.” (Rule 2.01)  Specifically, this Rule prohibits not only unnecessary talking but other behaviors as well.  Think you are going to quietly read a newspaper in back of the courtroom?   Expect the bailiff to nudge you and tell you to put it away.  The Minnesota Courts website offers even more detailed instructions for those making pro se court appearances, namely to dress conservatively (not in shorts, t-shirts, plunging necklines or torn clothing) and to not bring children.  Chewing gum, eating, wearing hats, talking on cellphones are also out.  Think you’re going to wait quietly in the courtroom and listen to music with your device and headphones while you wait your turn?  This is also a no-no. (Transgressors can likely expect the same result as for reading a newspaper in court, see above.)

Also, Rule 2.02 states that “[t]he judge shall be responsible for order and decorum” within the courtroom.  Wright County District Court Judge Steve Halsey (blogmaster of Jurors Behaving Badly) advances the cause with his own version of decorum guidelines for those making court appearances.  Most courtroom participants are presumably quiet and courteous, but some extreme bad behavior stands out.  Swearing at a judge, for instance, can get one called into contempt of court and result in jail time.  You may be attending a court hearing to support a friend or family member, but disruptive behavior won’t do your friend any favors with the judge.  More likely it will only get you thrown out of the courtroom.

For those wishing to explore in detail the deeper due process implications of courtroom decorum issues, check out these articles:

  • Jona Goldschmidt, ‘Order in the Court!’: Constitutional Issues in the Law of Courtroom Decorum,  31 Hamline Law Review 1 (2008)
  • Laurie L. Levenson, Courtroom Demeanor: The Theater of the Courtroom, 92 Minn. L. Rev. 573 (2008)

Punishment gone too far?

September 17 2014 005

This week the newswires lit up with the controversial news of Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson being indicted in Texas on a child injury charge that resulted from what a grand jury saw as Peterson’s overboard discipline of his four-year-old son.  Many fans (and non-fans) stood by Peterson, stating that they were likewise disciplined by corporal means growing up.  To be sure, Peterson’s case specifically involves injuries on the child which were the result of Peterson “switching” him with a tree branch.  In his statement, Peterson admitted that discussing his case with a psychologist helped him to realize that there may be better alternatives in disciplining his kids, but also to his belief that the hard-line physical discipline approach his family took in bringing him up was a factor in his success.  Another report of Peterson’s extreme discipline of a different son surfaced this week, and at last note the Vikings have barred Peterson from the team.

In every state in the country, a parent can legally hit their child as long as the force is “reasonable.”  Minnesota’s Malicious Punishment of a Child statute (§609.377) prohibits the use of “unreasonable force or cruel discipline that is excessive under the circumstances.”  It is a felony if the punishment results in “great” or “substantial” bodily harm.  The Minnesota Court of Appeals has held that bruises are not necessary to indict a parent/caregiver under this statute.   In Ramsey County, if you witness a case of what you believe is child-punishment-gone-too-far, you may decide to contact Child Protection Services.  More information is also available through the Minnesota Department of Human ServicesHere is  also an interesting article from the Minnesota Bar Association on the Malicious Punishment statute.


Condominiums – Ups and Downs

September 10, 2014 003Downtown St. Paul continues to be a hot residential address for Ramsey County.  There’s no denying the convenience and the cultural amenities of downtown living.  Even though the rental market is sizzling, many of the residences in downtown St. Paul are owner-occupied, most often as condominiums or other planned communities.

While condo dwellers seldom have to contend with lawn mowing and flooded basements, they must contend with parking availability and association boards.   Attending your association’s board meetings can do much to make you an informed homeowner.  If you have a point of contention with your board, you might want to start by consulting the Uniform Condominium Act at MN Stat. §515A and the Minnesota Common Interest Ownership Act (“MCIOA”) at MN Stat. §515B.  (Other details of Minnesota condominium law are codified in MN Stat. §515.)  You might also consider reading either Working with Your Homeowner’s Association: A Guide to Effective Community Living (Sphinx 2003) or Condo Owner’s Answer Book: Practical Answers to More Than 125 Questions about Condominium Ownership (Sphinx 2008).   There is also this handy information sheet from the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office.  Serving on a condo board can sometimes be a thankless task, so show your board some basic courtesy when you raise your issue, or consider volunteering to serve on it yourself.

Have you recently joined your homeowners association board and find yourself a bit overwhelmed? CONGRATULATIONS for being willing to serve your community in this fashion.  Now, see if your organization belongs to an organization like the Minnesota Multi-Housing Association (MMHA), which is “a state-wide, non-profit trade organization…[that] promotes the highest standards in the development, management and maintenance of rental and owner-occupied multi-housing.”  Membership in an organization like this can help you with resources including information archives, legal forms, and even question-and-answer hotlines.  (Dues typically depend on the size of your organization.)  Are you a local tenant living in a condo unit, or a condo unit owner that is having trouble with your tenant?  You can always check out our Housing and Conciliation Court Clinic and discuss your situation with a volunteer lawyer.


Oscar Hallam (1865-1945)

Oscar Hallam

Oscar Hallam

Oscar Hallam was born on a farm near Linden WI in 1865, the youngest of seven children.  In 1892 he married Edith Lott.   He received his bachelors degree from University of Wisconsin in 1887, and his law degree from that institution in 1889.  Shortly thereafter he moved to St. Paul and took up the practice of law.   He was appointed to the Second Judicial District in 1905.  From there he was appointed to the Minnesota Supreme Court in 1912.  He served on this bench for ten years until he resigned in order to run for the United States Senate in 1924. Following his defeat in the primaries, he returned to the practice of law in St. Paul.

Hallam was Dean of the St. Paul College of Law (now William Mitchell College of Law) from 1901 to 1941, and from thereafter as President of the college until his death.  His 23 year stint as dean was longer than anyone else’s in the school’s history.  Under Hallam, the college also gained its ABA accreditation in 1938.   A respected figure in criminal law, in 1926 he served as Chairman of the Minnesota Crime Commission.  During this time he helped originate the State Department of Criminal Apprehension and the Board of Parole.  He also served as Chairman of the Section on Criminal Law of the American Bar Association.  He authored much-cited Some Object Lessons on Publicity in Criminal Trials, 24 MN Law Rev. 453 (March 1940).  This article details the trial of Bruno Richard Hauptman, who was ultimately convicted of the abduction and murder of the Lindbergh baby.

Hallam wrote a series of sketches about his youth which were published in the Minnesota Historical Society periodical.  (27 MINNESOTA HISTORY 2 (June 1946)) In his Bloomfield and Number Five sketch, he describes his parents’ immigration to the United States, and his own growing up years.  Oscar Hallam died on September 23, 1945.  Oscar Hallam even has a Wikipedia page devoted to him.

Other Sources:

Douglas R. Heidenreich, With Satisfaction and Honor:  William Mitchell College of Law 1900-2000, (William Mitchell College of Law 1999).

Proceedings in Memory of Association Justice Ingerval M. Olsen and Associate Justice Oscar Hallam, 220 Minn. xxix (1946)


Criminal Expungement Workshop at Rondo


Criminal Expungement has long been an issue of special focus for the Ramsey County Law LibraryA recent article in the Wall Street Journal adds more fuel to the fire for why this is an important issue in our community.  The article reports that ccording to the FBI, authorities have made more than a quarter billion arrests in the last 20 years, with one out of every three adults on its database.  Arrest alone can hinder efforts to land a job, a loan, or an apartment.  Were you arrested as part of a youthful college protest decades ago?  It can still leave lasting consequences your criminal record. Much of these massive arrest numbers are the result of action taken against what seemed like an out-of-control crime wave in the late eighties and early nineties.  Fortunately crime has decreased since then, but unfortunately the same can probably be said about economic security.  Modern security, after all, increasingly depends on having a job, a home, and a credit history.

The Law Library continues to be the location for expungement workshops held on the second and fourth Thursdays of each month.  Now the Law Library is assisting in a new partnership with Volunteer Lawyers Network (VLN) and the St. Paul Public Library to present expungement workshops at the Rondo Outreach Library.  The inaugural workshop will take place on Friday, September 19 from noon to 3:00 p.m.  Read more about VLN expungement workshops here.


file6251297827365 This week the Minnesota Supreme Court limited law enforcement’s ability to search and seize personal possessions.  The opinion in Garcia-Mendoza vs 2003 Chevy Tahoe held that constitutional protections against unreasonable search and seizure also applied to Minnesota civil matters, and not just criminal ones.  Similarly, the ruling in State v. Rohde determined that police had illegally impounded and searched a properly parked vehicle.

Both cases involved drugs found while searching vehicles whose impoundments were later found to be illegal. The exclusionary rule under U.S. Supreme Court rulings has long held that illegally-obtained evidence obtained cannot be used criminal proceedings (see Mapp vs. Ohio(1961)).  The Minnesota Supreme Court had not previously extended the exclusionary rule principle to Minnesota civil matters such as vehicle forfeiture.  (Civil forfeiture allows law enforcement to take property allegedly connected to a crime. See Minnesota Statutes §§609.531-5319.)  Until recently in Minnesota, authorities could use civil forfeiture even if a person was not convicted.

The Court particularly pointed to the Minnesota Constitution in its Garcia-Mendoza decision, which states that the “right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.”