Human Trafficking in the News

Linda Miller

Civil Society Founder and Executive Director Linda Miller

Human trafficking is an issue  that never goes away. This sort of crime often involves the most young and vulnerable victims, with perpetrators who are often established middle-aged men. Trafficking often takes place quietly over the internet in the heart of our own local communities. The problem becomes even harder to fight when it involves practices that are shrouded and protected by social or cultural norms.

The cultural complication is central in a case at the U.S. District Court of Minnesota, which recently made national news. In the case of Panyia Vang v. Thiawachu Prataya et al, the plaintiff is seeking statutory damages under “Masha’s Law” (18 U.S.C. 2255).  Basically, Masha’s law is federal civil legislation offering victims the chance for monetary relief in cases such as child pornography, child sex tourism, and child sex trafficking.  Vang’s attorney, Linda Miller, believes this is the first case to use Masha’s Law to recover monetary damages from child sex tourism.  Read the tragic and shocking story that appeared in a recent issue of the Star Tribune describing what happened to Panyia Vang as a fourteen-year-old that ultimately led to Miller filing this case in 2011.  Combating this kind of abuse is the professional mission of Miller (pictured here), who is the founder and executive director of the local organization Civil Society.

If you think someone is a victim of human trafficking, call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at (888) 373-7888.  Do you represent victims of human trafficking in your regular or pro bono legal practice?  Consider checking out our copy of Representing Survivors of Human Trafficking (ILRC 2nd) by I. Lee and L. Parker.


Getting Schooled in Education Law

ClassroomWith area schools back in swing, legal professionals know that education and all of its related issues can pose a landmine of legal challenges. From issues that include school funding, security lockdowns, religious expression, and student disability matters, many areas of law are touched upon in a typical school day.   These legal areas can include, but are not limited to contracts, criminal, and constitutional law. Of course, if you are researching a legal issue related to education, you already know that much of education is under state and local control.  Your research will likely require consultation of the applicable Minnesota Statutes, as well as the  Minnesota Administrative Rules for the Minnesota Department of Education.   You might also want to consult the policy manuals of your local school board and minutes of their meetings.   In addition, the State Law Library also provides a handy list of resources specific to education law. We also have local CLE binders as on the subject, as well as some other unique print materials:

  • Special Education and the Law: A Guide for Practitioners (Corwin, 3rd Ed.) by A. Osborne et al. Special education is an area of law impacted by significant court decisions and changing legal developments.  This book can provide a road map to meeting today’s special education requirements. Helpful analysis in specific areas such as IDEA, discipline, parents and students rights, and preventive suggestions on avoiding litigation.  More information is available from the publisher.
  • 2015 Deskbook Encyclopedia of American School Law (Center for Education & Employment Law). Its publisher describes this book  as “a one-stop reference guide that helps you learn how courts are deciding school cases, what the legal issues are and how your colleagues across the country are faring.”  Case summaries are provided in areas covering employment practices, school operations, academic practices, students with disabilities and  more.  This resource is reprinted annually for the most up-to-date coverage.
  • The Principal’s Quick-Reference Guide to School Law: Reducing Liability, Litigation, and Other Potential Legal (Corwin, 3rd Ed.) R. Hachiya et alThis book presents information that shows school principals how to address issues including:  student use of technology, zero-tolerance discipline policies, and school safety and violence prevention.  It also includes useful insights for collaboration with other school personnel for addressing these issues.
  •  Education Law: An Essential Guide for Attorneys, Teachers, Administrators, Parents, and Students (Lawyers & Judges Publishing Company, Inc. 2nd Ed.) by  M. Gerstein & L. Gerstein.  This substantial treatise understands how the incidents that arise in school touch on the many areas of law mentioned previously. How do these broad legal practice areas intersect with state and local laws? This broad treatise can be your road map to putting the details of your particular education issue into the right legal framework for your continued research.

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Building Your Federal Case

US District Courthouse - St. Paul Minnesota

US District Courthouse – St. Paul, Minnesota

Frequently at the law library we will send people to other courthouse floors to access documents filed in Minnesota’s 2nd Judicial District (plus its other districts for that matter). Unfortunately it gets trickier for patrons seeking federal court documents.   Consulting a law library at the St. Paul location of the U.S. District Court of Minnesota is not an option for members of the general public.  Our library is in fact the closest publicly-accessible law library to the federal courthouse. Here, patrons can use our free WestlawNext service to access opinions from the federal district courts for all states, plus appellate level court opinions. Our Westlaw subscription also allows access to opinions from federal tax court and bankruptcy courts.   Note however, that our law library does not have a PACER subscription, which also allows its subscribers to access the filings from federal courts.

There are also online options for accessing federal court records for when you are away from the law library. Would you like to see a list of what new cases have been filed in the Federal District Court of Minnesota over the last month? Try this link. The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals also has its own porthole for opinions, including newly released ones. In fact, try this: Go to this site and then do a single word search if you are looking for past opinions surrounding an obscure subject or name. While not as not as flexible and friendly using WestlawNext, this option is at least free and convenient. Also be aware of what is freely available online through the Government Printing Office (GPO).  At this page you can find both U.S. District and U.S. Court of Appeals opinions going back to 2004. Again, not as scientific as WestlawNext, but free and accessible from any computer.  Going down to the clerk’s office of the local federal courthouse might still be your best bet if you need briefs or memoranda filed in the Federal District Court of Minnesota. There, one can use an in-house version of PACER to access these filings.

That stated, getting federal case records may not be as easy as you would like, but here in the law library we keep up a respectable collection of federal practice tools.  These include such resources as the United States Code Annotated (West), Moore’s Federal Practice (LexisNexis), and the Federal District of Minnesota Civil Practice Deskbook (Minnesota CLE).


Safe at Home

100_0244Have you recently been a victim of stalking, assault, or other violence?  H0pefully the worst of this experience has passed for you. As part of making a fresh start, you may have even moved to a new address. Yet moving on may prove challenging when you feel vulnerable in your new home for fear of your assailant discovering where you live.  This is where Safe at Home can help.  Sponsored by the Minnesota Secretary of State, this  little-known address confidentiality program is meant to help eliminate the traces of your interactions that might reveal where you can be located. Under Safe at Home, you receive a post office box address, which others will be required to accept and use on your behalf. Safe at Home will also accept legal process service in your name, and even allows you to use your special post office address on your drivers license. It will even allow you to vote by absentee ballot come election time.  Safe at Home then provides a confidential forwarding service to your real address.

A person is not automatically eligible to enroll in Safe at Home. (You cannot use it as a means of hiding from criminal prosecution or debt creditors, for instance.) You must be a survivor of stalking, sexual assault, domestic violence, or someone who fears for their safety.   You can enroll in Safe at Home at any one of several locations.  For more information about Safe at Home, see Minn. Stat. §5B and Minn. R. Ch. 8290. Also check out the Secretary of State’s FAQ page on Safe at Home.


On Judges who Blog

hands on keyboardU.S. District Judge Richard Kopf of Nebraska has shut down his witty and popular Hercules and the Umpire blog, according to the National Law Journal (NLJ). Apparently Koph’s blog had became an “embarrassment” to the Court, and sometimes hinted of being a political soapbox of sorts (which federal judges are required to abstain from). Subscribers to the NLJ can read about his now-inactive blog, and also his interview with NLJ. Remember that that Judge Kopf was the sentencing judge in the Shon Hopwood case, and that he followed Hopwood’s inspiring career development on his blog. Nonetheless, Judge Koph’s blog has been called out as perhaps a blog that pushes too close to the boundaries of what is appropriate for a federal judge.

Here in Minnesota, Anoka County District Judge Pendleton has become a blogging legend in his own right, for his blog is the platform of his excellent and informative Pendleton Updates. Minnesota Lawyer put the spotlight Judge Pendleton’s blog in its August 17 issue. Also check out Wright County District Judge Stephen Halsey’s  Jurors Behaving Badly blog which addresses “the very small percentage of jurors who fail to follow the judge’s instructions,” plus his Minnesota Family Law Issues blog. Also, Hennepin County District Judge Kevin Burk is the author of the American Judges Association blog.

So, you can see that some judge blogs are about providing concrete information, whereas others lean more toward reflective musings and conversation-starters. If you are bringing a case before a known blogger judge, it certainly cannot hurt to check out their blog.  Do you have a favorite judge blog?  Please share it with us!


Conceal and Carry

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe controversial subject of personal handgun conceal and carry has been rather prominent this summer in Minnesota. Besides a recent local incident that put the matter in the news, Minnesota now has reciprocity with North Dakota in recognizing registered carriers. An article from last Sunday’s Star Tribune reports that 200,000 Minnesotans now have permits to carry handguns. Controversies remain, with both sides having plenty of data to back up their arguments.

Carrying a gun is not for everyone, and an untrained and unprepared person toting a gun is no benefit to anyone.  Perhaps you have given it careful thought, however, and decided that carrying a handgun is right for you. If so, familiarize yourself with MN Stat §624.714.  Know the protocol you will need to follow if you get your permit.  Be aware that you will have to pass a background check, and that certain prior charges or convictions make you ineligible. You will also be required to take four to six hours of training in handgun safety. A permit usually costs $100, and must be renewed every five years. More information regarding the application process and your eligibility is available through the Minnesota Department of Public Safety.  To apply for your permit, simply file this application with your local sheriff’s department.  If the department denies your application, you may choose file a Petition for Reconsideration through District Court.

For more a more detailed and scholarly look at the history of Minnesota firearm carry laws, see this informative guide compiled by the Minnesota Legislative Reference Library.


John W. Boerner

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John W. Boerner was born on August 16, 1874 at the Army post of Fort Hays, Kansas where his father was stationed. His family moved to Saint Paul, Minnesota when he was five years old.  His father initially worked as a bookkeeper, but later joined the St. Paul Police force, where he achieved the rank of captain.  Young John Boerner attended Cretin High School in Saint Paul.  Later he played amateur baseball, starting on both the Northern Pacific and Knights of Columbus teams.  After that he went to work for the Great Northern and Omaha railroads while he took evening classes at the St. Paul College of Law (Now William Mitchell).  He graduated in 1903 and went into private practice.  At some point Boerner married “Marguerite,” and they had two daughters.

Boerner also went into private practice, later becoming Assistant Ramsey County Attorney, first under Thomas D. O’Brien, and then under Richard D. O’Brien. Boerner was elected District Court Judge in 1923, defeating Judge Frederick M. Catlin (appointed the previous year). He was re-elected to four more terms, finally retiring in 1949. (He was 73 years old, which was the mandatory retirement age for judges back then.)  He died on November 9, 1955 at Miller Hospital due to complications of a heart condition. He was 81 years old.


MSOP – A Look Back

Image - barbed wire security fenceNow that Federal District Court Judge Frank has declared the Minnesota Sex Offender Program (MSOP) unconstitutional, a commission of leaders is planning what steps to take to make the program constitutional. It was strange timing when news broke last week that Alfonzo Rodriguez, Jr. had filed for habeas corpus in federal court, on grounds alleging juror misconduct at his 2006 trial. The commission’s task now becomes more emotionally loaded, as Minnesotans are reminded once more of the tragic Dru Sjodin story. It is no wonder that Judge Frank has banned media from these emotionally sensitive meetings.

Minnesota’s draconian sex offender program didn’t emerge out of the blue. Its implementation and growth was a well-intended response by our leaders to their horror at what had happened to Dru and other victims, hoping that such strong measures would prevent similar incidents in the future. This article in MinnPost explains how judges and prosecutors came to have such a heavy hand in committing Minnesota sex offenders after the Rodriguez matter. The number of civil sex offender committments peaking at 88 in 2007, an almost six-fold increase from 2003.  (MSOP’s reputation is that no one gets out of the MSOP, but apparently one man is about to graduate this week after 20 years.) The William Mitchell Law Review recently published insightful perspectives from both a legislator and a county attorney on the evolution and application of the current MSOP.

The Sjodin/Rodriguez case is not only tragic. It has been miscast as representing the typical Minnesota sex offender. Most do not fit the extremely dangerous Alfonzo Rodriguez profile, and might benefit from individualized treatment in a less restrictive setting. But as long as Rodriguez remains the unofficial poster boy of sex offenders, changing the MSOP remains an emotionally-charged task.


DSC_0108While you were enjoying the previous weekend, several new Minnesota laws became effective on August 1. In addition, new updates to the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines quietly took effect as well, which apply to felony crimes committed on or after August 1, 2015. Recent additions to the 2015 Guidelines run the gamut from wrongful employment at a child care center under Minn. Stat. § 609.816, to the new gross misdemeanor reckless driving offense under Minn. Stat. §169.13, subd. 1(a). All the new changes to the Sentencing Guidelines are described here.

The purpose of the Guidelines “is to establish rational and consistent sentencing standards that reduce sentencing disparity and ensure that the sanctions imposed for felony convictions are proportional to the severity of the conviction offense and the offender’s criminal history.” In 1978 the Minnesota Legislature first established the Sentencing Guidelines Commission to bring about these standards to actual sentencing practices.  Three years later, Minnesota became the first state to implement a sentencing guidelines structure.

Despite the Guidelines’ primary goal of sentencing consistency, no two offenses are alike and sentences have to be customized for the situation. This is why the Guidelines allow judges to apply many different durational departure factors (and not others), both upward and downward. (A good analysis of these factors can be found in West’s Minnesota Practice: Criminal Law and Procedure.) At 137 pages, the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines are rather long and cumbersome, and contain some potentially confusing components.  Instructions for calculating sentences is available at the website, but maybe your department could benefit from additional training for interpreting the Guidelines.  The Commission offers webinars and in-person trainings on subject areas including sentencing worksheets, sentence modifiers, or consecutive sentencing. Have you got a question about the Guidelines that you need a quick answer to?  Call or email the Commission and get the answer!


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, 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!