Remembering the Happy Warrior

Casket leaving Minnesota State Capitol

Casket leaving Minnesota State Capitol (courtesy MN Historical Society)

Once upon a time at the 1948 Democratic National Convention, a young Midwestern mayor catapulted himself into history with his passionate speech urging the party to adopt a strong civil rights platform.  He drew a stark political division by stating that the time had come “…for the Democratic Party to get out of the shadow of state’s rights and walk forthrightly in the bright sunshine of human rights.”  The result was a mass walkout by the southern “dixicrat” faction and its long-term political after-effects.  This Friday it will be 38 years since one of the most influential leaders of the twentieth century died. He was laid to rest 3 days later on a bitterly cold January day.

Hubert Horatio Humphrey started out as the mayor of Minneapolis, elected to that office in 1945.  Three years later he was elected to the Senate in 1948 on the wind of his earth-moving speech.  Humphrey’s positions earned him some hostility from his party’s more conservative senators, and he came to accept the guidance of fellow senator Lyndon Johnson of Texas.  Johnson was not an easy guy to work with, especially after the Johnson-Humphrey presidential ticket was overwhelmingly elected in 1964.  As Johnson’s vice-president, Humphrey had the thankless job of selling the unpopular Vietnam War escalation to the American public.  Humphrey himself received the 1968 Democratic nomination for president, but would narrowly lose to Richard Nixon in the general election.  Humphrey went back to teaching at the University of Minnesota and Macalester College for the next two years.  Still restless for the public life, he sought and won election to the Senate in 1970 following the retirement of Senator Eugene McCarthy.  But he secretly struggled with bladder cancer for years before he died on January 13, 1978.

Humphrey’s public career may have started in Minneapolis, but its formal conclusion was a Saint Paul event.  After laying in state in our nation’s capital, his body returned to Minnesota and lay in state at the Minnesota Capitol prior to his funeral at the House of Hope Presbyterian Church.  It was attended by 43 members of the Senate, with the eulogy delivered by President Jimmy Carter.  (You can listen to this funeral service live.) This day happened to coincide with Minnesota’s cold winter season, and the temperature never got above zero that day.

Humphrey’s wife Muriel served the remainder of his senate term, but did not seek another.  During the 2012 dedication of his statue on the Minnesota Capitol grounds, Bill Clinton credited Humphrey’s 1948 speech as the catalyst behind the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, and the election of Barack Obama.

 

Scales of justiceThe Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled today on the Minnesota Sex Offender Program (MSOP), overturning the previous U.S. District Court ruling that the program was unconstitutional.   The Court of Appeals held that the program was not only constitutional, but necessary to protect citizens from dangerous sexual predators who would otherwise go free.  (See complete opinion here.)  Twenty other states have lockup programs similar to Minnesota’s, making this a highly-watched case.   And with the Minnesota Legislature about to convene, its members are no doubt relieved that they have been spared from the politically poisonous task of reforming the sex offender program.

On a somewhat similar note, Ramsey County recently made news with the recent release of the WATCH study which compared Hennepin and Ramsey Districts’ handling of sex trafficking cases from 2012 through 2016.  WATCH also wanted to see the impact of the 2011 Safe Harbor law, which was passed  to ensure that sexually exploited youths are viewed as victims and not criminals.  The entire report is a must-read for anyone who wants to know about how a person gets charged under MN Stat §609.322 and how, but the big news was how differently the same statute is applied in the different jurisdictions.  The Hennepin approach relies on the statute language “promotes prostitution” whereas the Ramsey approach relies on the language which specifically makes sex trafficking a crime.  According to this Star Tribune article there are other factors are at work but that the average prison sentence in Ramsey County was 19 years, more than three times as long as the Hennepin County average.  Moreover, Hennepin County defendants were significantly more likely to obtain downward sentencing departures.  The report had other recommendations  for the legislature, courts, and prosecutors.

 

 

Toasting Wine GlassesThe time for holiday cheer is near, when we raise our glasses to a joyful time of year. And if our holiday toasts contain alcohol, someone will need to make a trip to the local liquor store, which in Minnesota cannot be on a Sunday.  Yes, the backup plan is often an emergency run to Wisconsin to buy the goods.  This year, however, Christmas and New Years both fall on Sundays, making it impossible to find a last-minute solution across the state border.  Minnesota is one of 12 states that ban Sunday liquor sales, as can be seen on the first map at this page.  Being surrounded by states that allow Sunday liquor sales, one could argue that Minnesota’s law is an act of taxation goodwill to its neighbors.  After all, here is one day a week that neighboring states can collect liquor taxes from Minnesotans. (Here’s looking at you, Wisconsin.)

Minnesota’s ban on Sunday liquor sales goes back all 158 of its years The argument against such law is consumer convenience, of course. The argument for them is that small, locally owned liquor stores can compete better by having a day where they don’t have to staff the store and still stay competitive. (Meaning: Would you keep shopping at Bob’s Booze Barn if you could get exactly what you wanted on your Sunday grocery run to Trader Joe’s?) We can expect the issue to arise yet again with the commencement of the new legislative session, and House Speaker Kurt Daudt believes this time it will pass.

Minnesota holds special prominence in the history of regulating alcohol consumption.  Remember that Minnesota congressman Andrew Volstead authored the legislation that would eventually become the Prohibition Amendment, which is why it was named the Volstead Act.  Volstead lost his congressional seat in 1922. Prohibition spanned from 1920 to 1933, ands after its repeal Minnesota created its own Liquor Control Department in 1933 to enforce its Liquor Control Act.  The department employed 12 agents in its first year, during which time Minnesota still had many dry counties, and alcohol bootlegging was a major enforcement concern.  Ironically, prohibition years also highlighted Minnesota with the production of Minnesota 13 by Stearns County farmers.  This was a distilled corn whiskey (i.e. “moonshine”) that was renowned and coveted across the nation.

 

Snow shovelLikely none of us was truly prepared for last weekend’s nine inches of snow.  Hopefully you managed to find your snow shovel and deal with the white fluffy stuff that covered your driveway and sidewalk. (No? Check behind your lawnmower and under your garden hose.)  Snow removal is not just a matter of keeping up appearances on your block.  City ordinances also require diligent home upkeep, specifically clearing the sidewalk that runs in front of your property or to your door and mailbox.  Saint Paul Ordinance §113.02 states that “[t]he owner or occupant of any building or lot abutting a public sidewalk is responsible for and shall remove any accumulation of snow and/or ice from said public sidewalk within twenty-four (24) hours after the snow and/or ice has ceased to fall, gather or accumulate.”  (Notice that this language also applies to you if you’re the ”occupant” of the house, so talk to your landlord and agree on shovel-duty.)

If the offending snow is not removed in a timely matter, following ordinances allow the City to send notice to either the owner or occupant to get the job done.  If this measure fails, the City can  schedule the snow removal with a contractor, and then assess the owner or occupant for the cost (likely much more than a new shovel would cost).  Said owner or occupant could also be charged with a petty misdemeanor and assessed an additional fine.  Are you a St. Paul resident with a neighbor whose snow removal neglect is a hazard to you and others using the sidewalk? Contact the City to report the violation. If you prefer a more neighborly approach, see their printable door hanger to gently nudge your neighbor into action.

The above code is aimed at St. Paul residents, but other area municipalities have similar ordinances requiring snow removal:

  • Arden Hills – §602.03 Subd. 18 - ”Public Nuisance – All snow or ice not removed from public sidewalks within twenty-four hours after the snow or ice has been deposited, unless that portion of the public sidewalk has been exempted from this requirement by city council resolution.”
  • Falcon Heights – §22-47 – “A nuisance upon premises. No person shall knowingly cause, or create, or permit nuisances upon any premises as follows: (1) Snow and ice not removed from public sidewalks 24 hours after a storm has ended…”
  • Maplewood – §12-99 - “Removal of snow and ice. There shall be no snow and ice on parking lots, driveways, steps and walkways which may create a hazard.”
  • Roseville –§ 407.03 - “…On all properties with off-the-road, non-motorized pathways, except nontax exempt R-1 or R-2 properties, ice and snow shall be removed from the non-motorized pathway within 12 hours after snow and ice have ceased to be deposited thereon.”
  • White Bear Lake -  §901.030 – “SIDEWALKS; SNOW AND RUBBISH REMOVAL, NONCOMPLIANCE.  All persons owning or occupying any building in the City are required to remove dirt or rubbish from the sidewalks adjacent to such building.”

Typically, the respective municipal codes also contain language allowing the city to hire out the snow removal project should the owner/occupant lapse in this duty, and to bill accordingly for the service (likely at a much higher cost than a new show shovel).  And yet this inconvenience wouldn’t compare to the nightmare of a lawsuit brought by someone injured on your sidewalk as a result of unattended snow and ice.  Don’t see your town listed here?  You can call your city administration and ask about snow removal, but your time might be better spent just shoveling or hiring out the job.

 

 

The Smallest Units of Government

Community meetingAs the 2016 election season fades behind us, it is a good time to reflect on our government structures and their various functions. It is easy follow government at the federal and state levels by reading the news, but not so much where local government is concerned. In fact, people often cannot name or identify the very people who represent them at the city or county levels. This is unfortunate, as many visitors to the law library might be surprised at how close their visit brings them to their local governments in action. The Ramsey County Board of Commissioners and St. Paul City Counsel both conduct their public meetings in the Court House.  People who come to the library and inquire about seeing a public trial might also consider sitting in on a commissioners meeting.  (Minutes and ideotapes of these meetings are also available online.)

What is going on beyond the Court House? Starting at the top, you can go to USA.gov to find all divisions of the federal government, and learn exactly where to direct your questions or complaints.  Websites like Common Cause can help you identify all of your elected officials at once, plus see their sponsorships and contributors.  On the other end, what about the most local levels?  To learn who your neighbors are and what they are concerned about, consider joining an online community such as Nextdoor.   If you want to become more involved, you may also consider using some of your spare time to volunteer in the community. Ramsey County has a page just for you, with opportunities to serve on county advisory boards and committees.  You may be just one person, but don’t underestimate your power to make a difference!

 

police officer sidearmJust recently law enforcement in our tiny jurisdiction has come more visible than usual.  Obviously police officers are in the news every time a major criminal act in our community is investigated or a suspect is apprehended.   But this week the headlines went further, capturing a public meeting wherein citizens weighed in on potential changes to the St. Paul Police Civilian Internal Affairs Review Commission.  This 20-year old commission reviews complaints against police and makes disciplinary recommendations to the chief. It has always consisted of two officers and five civilians, but several meeting participants expressed their point of view that officers don’t belong on this commission. This debate is all the more significant given the fact that St. Paul Police began wearing body cameras only last week.

Also significant was this week’s announcement from Ramsey County Attorney John Choi that criminal manslaughter charges were being brought against Falcon Heights police officer Jeronimo Yanez in the shooting death of Philando Castile, which made national news. You can read Choi’s press conference transcript from his announcement and the complaint at the County Attorney’s website.

There is not much this blog can add to these events that isn’t already covered.  However, this is a good place to bring up some of the special resources that our library has regarding law as it pertains to police officers and police misconduct.  If this is something you are researching or plan to, we have some tools that might help:

  • Will Aitchison, The Rights of Law Enforcement Officers (7th Ed. 2015)
  • Michael Avery et al.  Police Misconduct: Law and Litigation (3d Ed. 2015)
  • Isidore Silver,  Police Civil Liability (1986- )

We also have plenty of criminal law materials that explore the constitutional parameters in which police officers do their jobs. Be aware that many of the police civil liability materials are library-use only, so set aside some time to visit our library!

 

Arthur A. Stewart (1946 – 1970)

Judge Arthur Stewart

Arthur Stewart was born in St. Paul on January 29, 1888 to parents John and Anna, who had settled in St. Paul in the 1870s.  John originally had a hardware store at Seventh Avenue and John Street (close to the present location of Red’s Savoy Pizza), but lost his business in the 1893 crash. John eventually became an executive with the Smyth Printing Company. According to a St. Paul Dispatch article, young Arthur got his lucky break at age seventeen when he landed a job in the clerk’s office of the Minnesota Supreme Court. That’s where then-Chief Justice Charles M. Start took a liking to him and urged him to go to law school. Arthur Stewart graduated from the St. Paul College of Law in 1908, and was admitted to the Minnesota Bar the following year. In August of 1917 he enlisted for service in World War I and was commissioned a first lieutenant of the infantry. After his honorable discharge in December of 1918 he returned home to St. Paul, where he had married Hermione Peterson the previous January. The couple later had two children, Hermione and Charles.

Stewart took up law practice of law in the firm of Barrows Stewart & Metcalfe, where he stayed for the next twelve years. (Their office was on the fourteenth floor of the Pioneer Building in downtown St. Paul.) In 1922 he became assistant corporation counsel for the City of Saint Paul, working under senior counsel Carlton F. McNally. He himself became corporation counsel for the City in 1925, when McNally was appointed to the bench of the Ramsey County District Court. Stewart also served on the Ramsey County Board of Commissioners, as well as the City Hall and Court House Building Commission in its planning of the present courthouse. He was serving as a member of the State Industrial Commission when he was appointed to the Ramsey District bench in 1946 to fill the vacancy left by the death of Judge James C. Michael.  Judge Stewart served in this position until he died in 1970, at the age of 82.

Judge Stewart’s portrait was painted by local artist Ken Fox, who is the last known surviving artist of the portrait collection.  We were honored to have Mr. Fox attend our 80th Anniversary celebration and tell about his work as an artist.  Additionally, history buffs may be sad to learn that Judge Stewart is the last judge of the portrait collection to be featured on this blog, but there are other historical figures of the local legal community that can be explored here.  Please share if there are any particular ones you would especially like to read about.

Sources:

J.A. Burnquist, Minnesota and Its People (S.J. Clarke Publishing Co., 1924) p. 3:342-343. 

Stewart–Judge Aurthur A. (Obituary) St. Paul Pioneer Press, June 23, 1970 p. 20.

“Thye Selects Former City Attorney,” St. Paul Dispatch, April 10, 1946.

 

 

Voter Fraud vs. Voter Disenfranchisement

BallotsVoter eligibility and disenfranchisement is a subject this blog has looked at before, especially as it relates to felons. Different states have different levels of participation allowed by felons, with Minnesota falling somewhere in the middle by allowing felons to vote again after completing their entire sentence including probation.  With this limitation in mind, Minnesota Statute §204C.12 states that election judges must give ballots to voters who have been challenged as ineligible to vote, but who self-certify that they are in fact eligible. Recent local news presents the scenario where the polling roster might have someone marked as challenged due to status as a felon, as well as ward of the state, or non-citizen status. If the potential voter certifies that they are none of those things, election judges are being told that they should allow the person to vote.

In a case currently filed in the Second Judicial District, the Minnesota Voter Alliance asserts that the polling roster should be taken as the final word, and that the election judges should not be allowed to override it by letting the person vote.   They have encouraged election judges to refuse to follow the rule, claiming there is more election fraud in Minnesota than is officially acknowledged.  The Minnesota Secretary of State’s office says that refusing to apply the rule is not an option, and that only a court has the authority to challenge the statute. (See how the Secretary of State’s 2016 Election Judge Guide explains how the situation should be handled.) In the delicate operation of conducting democratically sound elections, election fraud and voter disenfranchisement are the two opposite sides of the same coin. State officials have asserted that the danger of election fraud is minimal.  Other groups assert that the real danger is not fraud, but voter suppression.  A judge will rule on this issue today (Friday), at least for purposes of the upcoming election.  It could easily find its way to the Court of Appeals or the Minnesota Legislature, especially if there are close election results.

 

One of These Things Is Not Like the Others

capture

Here are pictures of some objects which could qualify as ”dangerous weapons” under MN Stat. § 609.02 of the criminal code. They are (from top left) a flintlock pistol, a compound bow, an air pellet gun, and a liquid grenade (three of them in fact).  But (as sung on a popular children’s television show) one of these weapons just doesn’t belong here. Last week the Minnesota Supreme Court analyzed what kind of objects could actually be firearms, even though the objects might qualify “dangerous weapons.”  In State vs. Haywood, the Court specifically examined whether or not appellant’s BB gun qualified as a firearm under MN, because he had originally been convicted in Ramsey District Court under MN Stat § 609.165 for possessing a firearm which he was barred from doing due to his felon status. Now’s it’s time to play our game: Can you guess which dangerous weapon doesn’t belong here, now that the Court has finished its song? (Hint: It’s not the one that the Court gave special analysis to in Haywood.)

If you guessed that the  flintlock pistol is the only weapon here doesn’t belong, then you are right! In applying the reasoning of Haywood, the compound bow, the canister grenades, AND the BB gun might all be dangerous weapons, but they are not technically firearms. Why? First, the Court held that it was not necessary to look at past decisions of whether or not BB guns were classed as firearms. And since the Minnesota Legislature had never bothered to officially define a firearm, the Court concluded it was appropriate to apply the plain meaning in defining a firearm.  Sources including Merriam-Websters Collegiate Dictionary (“weapon from which a shot is discharged by gunpowder”’) and Black’s Law Dictionary (“weapon that expels a projectile …by the combustion of gunpowder or other explosive”) were consulted for their definitions.  The Court then concluded that appellant’s BB gun was NOT a firearm, since it did not operate by a gunpowder explosion.  Strictly speaking, the bow and grenades would not be either.  The flintlock pistol WOULD operate via projectile and gunpowder explosion, and also has MN Stat § 624.712 defining it specifically as an antique firearm.

Of course, future legislative action or court decisions might present us with a different game to play, with entirely different answers.

 

 

RIP to I-CAN!

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.