Keeping the Heat On

Old Heater

With the sudden drop in temperatures last week, maybe you are concerned about paying your utility bills this winter.  In case you have trouble making your payments, would the utility company be able to shut off your heat when the temperatures drop?  Truth is, your heat CAN be shut off for nonpayment, UNLESS you take steps under the Cold Weather Rule (CWR) to protect yourself.  Codified in MN Stats §216B.096 and §216B.097, you must contact your utility company to apply for the legally mandated protection from having your heat shut off.  You will then be required arrange and maintain a payment plan with your utility to be covered under CWR.  All natural gas and electric utility companies must offer protection under the CWR, which is in effect annually from October 15 through April 15.  This process is described by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission.  More information about CWR is available through this Legal Aid fact sheet.  If you are having trouble affording your heating service, you may also be eligible for assistance through the Energy Assistance Program (EAP), which is administered through the Minnesota Department of Commerce.

Similarly, if you are a renter you may be wondering if your landlord might turn off your heat if you can’t pay rent, in order to make you move out.  In fact, your landlord can only evict you through a legal unlawful detainer.  They may not force you out through “retaliatory” means such as turning off your utilities.  If you think your landlord is trying to do this, you may decide to file an Emergency Tenant Remedies Action. (MN Stat §504B.381)  You can find additional information and the necessary forms through the MN Courts.  You can also find city-specific information regarding your landlord’s heating responsibilities at this HOME line webpage.

Stay warm!

 

file4451297827276Despite his professional reputation (including an outstanding judge award from the state’s District Judges Association) and the popularity of his Pendleton Updates blog, Judge Alan Pendleton found himself under the regulatory microscope last week.  He now faces discipline from the Board on Judicial Standards for failing to maintain a proper residence in his Anoka County jurisdiction.  He allegedly had sold his Anoka condominium in November of 2013 and moved into his wife’s Hennepin County residence to be closer to their children, and stayed there until August.  While the details of his domicile seem like a tiny blip on any measure of judicial wrongdoing, it is a reminder of the regulations that Minnesota judges must comply with.   With a Robert Downie Jr. movie and a (now-cancelled) NBC sitcom casting fictional light on the lives of judges, it is especially timely to look at the subject of judge regulation.

It is also not unusual for the Law Librarian to encounter library patrons who believe that the judge in their particular case has acted improperly (or at least very unfairly).  If someone feels that their particular judge has truly stepped out of the official line, they may want to consult the Minnesota Code of Judicial Conduct.   If this convinces them that their judge has indeed acted improperly, they may wish to contact the Minnesota Board of Judicial Standards and file a complaint.  Finally, the Minnesota State Law Library offers an extensive (and growing) collection of information-rich LibGuides, including this one on judge regulation.  Also consider this interesting article from the University of St Thomas Law Review that looks at judicial misconduct.  In addition to its examples of judges stepping out of line, it provides a scholarly look at why we all depend on an ethically sound judiciary.

 

Charles D. Kerr (1835-1896)

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Charles Deal Kerr was born in 1835 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  His family moved to Jacksonville, Illinois when he was a child, but his father died soon thereafter.  Young Charles soon assumed the position of looking after his widowed mother and four younger brothers and sisters.  Nonetheless, he graduated from Illinois College at Jacksonville in 1857.

He began working in the law office of Samuel Miller (later a Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court) of Keokuk Illinois in 1858.  He was an “original” Republican that actively participated in the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860.  He was admitted to the Illinois bar in 1861, but enlisted as a private in the Illinois Volunteer Infantry shortly after Fort Sumpter was fired upon.  He was commissioned a full colonel by the end of the Civil War.  Army life had been hard on his health, however.  He came to Minnesota in 1865, hoping that the climate would do him good.

Kerr first settled in St. Cloud and entered law practice with James McKelvey. In about 1867 he became county attorney of Sherburne County, and also served as mayor of St. Cloud for several years.  Shortly after McKelvey became judge of the 7th District, Charles Kerr moved to St. Paul.  It was about this time, in 1874, that he married Mary E. Bennett of Rochester New York.  They had one daughter and two sons.  In addition to his St. Paul law practice, Kerr served as an alderman and President of the “Common Council” of St. Paul.  As a lawyer he was a powerful and sought-after orator.  “His arguments were clear and simple and lifted the veil of doubt from the minds of the most obtuse juror.”  In 1888 he was appointed to the Ramsey County District Court.

By 1896 Judge Kerr had apparently given up his previous belief about Minnesota’s climate and its health benefits.  That December he traveled to San Antonio Texas with his wife, hoping that rest and the warmer climate there would help his health.  Judge Kerr died on December 25, 1896 at the age of 61 the day after arriving at his destination.  The only cause given for his demise was “heart trouble.”

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Source:

His Life Work Over, Judge Kerr Passes Away in San Antinio, Tex., St. Paul Globe, December 27, 1896 pg. 3

 

IMG_1426“…[D]edicated to the Training & Education of the Minnesota Trial Bench and Attorneys,” the Pendleton Judicial Training Updates is a website which allows a person to get a judge’s point of view on a myriad of legal issues and situations.  Essentially, this website is a collection ofUpdates,” or short, concise, and easy to read tips that every judge and attorney should know.  Even laypeople can appreciate the chance to understand what the judge knows, and likely expects the attorneys to know.  As an example, look at Judge Pendleton’s short-and-sweet guide to contested child support contempt hearings.

Anoka County Judge Alan Pendleton has an extensive background in teaching, and has established this website platform for educating judges, attorneys, and others.  An online subject matter index and table of contents make Judge Pendleton’s archives a breeze to use.  A lawyer or litigant would be hard pressed to find a resource this short and sweet, and on target with Minnesota law.  Don’t just take the Law Librarian’s word- Massachusetts lawyer Robert Ambrosi of Law Sites recently reviewed Judge Pendleton’s training blog and was just as impressed.  So look over these updates before your next in-court judge encounter and see if you don’t find yourself just a bit more prepared (and confident).

 

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

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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?

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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.