Courtroom 050If you are an attorney with a major hearing or trial coming up in the 2nd Judicial District, do you have your game plan ready as far as the courtroom technology you intend to use?  Will you have all of your exhibits properly saved and ready to display electronically?  Will you be presenting a PowerPoint slideshow for the jury?  Will you be directing all of this from your own portable laptop or will you bring an assistant to do this?  Do you have other presentation needs to plan ahead for?

You would do well to read the Courtroom Technology Resources page for the Second Judicial District at the Minnesota Courts webpage.  For your laptop, VGA, HDMI and DisplayPort connections are available, but you should bring your own cable.  Certain equipment can be borrowed from the Court (such as DVD players or projectors).  Make these reservations at least a week in advance with Court Administration.  The Court does not furnish laptops, and only wireless guest internet access is available (under MJB Guest).  Note that the Court staff is also not available to serve as your tech support, other than for those items supplied by the Court.  If you still have questions, prepare a list of them regarding your presentation needs and ask your judge’s clerk about the technology setup in your particular courtroom.  Do this at least a week in advance of your appearance.  For added peace of mind, ask if you can come to the actual courtroom ahead of time to set up a “dry run” and see if everything works.

Even though they are not directly applicable to Minnesota state district courts, it may be helpful to consult the Courtroom Technology Manuals for the Minnesota Federal Courts.  At the very least, they can help you draft a list of questions to ask your judge’s clerk.  If you are still concerned about the possibility of unforeseen technical problems, being able to present your case on a simple dry erase board is always a reliable backup.  You can also come up to make a quick print-out or photocopy as needed in the Law Library for 15 cents per page.


Sun Setting on the West

December 5, 2014(2) 001Now that the County plans to raze the buildings that housed the former West Publishing Company, it is time to look back at this local chapter in the history of legal research.  It’s easy to forget that many of the tools used by lawyers and librarians were developed right here in downtown St. Paul.

The instigator of all this was John Briggs West, a relatively uneducated man.  John came to Minnesota from Massachusetts in 1870 when his father, a bookkeeper, was transferred per his employment with the railroad.  Eighteen-year-old John soon found work for himself with a book company, which had him peddling books and office supplies to local lawyers.  These frontier lawyers (hoping to practice something better than frontier justice) complained to John about the difficulty in getting current legal information and other practical tools.  Seeing an opportunity, John quit his job and opened his own downtown St. Paul business in 1872, dedicated to serving the needs of the local bar.  His creations included a line of legal forms, reprints of hard-to-find treatises, and an index to the Minnesota statutes.  With his brother Horatio as his business partner, he soon began publishing a weekly report of the opinions handed down by the Minnesota Supreme Court.  This report was a huge hit, soon to be named the North Western Reporter.  Ten years later, John came up with a bold and original index scheme to catalog cases by subject matter that would later become the well-known key number system.  John left his company in 1899 and was largely forgotten thereafter.  Librarians will be interested to know that John spoke at the 1908 annual meeting of the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL).  He died in 1922 in Pasadena, CA.  The details of John Briggs West and his life are detailed in this article (whose author graciously allowed it to be referenced and linked for this blog).

See this other excellent article which illuminates little known facts of the past West Publishing Company itself.  Many don’t realize, for instance, that the company was responsible for Black’s Law Dictionary.  Also see the included appendix/brochure Law Books by the Million (West 1901) that detailed the day-to-day inner workings of the company at the turn of the previous century. Consider the fact that 5000-6000 sheep skins became the covers for the West Reporting System every month.  Take a minute to see the historic photos, for they speak volumes. (Proofreading at West was probably the epitome of employment opportunities for sharp young women back then.)  The best photos are of the buildings in their heyday, which locals can easily recognize.

One of the buildings marked for destruction became the site of the Ramsey County Jail after the company’s exodus up until 2003. Another was briefly home to the Ramsey County Law Library. It’s worth taking a walking tour of this part of downtown St. Paul to see these buildings while they still stand.   Waiting to see them on Lost Twin Cities 7 is not guaranteed, and won’t be quite the same as seeing them in person.



Law enforcement is extra-busy during the holidays keeping the roads and streets safe from drunk drivers and other hazards.  Sober or not, you might still be cited for a traffic violation.  Likewise, snow emergencies and shopping traffic pose additional challenges to drivers hoping to avoid parking citations.  But let’s say you have been ticketed, and unjustly in your opinion. What are you options?  What can you can anticipate? The easy resolution is to pay the fine, of course.  (This will be considered a plea of guilty.) Doing so as soon as possible will help you avoid any late fees.  But what if you feel you are in the right and want to contest the ticket?   After you confirm that your ticket has been posted, you may call to set up an appointment with a hearing officer.  This person has the authority hear your side of the story and to dismiss certain offenses.  (This is easily your best opportunity to present your view of the facts and get the matter resolved.  In neighboring Hennepin County, about 90% of those who meet with a hearing officer settle their case!)

If you cannot resolve your issue with the hearing officer, and your particular offense requires a court date, you will be mailed the time and date of when you need to appear.  You may decide to contact a lawyer for this appearance. (Note:  Only charges carrying the possibility of jail time are eligible for public defender representation.)  If you can’t appear on your court date for whatever reason, you must contact the court administrator to inquire about a continuance.  If you do miss your court date, the charge may be certified to your driving record and a bench warrant may be issued for your arrest.  If you have already missed your court date through no fault of your own, you should contact the Court Scheduling office to learn what you need to do.  All of this information and more is available at the 2nd Judicial District section of the Minnesota Courts webpage.

Let’s say you have followed these steps through to your pre-trial conference and trial dates, and the court has still found you guilty. Or you didn’t make your court date and a default judgment has been entered against you. Legally you have the option of filing an appeal.  This is not a small task.  Appellate filing fees are currently $550, and you will have to plead the merits of your case as it relates to its reviewability as well as its grounds for reversal. (See the new 2014 Appellate Standards of Review.)  “The judge was rude” or “I forgot my court date” probably won’t help for either requirement.  Time is also of the essence – See MN Rules Crim. Proc. 28.02 for the time window allowed to appeal misdemeanor judgments.  If you are still determined to proceed at this point, seriously consider consulting an attorney.

However you choose to proceed with your parking/traffic citation, you are far better off addressing it promptly rather than burying it in your glove box.  Consider stopping by the Law Library to consult print resources like Beat Your Ticket (Nolo 2013) or Minnesota Misdemeanors: DWI, Traffic, Criminal, and Ordinance Offenses (LexisNexis 2014 Ed.)  to learn more.


The Right Treatment for Sex Offenders

file5131239156112 Nothing makes for less festive holiday conversation than sex offender treatment options.  It’s just too easy to vilify and stigmatize those who might need such treatments as mere monsters, rather than seeing them as our fellow citizens who are in need of help.  The pedophile priest scandal that has rocked our nation and touched our community demonstrates the large-scale damage that can result from systematic denial and institutionalized ignorance of those with inappropriate or deviant sexual predilections.  It also shows why we should be aware of (if not sympathetic to) those that might need appropriate intervention for their conditions before their actions make news headlines.

Sex offender treatment was a hot subject in our area last week.  The first newsworthy event was the release of the expert report evaluating the Minnesota Sex Offender Program (MSOP), as ordered by U.S. District Court Judge Frank Donovan earlier this year.  As observed in our previous blog, the MSOP came under federal fire for essentially incarcerating people in the guise of civil commitment and “treatment.”  What has made MSOP so controversial is that it operates largely on a civil process and it’s where people might wind up at the end of serving a criminal sentence.  A person does not get admitted via the tidy process of criminal conviction (with its more formalized Constitutional protections).  Its “clients” reportedly receive little in the way of actual treatment, and have virtually no chance of being released from the program. Thus, the expert report calls for changes to the program.  (***The report that the committee released last week is available for reading here at the library.***)

Similarly, it was announced this week that Ramsey County was withdrawing its funding to ABC, a local mental health project that has provided treatment for adult sex offenders with mental disabilities.  Programs like ABC are not to be confused with MSOP, because they are usually day treatment programs and not civil commitments.  Without their contract with the county, ABC has now shut its doors.  Ramsey County announced its plan to steer its future treatment options toward a more “individualized” and “evidence-based” direction. (ABC operated on group therapy models.)   Yet others say that ABC’s closure would be a special loss for the Ramsey County community, given that ABC catered primarily to mentally ill adults.


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)

November 4, 2014 001

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.”



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:

  • – 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.
  •  – Much more flashy (but perhaps not as “fleshy”) as  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.
  • – To see what you can expect to see on your ballot, check out this site.  Sponsored by The Lucy Burns Institute and, 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.
  • -   Closely related to, 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, 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.