Quick and Easy Election Information

ballotRecently the law library has started to see a stream of inquiries about voting eligibility and absentee voting.  This matches recent news reports that a record number of Minnesotans registered to vote via absentee ballot last week.  Minnesota is one of 37 states with absentee voting.  There are no formal criteria for casting an absentee ballot in Minnesota, and you can request one through the Minnesota Secretary of State, but time is of the essence to submit your application and then receive and return your ballot!  Learn more about absentee voting through this article.

Similarly, you can also register to vote through the Secretary of State’s website.  Call them if you live in the metro area and have questions at 651-215-1440.  Ramsey County residents can also find local election information and even cast their vote early at their Plato Street election office ahead of election day.  At this point are you wondering if you are in fact eligible to vote? This questionnaire will help you find out.   (Hint:  You must have completed your entire sentence if you have been convicted of a felony.)  Plan to vote the typical way on the typical day (Tuesday November 8)?  It’s easy to find your polling placeFinally, no matter how or when you choose to vote, don’t be caught off-guard or surprised by your ballot.  Use this function from the Secretary of State to see what it will look like beforehand!


 

A frequent issue that arises for users of the court system is that of finding contact information of the parties they need for their court case. This could be the intended defendant that must be served, or a potential witness to be subpoenaed. The task is made all the more challenging with the modern need to keep personal information personal for security reasons. So what is a litigant to do? Even though there is no single perfect method for locating someone, you may find one of these resources useful.mailbox

  • Consider the old printed white pages and yellow pages. This used to be the standard tool, but has declined with fewer persons having “land lines” for phone service and even fewer publishing their numbers. Still, they can be valuable especially for business information. Most libraries will have this resource, and a public library or historical society is likely to have printed phone directories from past years.
  • The post office likely has forwarding address information for a person that has moved. It is not generally publicly available, but you can opt to fill out a 5-2 Requests for Employee or Customer Information, and provide the requested information pursuant to legal process service.
  • County property records can also be a resource, especially if you are looking for a landlord or other property owner. For Ramsey County, look up address and then see taxpayer reports for the identified taxpayer for the year in question. (You don’t necessarily need to be a subscriber.)  This will normally give the taxpayer’s address as well.  You can also find the official name of the owning business this way, and then look that up through the Secretary of State to find a person and contact information behind that business.
  • Does the person in question have a business (or used to)? Use the Minnesota Secretary of State’s office business filings lookup and get their Registered Office Address.
  • If the person in question has been in court on a traffic citation, their address may be part of that file which can be found in court records (MNCIS).  Similarly, they may have been served as part of another court action and their address is given on a service list. You will still have to go to the courthouse to access the actual records, but there you can check pleadings like the complaint for addresses.
  • Might they be in prison?  Try the Department of Corrections offender locater search.  Even if you have no plans to sue someone in prison, you may still need them as a witness.  If so, speak to a court administrator about getting a subpoena.

These are just some of the possible tools that might help you locate your person in question.  Also read the Courts’ webpage for information on this task.  Do you know of other any handy resources for locating people? Feel free to share them here!

 

So You’re NOT a Kid…Or Are You?

teenaged girlThe same legal issues that snag adults can just as easily snag minors.  But answers and solutions might be different simply because of the age factor.   If you are an adult seeking expungment of a criminal record, being a minor at the time of the offense could bear on the expungment remedy available.  Working a job when you are a minor has special limitations and caveats.   You might earn a paycheck, but your tax obligations may boil down to whether or not someone else claims you as a dependent.

In Minnesota you are an adult if you are eighteen years old,  but where do you stand if you are under 18 and on your own?  For instance, do you always need parental consent for medical treatment?  If you are living on your own you may be able to consent to your own treatments.  If you have been married or have given birth, you may also consent to treatments for you or for that of your minor child, plus you are responsible for the payments of such.   See this brochure from www.mncasa.org for more information about minors and medical treatments.

Are you are a minor but don’t want to (or cannot safely) stay with your parents?  You may have other options.  Are your parents willing to let someone else take on the authority of being your parent?  A Delegation of Parental Authority might be the answer.  If you feel you have been abused, you may file for an Order of Protection.  If you believe the circumstances are such that you feel you should be able to live independently and make your own decisions, see about emancipation.

If you are a minor and have run away from home, can your parents force you to come back?  Probably, because you can’t legally live away from home except in cases of consent, marriage, enlistment, or having a court order to do so.  You might also consider the online resources available through the Children’s Law Center.  Even though their mission is providing legal representation to foster children, wards of the state, or kids who have been removed from their homes, their publications are a great place to start.  For instance, their Resources for Youth Experiencing Homelessness is a comprehensive list of organizations that can offer assistance to homeless youth. For legal information, also consider the huge Homeless Youth Handbook with its extensive coverage of numerous issues.

If you still have questions consider consulting a lawyer.

 

Wiping a Criminal Record Clean

cleaning a mirrorA pardon might be the closest thing Minnesota law offers to a “magic wand” to clean up a criminal record. This extraordinary remedy is not the same as expungement, which is the sealing of criminal records which can then be unsealed by court order.  A pardon means that one never has to disclose this prior conviction in any situation other than in a judicial proceeding or as part of a licensing process for peace officers. See MN Statute 638.02 subdivision 2 (2).

There are two types of pardon: The absolute pardon and the pardon extraordinary. The first is a forgiveness that exempts a convicted person from serving their sentence.  (A commutation, in comparison, substitutes a lesser sentence for the one originally imposed.)  The pardon extraordinary is for those past their convictions and sentences, and essentially sets aside and nullifies the past conviction. (See MN Statute 638.02 subdivision 2 (2).)   The pardoned person thereinafter will never be required disclose the conviction at any time or place other than per the exceptions noted above.

Pardon is indeed an extraordinary remedy and relatively rare. In order to get an offense pardoned, you must convince the legal trinity of the governor, attorney general, and chief justice of the supreme court that you deserve one.  That does not a majority of them, but all three. (You can see from last month’s pardon voting record that this is a very tough audience.) Plus, the very makeup of this group makes it obvious that there is little recourse for an appeal.  One can apply for a rehearing, however, if there are new substantiated facts not previously considered in the prior hearing.  Pardons were examined in a recent issue of Minnesota Lawyer, because The Minnesota Board of Pardons heard 18 applications for pardons last month, and granted six of them. To consider how stringent the threshold is, 0ne woman was apparently denied a pardon after she appeared to laugh off speeding offenses on her record.

If you decide to seek the pardon extraordinary for a past conviction, take care to make sure you are eligible.  You will want to ecome familiar with the statute and the administrative rules as well as look at the Board of Pardon’s webpage. Before you even think about a form, call for a brief interview with a representative to determine your eligibility. From there, if the Secretary of the Board of Pardons decides that you meet the qualifications, the official application will be sent to you.  And finally, you will be well advised to work with an attorney in pursuing this powerful remedy.

 

Elderly womanMost of us missed the fact that World Elder Abuse Awareness Day was last week.  And when it comes to elder abuse, financial abuse is the most common and fastest-growing form of it.  Whether it’s because they’ve accumulated more assets than other age groups, or perhaps it’s simply because our population is getting older, financial crimes against the elderly continue to grow at an alarming rate.   Victims might hesitate to report crimes due to embarrassment of not remembering something, or the desire to not be seen as a vulnerable adult. But one big reason for not reporting relates to the perpetrators.  The biggest category of financial abusers is not unscrupulous financial advisors, nor is it phony mail offer schemes or shady home contractors.  For many such seniors, the financial abuse is coming from a relative or loved one.  (Similarly, read this list of the top ten scams that target seniors, with special attention to the closely-related ”grandparent scam.”)

There are some state-specific resources to help, including the Minnesota Elder Justice Center, and a statewide elder abuse reporting hotline – (844) 880-1574.  There are also the Seniors Legal Rights handbook and the Seniors Guide to Fighting Fraud from the Minnesota Attorney General’s office.   Federal resources include Money Smart for Older Adults from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, where you can also submit a complaint.  There are tools to help prevent seniors from falling victim to fraud such as trusts and powers of attorney, but the simplest might be to keep seniors connected in family and social loops.  Seniors who aren’t isolated are less vulnerable to scams, and their friends and relatives can tell if something in granny’s life that seems off, such as a sudden and new “best friend” or “handyman.”  If you suspect you or another senior has been financially scammed, Minnesota’s Vulnerable Adult Act spells out how to report incidents of elder abuse, including financial exploitation.  The Minnesota Attorney General also urges you to submit a fraud report.

 

Borrowing Against Payday

loan business sign

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) proposed a rule last week aimed at curbing predatory payday lending by requiring lenders to take steps to ensure that consumers can repay said loans, and also to cut off repeated debit attempts that rack up fees against the borrower.  The CFPB referred to such loans as ”debt traps,” due to the fees and penalties that users may not be aware of.  Fees can be assessed for either extending the loan or defaulting on it.  Since the loans are recouped directly from bank accounts, bank overdraft penalties are another common result.  These fees add insult to the injury in that such lenders may be charging interest fees of 300% or more.  The CFPB proposal brought attention to the plight of the vulnerable consumers that take out these payday loans and get caught in the debt cycle, but it also highlights the plight of those who decide to use such loans in the first place.  Opponents of this proposal pointed out that these loans serve people that might have few if any alternatives otherwise, so the question becomes whether or not these loans are a helping hand or “predatory quicksand.”  Read the entire CFPB report here.

The issue of payday loans is not new in Minnesota.  Minnesota’s payday loans statute requires lenders to check the credit history of their customers, and limits such loans to only four per customer within a year.  Last fall the Minnesota Supreme Court upheld the state’s payday lending law, which curbs high-interest, short-term loans.  In State of Minnesota vs. Integrity Advance LLC, the Court held in a suit brought by the Minnesota Attorney General that MN Statutes §47.60 and §47.601 are not violations of the commerce clause, because they only regulate commerce within the state.  Here is how Minnesota law compares to that of other states in the regulation of payday loan services.

If you are considering taking out a payday loan, read this fact sheet from the Minnesota Attorney General’s office first. If you have found yourself ensnared in a “debt trap” that started with a payday loan, there are some legal resources you might turn to. Pro bono organizations like Volunteer Lawyers Network (VLN) can offer debt collection defense for qualified individuals.  If you are currently facing collection efforts brought against you in Conciliation Court, you may be eligible to speak to an attorney through our Housing and Conciliation Court clinic.

 

 

Prince’s Purple Probate Puzzle

Purple roseAs the local community recovers from the death its beloved local musical icon, it has come to light that Prince apparently died intestate (failed to leave a will).  Given that his large estate likely includes earnings, royalties, and real estate (plus any unpaid debts), settling it will probably be even more complicated given his extended family.  He apparently had several half-sibs in addition to his sister, and Minnesota succession law makes no distinction between half and whole siblings.  Then dig if you will the (potential) picture of some unknown person stepping forth claiming to be another sibling, or even a child, of Prince.  Given all of these factors, it is understandable that his sister sought appointment of a special administrator in Carver County Probate Court to handle his estate.

Assuming that there is indeed no will, Prince is neither the first nor the last person to die intestate. People might consider wills unnecessary if they have no spouse or dependents, or don’t consider their assets to be worth much.  They might also see themselves too young to be concerned with such worries.  The reality is that roughly two-thirds of people currently have no will.

There is no shortage of online tools to help answer questions about probate.  Start with the Probate and Planning brochure from the Minnesota Attorney General.  The Courts website also offers helpful forms and information on probate court.  Unfortunately, none of these resources offer help for actually making a will.  We offer some resources for those who are ready to make make theirs.  Read this basic fact sheet from Legal Aid for general information regarding wills.  Other useful information tools include The Wills & Trusts Kit (2nd ed. 2006), or Nolo’s Simple Will Book (7th ed. 2007).  From there it’s easy to find various online will forms, but since state probate laws vary, a better alternative might be How to Make a Minnesota Will (2nd ed. 2002).  Besides information, this book offers numerous sample fill-in-the blank forms.  Whatever you choose, it’s best to discuss your personal situation with an attorney so you can prepare a will that accurately states your wishes and sees them carried out under applicable state laws.  The Volunteers of America Estate and Elder Law Services can also assist eligible people with wills and estate planning.

 

57-DSC_6403Our law library proudly promotes local criminal expungement resources to our patrons or others who might benefit from them. We are in partnership with the Second Judicial District, Volunteer Lawyers Network (VLN), and the Saint Paul Public Library to bring criminal expungement workshops to the public. Thus we were interested in the recent the Minnesota Court of Appeals decision in the case of State v. S.A.M, which involved a Rochester man seeking expungement of his 2003 felony conviction.  The Court held that his record could not be expunged because his previous guilty plea was to a charge not included in the list of expungible felonies under Minn. Stat. §609A.02.  It didn’t matter that the conviction in this case was subsequently “deemed a misdemeanor” per plea bargain terms.  Further, the Court declined to apply the language of sentencing statute Minn. Stat. §609.13 in order to make the appellant’s felony a misdemeanor for expungement purposes, because the original judgment was entered as a felony and not a misdemeanor.   This case is examined in this week’s issue of Minnesota Lawyer.

It’s not unusual for criminal defendants to plead guilty to a different charge in order to reach a quicker (and legally affordable) resolution to their prosecutions.  According to the U.S. Department of Justice90 to 95 percent of all criminal cases nationwide are resolved through plea bargains.  The expungement law does not specifically address situations where petitioners might have received a stay on a felony charge which was then converted to a misdemeanor. This gap in the law potentially leaves hundreds of expungement petitioners without the second chance remedy heralded by the 2014 expungement overhaul.  Indeed, the Court noted with some sympathy that its ruling  reveals a distinct hole in the expungement net, but held that it was up to the legislature to provide any needed clarification.

Does this ruling leave you with questions on if or how your expungement petition might be affected? Don’t reach any conclusions before discussing your case with an attorney.  If you are just starting to consider expungement, try a VLN seminar at a local public library. If you are preparing your petition paperwork, come to the Second Judicial District’s criminal expungement workshop which meets on the second and fourth Thursdays of each month here in the law library.

 
Bedroom door

You unlock this door with the key of accommodation…

Suppose you are a homeowner living peacefully in your own abode.  You get along well with your neighbors.  Your property taxes are up to date and you keep your sidewalks clear.   You and your home have no plans of winding up in court.  You certainly never give thought to landlord-tenant law because you aren’t leasing out your home. And yet you might find yourself in in situation that could leave you legally obligated as a landlord.  Here are but a few examples:

  • Months ago you let your significant other move into your home to save money.  You now regret this move as your relationship has gone downhill.  If you break up with him or her, can’t you simply show them to the door?  Maybe not.  They may now have the rights of a legal tenant, in which case you the landlord would have to legally evict them.
  • Your nephew lost his job and could no longer afford his apartment.  You let him stay in your your basement until he found another job.  He has since overstayed his welcome and is not looking for a job. So now it’s adios sobrino, right? Not necessarily.  He may no longer be simply a guest, but a bona fide legal tenant.
  • You hired a local college student to help take care of you and your home in exchange for room and board. Now you think she is stealing from you and you’ve decided fire her.  After you can her she is out the door, right?  This may not be a simple business employee relationship wherein termination automatically removes her from your home.  You may have to take more extensive legal steps.

These are but a few examples of how people might (or might not) accidentally take on landlord status without knowing it.  If you are in any of these situations and aren’t sure exactly where you stand, you should discuss your situation with an attorney.  For Ramsey County residents, this can be as simple as coming to our Tuesday afternoon Housing and Conciliation Court clinic, where you can speak to a volunteer attorney for up to thirty minutes.  Call us or see our flyer for more details.

 

Books and newspaperLast weekend saw the passing of Nancy Davis Reagan, best rememberd as the fiercely loyal and colorful first lady of the Eighties. Less well-known was the challenging life she lived with her late husband, former President Ronald Reagan after they left the White House. Nancy Reagan stated that her toughest battle was being the spouse of a man slowly dying with Alzheimer’s. In an interview she recalled the loneliness of no longer being able to share “remember when” moments with her husband, and referred to these difficult ten years before he died in 2004 as “the long goodbye.”

Consider Ms. Reagan’s difficulties in light of fact that her husband’s case was probably a “best case scenario” where Alzheimer’s is concerned.  As a successful actor and former governor and president, Reagan presumably had better-than-average financial resources and retiree benefits. Nancy was likely assisted by round-clock home health care in tending to her husband. He in turn benefited from a supportive family and a loving partner in Nancy who seldom left his side. He also knew from at least 1994 on that he had Alzheimer’s, which gave him some time to make plans for his fading sunset years. Many (if not most) people facing Alzjeimer’s come up short in at least one of these areas.

Whether you are an attorney or a family member, there is no simple roadmap for dealing with all the issues related to Alzheimer’s (and other dementia-related afflictions). Your situation might call for multiple legal resources and tools. For lawyers, consider starting with Alzheimer’s and the Law: Counseling Clients with Dementia and Their Families by K. Peck and R. Law. There are also multiple resources on the ABA Commission on Law and Aging page. We also have numerous treaties and tools in the library addressing elder care issues.

For laypeople, consider contacting the Minnesota-North Dakota chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association to learn what local services are available. Be aware that your situation may call for legal tools including Power of Attorney, Guardianships/Conservatorships, living trusts, and arrangements that encompass assisted living. Most of all, give yourself the benefit of discussing your situation with an attorney. You can find legal help through resources including Volunteers of America or the Ramsey County Bar Association.