Appellate briefsAny lawyer writing a brief will consult relevant case opinions, but the most inspirational tool for the job is often other briefs (especially those that inspired past favorable opinions.) And we all know that those briefs are not as quickly and easily obtained as the opinions.  Our patrons may be afraid to ask us about briefs, for fear of being taken to that huge microfiche viewer in the back. Fortunately, the electronic age is slowly making inroads in this much-requested area, and access to the brief you need may be at your fingertips.

  1. First, users might be surprised that both appellate and district court briefs can be accessed via public access computers in any Minnesota state courthouse. (In the main Ramsey County courthouse, go to Room 72 in the basement.) So long as they are not sealed or confidential, briefs are available from January 2015 on, and include both published and unpublished cases.  The familiar drawback is that the MNCIS and MACS interfaces only allow searching by case numbers or names, with no option for subject matter searching.
  2. Second, be aware of the Minnesota State Law library’s online archive for briefs and oral arguments, with coverage beginning with volume 705 of the Northwestern Reporter 2d series (2005). Though not as sleek as a Westlaw interface, the search blank can be filled with statute numbers, terms like “limine”, or with Northwest Reporter citations. Criminal opinions are only available for the Supreme Court, and not the Court of Appeals, and appendices and exhibits are not electronically available.   Are you looking for an appellate brief that is very new and not yet on MACS?  You can send an email to the State Law Library to request it.  For more assistance in locating briefs, see also the State Law Library’s excellent page on finding briefs and oral arguments.
  3. Third, our expanded Westlaw subscription now allows access to many (but not all) briefs.   The “briefs” link on the Minnesota page allows access to selected briefs or petitions filed with a federal or supreme or appellate court, beginning with 2001.  (Briefs for other states can be accessed from their respective pages.)  A limited number of district court briefs are also available through the “Minnesota trial court documents” links.  You may not be able to find exactly the case brief you need, but the advanced interface lets you search for briefs in certain subject areas, such as “motion to quash” or “motion to dismiss.” (Be aware that few Ramsey District briefs are available through this source.)
  4. The old-fashioned brief options are hardcopy and ….microfiche.  The Minnesota State Law Library keeps hardcopy briefs for published opinions back to 1917 Those of the 300 NW2d Reporter series onward may be borrowed.  (A money deposit may be needed.)  And yes, we still have briefs on microfiche here at the Ramsey County Law Library for published cases, going back to the 300 NW2d Reporter volume forward (roughly 1981 and after.)  You can at least use the microfiche to see if a brief is helpful, and either print it or go to the State Law Library to borrow it.

We hope your brief searching is itself brief and painless.  When you are ready to start writing your own, consider borrowing our copy of A Brief Guide to Brief Writing: Demystifying the Memorandum of Law.


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.


Labor and Employment LawThe big news this week was a new regulation from the Labor Department on Wednesday, requiring most salaried workers earning up to $47,476 a year to receive time-and-a-half overtime pay when they work more than 40 hours during a week. (The previous cutoff for overtime pay, set in 2004, was $23,660.)  Beyond the predictable storm of controversy this regulation generated, it does reveal something important about employment law in general. Namely, much of it comes not from the traditional statutory or case law sources, but from executive agencies. It may not easily lend itself to your favorite online research tools. This is why we librarians are big fans of analytical treatise materials that take into account different sources of law when examining a particular issue.

Here at the law library, we offer numerous specialized resources for researching your employment law issues. Here are just a few titles available in our collection (all of which are continually updated):

  • State & Local Government Employment Liability, J. Sanchez (Thomson Reuters)
  • Employee Privacy Law, C. Herbert (Clark Boardman Callaghan)
  • Covenants not to Compete, M Fillipp and K. Decker (Aspen 3d.)
  • Employment Discrimination, R. Larson and J. Harkavy (Bender 2d)
  • Employee Dismissal Law and Practice, H. Perritt (Aspen)

A great tool for Minnesota-specific employment law is Employment in Minnesota: A Guide to Employment Laws, Regulations, and Practices, by N. Sautter (Lexis).  For other state-specific research, check out our multi-volume Employment Coordinator (Thomson Reuters). This treatise takes into account the various aspects of employment law against different jurisdictions. So using the index, one can look up a specific subject like “overtime,” or a state like ”Minnesota” to find numerous subheadings within.  With our Westlaw subscription, one can also search the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) for U.S. Department of Labor regulations, as well as  Employment Law and Practice (Vol. 17, Minnesota Practice Series)

Yes, given that it comes from multiple sources, thoroughly researching employment law can take some time.  You might appreciate spending some time in our bright and comfortable labor and employment room (pictured).


file5721298196911The entire legal community was shook by last week’s tragic event that took place in a local law office. Mistaking the office receptionist/clerk for his attorney, a disgruntled client marched into the office and shot him dead, leading to this criminal complaint.  We extend our deepest sympathies to the members of this law practice, and also to the victim’s family.

Attorneys may not always consider law office disasters beyond the context of missed deadlines or document production mishaps. In truth, the legal profession is pitted alongside people at their most emotionally fragile and volatile moments, creating actual threats to physical safety.  Tragic events over the past years have made us all aware of the need for courthouse security, both in the Twin Cities metro area and outstate Minnesota. We may not always realize that the need for safety might go beyond the courthouse doors. At the same time, it is impossible to predict all the ways that one’s safety might be compromised. It is unlikely that most lawyers would have expected a disaster like last week’s event in their own offices.

So what could or should attorneys do to prevent such situations? (Does a law office really need a SuperAmerica-style plexiglass service window?) Unfortunately, it is impossible to predict and prepare for every possible emergency. (Read “Is Safety an Illusion?” from this issue of the Montana Lawyer.)  At the same time, it’s still worth considering the possibilities and discussing them with colleagues and staff. (The agitated gunman scenario is fresh in mind, but also consider a fire, tornado, or security breach.) You may want to review your client relations policy to make sure it addresses clients who may become angry and violent.   Also check out the chapter “Office Security and Emergency Procedures,” in Law Office Policy & Procedures Manual  (CLE 2011).  Here are some additional suggestions from the New Hampshire Bar Association.


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.


CourtroomApparently it was a big deal last week when U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas broke his decade-long silence on the bench and began ask counsel several questions during oral arguments. Maybe Thomas spoke up was because this particular case (involving 2nd Amendment gun rights) was a subject he is passionate about, or maybe he had previously been hiding in “Nino’s” shadow all these years (as the graph might suggest). In any event, this news event raises the subject of addressing the bench, encouraging judges to ask questions, and hopefully providing accurate and persuasive answers in response.

Indeed, lawyers should pray for a rainstorm of questions from the bench. A judge who has no questions might have already decided on the matter at hand (or not read your brief or memorandum). Probably nowhere should you hope for questions more than when you are presenting and arguing a motion. (After all, you are asking the court to diverge from its otherwise-planned path.) So anticipate those questions and be ready to offer brief-but-enlightening answers with which you can engage the judge in a stimulating informational discourse. To this end, we offer some helpful materials:

  • Motion Practice (6th Ed.) by D. Herr, et al. Its chapter 6.05 on oral argument specifically presents tips for answering the questions a judge is likely to ask.
  • A Checklist Approach to Successful Practice (CLE 2015) contains “8 Ways to Make the Most of Oral Argument,” an excellent three-page tip sheet for communicating successfully with the judge.
  • The end chapters of informal-but-informative McElhaney’s Trial Notebook (4th Ed.) for helpful lessons on set against story narratives on making your points and handling questions from the bench.
  •  Consider reading “[T]he Judge Looks Bored: How to Keep the Judge Interested.” Here, Hennepin District Judge Jay Quam offers his own tips to lawyers for successfully interacting with the judge. (Minnesota Bench and Bar, Dec. 2011)

You may be presenting your argument at the appellate level, which means multiple judges.  If so, consider “[T]he Word on Oral Arguments” by David Ziemer (Minnesota Lawyer, May 25, 2005).   Ziemer reminds you to be confident, considering that your case was taken because the court wants to hear more about it and possibly give it precedential significance. Extensive questions in the appellate setting mean that the judges have not only read your brief, but are considering policy ramifications of their possible decision options.  Ziemer also provides tools to help you focus the attention of the judges. (A recitation of multiple dry details will only have a tranquilizer effect on them.)

All of these suggestions are short and easy reads, so come by the Law Library to check them out.

library book drop

Library book drop on 1st floor of Courthouse

In this post, the Law Librarian must get rather “librarian” over the subject of overdue library books.  Private bar members comprise our largest group of borrowers, and we are happy to report that most are very conscientious about the safe care and timely return of our books. We are faced with a challenging problem, however, in the cases where books are either not returned, kept far past their due date, or brought back damaged.  The problem becomes more serious (i.e. expensive) when measures such as phone reminders, written reimbursement demands, and suspended borrowing privileges have failed to get the materials back.

Theoretically, we might have some strong-arm options to ensure safe and prompt return of our books.  After all, damage or detention of library materials is a petty misdemeanor under Minnesota law.  It is also professional misconduct in Minnesota for a lawyer to either “commit a criminal act that affects adversely on the lawyer’s honesty, trustworthiness, or fitness as a lawyer,” or to “engage in conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice.”  Minn.R.Prof.Conduct 8.4(b) and 8.4(d).  There is always the option of seeking a judgment of money owed in conciliation court.  This was once done by the Hennepin County Law Library, wherein a lawyer’s failure to repay outstanding library fees ultimately became part of a disciplinary case against him. The State Bar of California even disbarred an attorney for offenses that included failure to return overdue books to the Fresno County Law Library. One memory even survives of a county law librarian in Fort Worth, Texas who sent taxis for overdue books and billed law firms for the necessary fares.

Measures like this shouldn’t be necessary. Our preference is not to threaten borrowers with litigation or physical repossession of materials. We  prefer to remind users of why we are here, and that our purpose requires that we get overdue materials back.  Minnesota county law libraries are organized and governed under Minn. Stat. §134A. The terms of this statute allow our library a home in the courthouse, and provide for our heat, light, and cleaning service. Court filing fees are also collected to fund the library’s operation. In short, we subsist on public funds so that we might provide a much-needed public service which “shall be free.” (To compare, other states might have county law libraries operating on a subscription, or “members only” basis.) We think these statutory provisions for free law library service make Minnesota special, but it requires that our materials be fairly shared among our users.  This is simply not possible when our books disappear, are kept for months on end, or are repeatedly “sat on” for lengthy periods of time by a single user.

So please.  Return your library materials.  We need them back so that others can use them, too.


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!


Sebastian Taheri UomoIts elegant first impression in navy blue seems as timeless as your favorite suit. For faithful users of a classic legal tool, this is your last summer. I speak of Westlaw Classic, which will be discontinued as of August 31. Classic has remained surprisingly popular among regular users of the Law Library. It’s no surprise that some folks are pretty unhappy with its discontinuation.

The Law Library has long offered users free access to both Westlaw Classic and Westlaw Next, and we are happy to offer assistance to users unfamiliar with the latter. West also offers this special transition page to assist those making the switch.  This comparison chart of the two might also make the process easier.  (Hint: Select “Advanced Search” on the homepage of Westlaw Next to get to the terms and connectors interface.)

AALL Spectrum did an interesting feature on Westlaw Classic and its history last December. Read it and file the memory of old Westlaw alongside that of other old technologies like rotary phones, pagers, and mimeographs. (Note: You can still use the fax machine at the Law Library.)


DSCN3343Before we arrive at wedding season’s summer peak, people might as well know what resources exist for their divorce.  It is easy to find the official divorce forms on the Courts webpage.  Filling them out is even quicker and easier with the I-CAN! online interactive forms.  The language of the forms has been updated for gender neutrality. Likewise, it is easy to work with the Family Self-Help Center to have your forms reviewed, or to speak to a volunteer lawyer about your situation.  If people still have questions, they are more than welcome to check the information resources we have at the law library.  After all, divorce can be complicated, especially where children or real estate are involved.

One modern trend might come with unique complications of its own.  Here I speak of the growing trend of senior divorce (commonly known as “gray divorce”).  Even as divorce rates have stabilized or declined for other age groups, the  rate among people 50 and older has doubled since 1990.  This increase is due to numerous reasons, but is mostly just an evolution away from a time when an unhappy older couple automatically stayed legally married regardless of marital satisfaction or circumstances.   Regarding the complications, senior divorce is likely to involve more assets to divide and more health and retirement issues to account for.

Whether you are a senior facing divorce in your  near future, you may as well know that your divorce is less likely to be quick and simple.  Read Nolo’s Special Issues in Late-Life Divorce to get an idea of what you may face.   We also have Divorce after 50: Your Guide to the Unique Legal & Financial Challenges  (Nolo 2013) by Janice Green.  If you are an attorney that works with older divorce clients, valuing the couple’s unique assets may not be a simple task.  There is always the trustworthy Family Law Financial Deskbook (MN CLE 2d Ed. 2014) for your convenience, but be aware of some of the other resources we have available to help:

  • Valuation and Distribution of Marital Property (LexisNexis) by J. McCahey & B. Aldeman. (Three-volume set - annually updated.)
  • Valuation of Divorce Assets (ThompsonWest Rev. Ed. 2005) by B. Goldberg.  (Two-volume set – annually updated.) 
  • Valuation of Pensions in Divorce (Wolters Kluwer 5th Ed.) by M. Altschuler.  (One volume - annually updated.)