Federal District Court of MinnesotaWe probably take our easy access to state court materials for granted, what with much electronic access offered in all Minnesota courthouses, backed up with archived material at the State Law Library.  On the other hand, how do you find the federal case information you need, with as little inconvenience and expense possible?  Sounds simple if you just want an appellate opinion from the Eighth Circuit (Google Scholar of course), but it is trickier if you need a filed motion or complaint at the district court level.  We investigated three different options for locating federal materials.

Courthouse Access - For one or two items filed in the U.S. District Court of Minnesota, a visit to the Warren Burger Courthouse might be your easiest answer. There you will find two public computers in the clerk’s area for accessing filed materials. Be aware that you can only get Minnesota district or appellate materials this way, and that printing them will cost you10 cents per page. If you need assistance from the clerk staff, the document will cost you 50 cents per page to print. If a filed item is listed electronically but not linked (probably because it is greater than 50 pages long), you must get it from the clerk staff who will copy it at the 50 cents per page rate.  Clerk staff told us that this electronic system will allow users to search records back to “the early 1990’s.” If a case has progressed to the 8th Circuit appellate level, the documents are still accessible provided it started or became a Minnesota district case. (You cannot access 8th Circuit appellate documents that started in Iowa, for instance.)  The Minnesota clerk’s office can send materials out-of-state either electronically or in hardcopy, but that a person must send in their money first. The charge will again be 50 cents per page.  For more information contact the clerk’s office.

PACER – Federal court users are strongly encouraged open an online PACER account, which might be the most convenient and affordable option of all. Simply go to the PACER homepage and select the registration tab. The “registration wizard” will then walk you through the steps to get started. One must provide credit card information, or allow PACER to verify their address to allow for billing. Pacer will allow you to search and print district, bankruptcy, and appellate courts, and print filings from any of their districts and not just Minnesota. By Judicial Conference policy, if your usage does not exceed $15 in a quarter, fees are waived. PACER’s greatest value is in accessing filings for out-of-state districts, as opposed to having to contact the respective clerk’s office.  For additional information, you may want to print out this handy PACER users guide, or take their online training.

Westlaw -  We offer free Westlaw in the library, and our subscription offers much (but not comprehensive) federal case law coverage.  Federal case coverage available through Westlaw begins with 1790. At the district level this will be opinions only, but Westlaw does offer brief access for U.S. Supreme Court and Courts of Appeals cases.  And not all cases are available, as the Westlaw scope note states that “[c]overage varies by court.”  Westlaw allows free email delivery of documents, but not every document is offered with the email option.  We charge 15 cents per page for print jobs at the library.

 

 

Ramsey County Law Library - Police misconduct collectionOur local law enforcement has been and continues to be conspicuously in the news over the last year following high-profile incidents.  After it looked like the spotlight might finally be fading in Ramsey County, it shifted over to Minneapolis.  Make no mistake that the subject of police actions and accountability is a sobering one, and one that history has shown can have significant fallout.  This spring marked the 25th Anniversary of the Rodney King riots, and that this summer marks the 50th Anniversary of the Detroit riots, and that both riots were sparked by what local residents considered unjust police action.

If you experienced a police encounter that left you feeling that officers overstepped their proper authority, what are your options?  To start, the Minnesota State Law Library has an excellent LibGuide of resources for researching police functions and duties.  Also be aware that cities frequently post their police manuals online, including both Minneapolis and St. Paul (albeit with redactions).  Locally, St. Paul has the Police Civilian Internal Affairs Review Commission (PCIARC). This group of nine civilians reviews complaints against Saint Paul Police Department Officers and makes disciplinary and policy recommendations to the Chief of Police. They can also help individuals file complaints and navigate the process.  There is also this online resource from the Department of Justice regarding police misconduct with the option of filing a complaint.  But be aware that filing one of these investigatory complaints at either the local or federal level is not a substitute for filing a lawsuit in civil court.  You still may wish to contact a lawyer to discuss this legal options.

Book-wise, we have a few gems here on our own shelves for more advanced reading and research (pictured above).  These include such titles as Police Misconduct: Law and Litigation (M. Avery, et al.), Police Civil Liability ( I. Silver.), Civil Actions Against State & Local Government: Its Divisions, Agencies & Officers (Thomson-Reuters 2d), and The Rights of Law Enforcement Officers (W. Aitchison).  Don’t forget that our latest Westlaw subscription now gives easy access to many other related titles to assist you as you research this area of law.

 

 

Good news for workaholics who don’t have round-the-clock access to Westlaw or other subscription databases for their legal research needs.  If you  have internet service, you can likely find what you need on Google Scholar  Of course, the tools and filters available through Westlaw have no equal, but being able to simply access and search case law can make all the difference for most research needs. Here is where Google Scholar probably offers more than you realize.

Many people know that they can use Google Scholar to access cases by citation, but you can use Boolean terms or natural language to search words and terms as well.  To this end you can also use this court selection interface to fine-tune your search.   With the “My Library” function on the left side of your results page, you can set up an account to save what you find and come back to later.  From your same results page you can even create an alert for any new cases that may come down later.  Besides case law, does your research task require you to access law review articles?  Google Scholar can serve these up through its “articles” search feature on its home interface.  To learn more about all of these and other features, consider printing out this handy tutorial for Google Scholar users that we recently discovered through this recent article in the Minnesota Lawyer.

We are proud to offer free Westlaw access to our patrons, but Google Scholar can be a research lifeline when you cannot be here.  It can be a lifesaver for the solo attorney without a Westlaw subscription, the pro se litigant, or anyone who must do their research away from the law library.  Give it a try and see what you think!

 

 

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.