Building Your Federal Case

US District Courthouse - St. Paul Minnesota

US District Courthouse – St. Paul, Minnesota

Frequently at the law library we will send people to other courthouse floors to access documents filed in Minnesota’s 2nd Judicial District (plus its other districts for that matter). Unfortunately it gets trickier for patrons seeking federal court documents.   Consulting a law library at the St. Paul location of the U.S. District Court of Minnesota is not an option for members of the general public.  Our library is in fact the closest publicly-accessible law library to the federal courthouse. Here, patrons can use our free WestlawNext service to access opinions from the federal district courts for all states, plus appellate level court opinions. Our Westlaw subscription also allows access to opinions from federal tax court and bankruptcy courts.   Note however, that our law library does not have a PACER subscription, which also allows its subscribers to access the filings from federal courts.

There are also online options for accessing federal court records for when you are away from the law library. Would you like to see a list of what new cases have been filed in the Federal District Court of Minnesota over the last month? Try this link. The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals also has its own porthole for opinions, including newly released ones. In fact, try this: Go to this site and then do a single word search if you are looking for past opinions surrounding an obscure subject or name. While not as not as flexible and friendly using WestlawNext, this option is at least free and convenient. Also be aware of what is freely available online through the Government Printing Office (GPO).  At this page you can find both U.S. District and U.S. Court of Appeals opinions going back to 2004. Again, not as scientific as WestlawNext, but free and accessible from any computer.  Going down to the clerk’s office of the local federal courthouse might still be your best bet if you need briefs or memoranda filed in the Federal District Court of Minnesota. There, one can use an in-house version of PACER to access these filings.

That stated, getting federal case records may not be as easy as you would like, but here in the law library we keep up a respectable collection of federal practice tools.  These include such resources as the United States Code Annotated (West), Moore’s Federal Practice (LexisNexis), and the Federal District of Minnesota Civil Practice Deskbook (Minnesota CLE).


UPDATE (October 6, 2015):  The Law Librarian is pleased to correct/update this information by stating that our WestlawNext subscription WILL in fact allow users to access publicly-available court filings (i.e. complaints, briefs) for the Federal District Court of Minnesota back to 2000.  However, it will NOT allow access to filings in Federal Appellate Courts, or in Federal District Courts of other states.


Conceal and Carry

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe controversial subject of personal handgun conceal and carry has been rather prominent this summer in Minnesota. Besides a recent local incident that put the matter in the news, Minnesota now has reciprocity with North Dakota in recognizing registered carriers. An article from last Sunday’s Star Tribune reports that 200,000 Minnesotans now have permits to carry handguns. Controversies remain, with both sides having plenty of data to back up their arguments.

Carrying a gun is not for everyone, and an untrained and unprepared person toting a gun is no benefit to anyone.  Perhaps you have given it careful thought, however, and decided that carrying a handgun is right for you. If so, familiarize yourself with MN Stat §624.714.  Know the protocol you will need to follow if you get your permit.  Be aware that you will have to pass a background check, and that certain prior charges or convictions make you ineligible. You will also be required to take four to six hours of training in handgun safety. A permit usually costs $100, and must be renewed every five years. More information regarding the application process and your eligibility is available through the Minnesota Department of Public Safety.  To apply for your permit, simply file this application with your local sheriff’s department.  If the department denies your application, you may choose file a Petition for Reconsideration through District Court.

For more a more detailed and scholarly look at the history of Minnesota firearm carry laws, see this informative guide compiled by the Minnesota Legislative Reference Library.


DSC_0108While you were enjoying the previous weekend, several new Minnesota laws became effective on August 1. In addition, new updates to the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines quietly took effect as well, which apply to felony crimes committed on or after August 1, 2015. Recent additions to the 2015 Guidelines run the gamut from wrongful employment at a child care center under Minn. Stat. § 609.816, to the new gross misdemeanor reckless driving offense under Minn. Stat. §169.13, subd. 1(a). All the new changes to the Sentencing Guidelines are described here.

The purpose of the Guidelines “is to establish rational and consistent sentencing standards that reduce sentencing disparity and ensure that the sanctions imposed for felony convictions are proportional to the severity of the conviction offense and the offender’s criminal history.” In 1978 the Minnesota Legislature first established the Sentencing Guidelines Commission to bring about these standards to actual sentencing practices.  Three years later, Minnesota became the first state to implement a sentencing guidelines structure.

Despite the Guidelines’ primary goal of sentencing consistency, no two offenses are alike and sentences have to be customized for the situation. This is why the Guidelines allow judges to apply many different durational departure factors (and not others), both upward and downward. (A good analysis of these factors can be found in West’s Minnesota Practice: Criminal Law and Procedure.) At 137 pages, the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines are rather long and cumbersome, and contain some potentially confusing components.  Instructions for calculating sentences is available at the website, but maybe your department could benefit from additional training for interpreting the Guidelines.  The Commission offers webinars and in-person trainings on subject areas including sentencing worksheets, sentence modifiers, or consecutive sentencing. Have you got a question about the Guidelines that you need a quick answer to?  Call or email the Commission and get the answer!


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). for Election Season

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPerhaps this election season you would like to be a little more astute about your voting choices.  Rather than taking information from the vague blaze of election attack ads, become familiar with the free information available through

As the official website for U.S. federal legislative information, this tool provides access to accurate, timely, and complete legislative information for Members of Congress, legislative agencies, and the public.  It is presented by the Library of Congress (LOC) using data from the Office of the Clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives, the Office of the Secretary of the Senate, the Government Printing Office (GPO), Congressional Budget Office, and the LOC’s Congressional Research Service. allows you to look at both legislation and members (plus their biographies) both present and back to 1973.  You can use the member feature to view not only committee assignments and legislation sponsored or co-sponsored by a member in question, you can also access remarks they may have made on the floor. Congressional records going back to 1996 are also available, as are links to congressional audio and video coverage.  If timeliness is essential to your research, is usually updated the morning after a session adjourns.  See also the new alphabetical Resources link if you are searching for an answer to a unique question. is intended to replace THOMAS, which is nearing the end of its life cycle and will soon be retired.  In short, it will remain your federal legislative go-go link long after election season ends.


Minding your Manners in Court

Courtroom 050

What attorneys are allowed to say and do in court might be subject of common discourse, but less discussed is the courtroom decorum expected of spectators and litigants.   The Minnesota General Rules of Practice  enumerate what is required of court attendees, namely that “[d]ignity and solemnity shall be maintained in the courtroom.” (Rule 2.01)  Specifically, this Rule prohibits not only unnecessary talking but other behaviors as well.  Think you are going to quietly read a newspaper in back of the courtroom?   Expect the bailiff to nudge you and tell you to put it away.  The Minnesota Courts website offers even more detailed instructions for those making pro se court appearances, namely to dress conservatively (not in shorts, t-shirts, plunging necklines or torn clothing) and to not bring children.  Chewing gum, eating, wearing hats, talking on cellphones are also out.  Think you’re going to wait quietly in the courtroom and listen to music with your device and headphones while you wait your turn?  This is also a no-no. (Transgressors can likely expect the same result as for reading a newspaper in court, see above.)

Also, Rule 2.02 states that “[t]he judge shall be responsible for order and decorum” within the courtroom.  Wright County District Court Judge Steve Halsey (blogmaster of Jurors Behaving Badly) advances the cause with his own version of decorum guidelines for those making court appearances.  Most courtroom participants are presumably quiet and courteous, but some extreme bad behavior stands out.  Swearing at a judge, for instance, can get one called into contempt of court and result in jail time.  You may be attending a court hearing to support a friend or family member, but disruptive behavior won’t do your friend any favors with the judge.  More likely it will only get you thrown out of the courtroom.

For those wishing to explore in detail the deeper due process implications of courtroom decorum issues, check out these articles:

  • Jona Goldschmidt, ‘Order in the Court!’: Constitutional Issues in the Law of Courtroom Decorum,  31 Hamline Law Review 1 (2008)
  • Laurie L. Levenson, Courtroom Demeanor: The Theater of the Courtroom, 92 Minn. L. Rev. 573 (2008)

Legal Research in International Law

CAP INTL SERIESYou may not need to research international law on an everyday basis in your law practice, but when it comes up you will appreciate a logical starting point.  That is where International Law Legal Research (Carolina Press) comes in.  This is a “concise yet comprehensive” tool meant to be accessible for beginners and more experienced researchers alike, with each type of search tool and search strategy covered in detail with explanations to provide background comprehension.  This book gives you an idea of how non-concise the area of international law is, and lets you chart your research course with as few obstacles as possible. Read more about this book here. If you think you might be interested, this book is available in the Law Library.

Mary Ann E. Archer, retired Associate Director of the Warren E. Burger Law Library at William Mitchell College of Law, is co-author of this book.


file000891404027Last week’s post touched on “mothering” by folks who may not technically be mothers (or fathers), and how this can give rise to third party actions for custody or visitation of children involved.  The alternative custody and visitation area of law is certainly not as clear-cut and established as is the parental custody area.  It is good news that parties and potential parties can now seek advice and assistance (including forms) from the Ramsey County Family Court Self-Help Center, but people might still have questions and need more information.  What can a person expect in such a court action?  What kind of parenting realities does a non-parent seeking custody have to be aware of?  Fortunately there are a few resources to help with these informational needs. 


There’s Probably a Department for That

9780160919510_0Even if you think you are a whiz at knowing what makes up our federal government with all of its moving parts, it never hurts to have a review source.  Better yet, it never hurts to have a more detailed source of contacts than what you find at public government websites.   Here is where The United States Government Manual 2013 (Federal Register) comes in.  Since it’s not always what you know so much as whom you know, this resource actually shows you both.

The United States Government Manual is quite simply the official handbook of the Federal Government. What if you need the phone number of the department that’s in charge of keeping snow shoveled from the Capitol sidewalks?  What if you want to submit a resume and cover letter to the Smithsonian, but need to know the name of the human resources director?  Or who would you need to subpoena in order to obtain documents previously held by the now-defunct Coal Mines Administration Department?  Hundreds of names and phone numbers come together in this handy manual.    In addition, there are complete lists of federal acronyms and abbreviations, organizational charts, and the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution for quick reference.  This resource is also available online, but flipping through the pages lets a user actually see the depth and detail of information possible.  This book is on our reference shelf, so come in to look it over and decide if this is something you need on your own bookshelf.   Meanwhile, check out its Table of Contents.


If it’s a small or solo practice, most likely it does not. If this is the case, you might at least want to consider purchasing the Legal Information Buyer’s Guide & Reference Manual (2013 ed.). New England LawPress publishes this book “…to address the needs of the solo practitioner and the attorney in the small or medium-sized law firm operating without a law librarian.” (p. 5)

This 857 page resource contains extensive history of the legal publishing industry, with the publishers’ developments and mergers noted along the way. It also explains what the most bare-bones law office needs for its core collection of legal information, and how best to evaluate the extras. Guidance is provided on managing the time, money and mess of supplementation. It identifies the best authoritative sources in each of numerous legal specialties, as well as the appropriate published codes, court reports and research guides for each state. The book concludes with addresses, phone numbers and websites for publishers and representative prices for used law books.

“When are online services or subscriptions a better deal than the hardcopy versions?” you ask. A chapter on services and pricing of computer-assisted legal research is also provided, with the options going far beyond the market-dominant standbys of Lexis and Westlaw. (Sometimes a very good, and most affordable option is plain old free internet and Google.) Stop by the Law Library if you would like to take a look at this useful reference tool.