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.


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!


Weed for What Ails You

Cannabis leafThis year Minnesota joined 21 other states and adapted the Theraputic Research Act so as to allow for the medicinal use of marijuana.  Though the legislature was originally concerned about the medical side effects of chemotherapy for cancer, the final Act allowed nine qualifying conditions into the marijuana medicinal use program, including cancer; seizures including epilepsy; glaucoma; multiple sclerosis and other disorders that cause severe muscle spasms; amyotrophic lateral sclerosis; HIV; AIDS; and Crohn’s disease.   Earlier this month however, the medicinal use exception under the Act was widened to include “intractable pain.” Specifically, this means pain that “cannot be removed or otherwise treated.”  For recreational use, however, “cannabis” remains illegal in Minnesota.   (See this map indicating which states allow legal use of medical or recreational marijuana.

This is still pretty newsworthy, considering the historical/legal/cultural roller coaster that marijuana has experienced in our society.  According to this timeline, the cultivation of hemp was encouraged in our nation’s early years for practical uses such as making rope. But the cultural climate had changed considerably by 1936, when the propaganda film Reefer Madness was produced to warn young people about the dangers of a life built around recreational marijuana use.

So if you or someone you love is experiencing what they consider to be intractable pain, is this the green light to light up?  Not exactly. To be covered under the Act, both a patient and their physician are required register with the Department of Health.  Meaning, a patient will first need to convince their physician that their pain indeed meets this “intractable” threshold.  Also, they will have to wait until August 2016 to actually receive the marijuana for use.  For more information about Minnesota’s medical cannabis program, please visit the Minnesota Department of Health’s medical cannabis website.

We don’t want your research of state marijuana laws and regulations to be intractably painful.  Start with these two Information Briefs from the Minnesota House Research Department: Medical Cannabis: A Guide to the Minnesota Law and Minnesota’s Medical Cannabis Therapeutic Research Act.  An emerging legal issue on this topic is the question of how an employer needs to accommodate a worker’s medical marijuana use, as highlighted by this interesting article in the December issue of Minnesota Bench & Bar written by University of Minnesota Law student Richard Sharp.  Additionally, some recent CLE’s available in the library address this particular issue:

  •  Public Sector Labor & Employment Law Manual 2015 – “The New Medical Marijuana Law – Implications for the Public Sector Employer and Employee” by T. Jacobson & T. Louris (MN-CLE)
  • Employment Law Handbook 2015– “Clearing the Haze of Marijuana in the Workplace” by S. Ballard (MN-CLE

Getting Schooled in Education Law

ClassroomWith area schools back in swing, legal professionals know that education and all of its related issues can pose a landmine of legal challenges. From issues that include school funding, security lockdowns, religious expression, and student disability matters, many areas of law are touched upon in a typical school day.   These legal areas can include, but are not limited to contracts, criminal, and constitutional law. Of course, if you are researching a legal issue related to education, you already know that much of education is under state and local control.  Your research will likely require consultation of the applicable Minnesota Statutes, as well as the  Minnesota Administrative Rules for the Minnesota Department of Education.   You might also want to consult the policy manuals of your local school board and minutes of their meetings.   In addition, the State Law Library also provides a handy list of resources specific to education law. We also have local CLE binders as on the subject, as well as some other unique print materials:

  • Special Education and the Law: A Guide for Practitioners (Corwin, 3rd Ed.) by A. Osborne et al. Special education is an area of law impacted by significant court decisions and changing legal developments.  This book can provide a road map to meeting today’s special education requirements. Helpful analysis in specific areas such as IDEA, discipline, parents and students rights, and preventive suggestions on avoiding litigation.  More information is available from the publisher.
  • 2015 Deskbook Encyclopedia of American School Law (Center for Education & Employment Law). Its publisher describes this book  as “a one-stop reference guide that helps you learn how courts are deciding school cases, what the legal issues are and how your colleagues across the country are faring.”  Case summaries are provided in areas covering employment practices, school operations, academic practices, students with disabilities and  more.  This resource is reprinted annually for the most up-to-date coverage.
  • The Principal’s Quick-Reference Guide to School Law: Reducing Liability, Litigation, and Other Potential Legal (Corwin, 3rd Ed.) R. Hachiya et alThis book presents information that shows school principals how to address issues including:  student use of technology, zero-tolerance discipline policies, and school safety and violence prevention.  It also includes useful insights for collaboration with other school personnel for addressing these issues.
  •  Education Law: An Essential Guide for Attorneys, Teachers, Administrators, Parents, and Students (Lawyers & Judges Publishing Company, Inc. 2nd Ed.) by  M. Gerstein & L. Gerstein.  This substantial treatise understands how the incidents that arise in school touch on the many areas of law mentioned previously. How do these broad legal practice areas intersect with state and local laws? This broad treatise can be your road map to putting the details of your particular education issue into the right legal framework for your continued research.

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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.