Excused!

Friday morning – yesterday – I was instructed to report to the jury room at the Hennepin County Government Center for jury duty. After listening to a little talk about how things worked, twenty of us were run through security and led up to judge McGunnigle’s courtroom. As soon as I walked in I knew I would not be there very long. At the tables in the front of the courtroom sat two lawyers I knew, Rolph Sponheim for the prosecution and Marsh Halberg for the defense. These were both people I know, particularly Mr. Sponheim. Judge McGunnigle explained that the Defendant had been charged with a DWI. He didn’t say whether it was a misdemeanor, gross misdemeanor or felony. I could tell that it was no misdemeanor, however, since they were obviously looking to set up a jury of twelve, and with a misdemeanor you only get a jury of six.

I was seated as Juror No. 3. The judge started asking questions to the prospective jurors as a group. One question was whether any of us had an experience which would influence our ability to be objective in this type of case – driving while intoxicated. Several hands went up, including mine. One person was employed in the “beverage industry.” One person has a brother who had been arrested for DWI. Another had relatives who were injured in an accident by a drunk driver. I disclosed that I had defended hundreds of this type of case, and it would be hard to say that this would not influence my decision.

The judge went into a little lecture about how experiences of this sort should be set aside and compartmentalized, and he asked if we could do that. All of those who had raised our hands, including me, said that we thought we could. One of the next questions was whether we knew any of the witnesses, whose names were read off for us, and did we know the Defendant or any of the lawyers. Again, I raised my hand. The judge asked me to explain. I said that I knew Mr. Halberg, not well but I did know him. Besides that, the younger lawyer he had brought along to assist him looked familiar, I had surely seen him around, although I did not know him by name. When it came to Mr. Sponheim, I said I thought I knew him well. I had innumerable cases in which he had been the prosecutor. Then Judge McGunnigle asked if knowing these people would keep me from being able to make a decision based only on the evidence which was to be presented. I said that I believed I have a working relationship with Mr. Sponheim, and that I thought that should disqualify me.

At this point the judge called the lawyers up to the bench for a little conference. A moment later I was excused from that case, but I was to report back to the jury room. Back at the jury room the clerk there said that since I had been on call all week, that I would be excused entirely from any further jury duty. My duty was completed. Must say I was a bit surprised but also relieved. I had another feeling, however, which surprised me. During the short time that I had been up in the courtroom, I had started getting interested in the case. I think I would have enjoyed being on that jury. I would have enjoyed watching those lawyers do their stuff, and I would have liked to see how it all came out.

The thought of going downtown to watch the trial just to see what happens next has occurred to me. They are open to the public, and a trial like that ought to take a couple of days at the least. I already feel behind in my work as a result of the distraction from this episode, however, and I know I don’t really have the time to go watch that trial. I should just count myself lucky to have this experience behind me.

"Enhanced"

The electronic sign over I-394 just a half mile here from my office says “Enhanced DWI Enforcement Thru Jan 1.” I don’t think they’re kidding.

“Enhanced” according to the old hard-bound dictionary on my desk means “to make greater” or to raise, intensify or heighten. It seems to be a term that is used a lot in connection with DWI. For example, if you have a second offense within ten years, that second offense is “enhanced” because of the first. Please remember that taxi cabs are really cheap compared to the cost of being arrested.

As I think I have mentioned earlier, I am noticing that the fact that one is considering or working on filing a bankruptcy seems to enhance to possibility of either being arrested for DWI or being injured in a serious accident. If you should happen to have bankruptcy on your mind, please keep a proper perspective. Focus on what you are doing, when you are doing it. It’s only money. You have more reason now than ever to properly care for yourself – including making sure that whatever you consume is in moderation.

Summoned for jury duty

I have received a summons to show up for jury duty on December 29th — downtown at the Hennepin County Government Center. The people who run the program tell me that I can arrange to check in by telephone to see if they need me. This apparently, however, can only be done after I at least show up in person on the first day.

Not long ago I commented to one of the court clerks that I supposed that the week of New Years Eve and New Years Day would be a slow week for jury trials. She laughed at me and said the opposite was the case. Apparently that week is loaded up with jury trials by people who didn’t want to have the trial Christmas week.

When I first received the summons I called in and got a hold of one of the supervisors. I had lots of excuses, not the least of which was that I have served as a referee in the Hennepin County settlement and arbitration programs. I have worn a black robe, sat at the big desk in front of the courtroom and have been called “your honor.” “So what”‘ was the response. They have required retired district court judges to serve. There is an exception for judges who are actually on duty as judges, but that of course would not apply to me.

I anticipate having more to say on this topic as the situation unfolds.

September 10th and 11th

I’m working late here in the office this September 11th evening. It was a funky day, seven years after the big attack on our country. I was wall to wall all day with appointments, and the phone rang constantly. I finally gave up on the phone. I just could not keep up. I don’t think that’s ever happened before. Strangely, only about one caller in ten actually leaves a message. I have managed to call most of them back, but I really wonder about the others. If it was important enough to call in the first place, then why no message?

I have to share this with you all. While September 11th is a sad anniversary, so is September 10th. On that day in 1897 a taxi driver in London, England, became the first person in the world ever to be arrested for drunk driving — after slamming his vehicle into a building.

If I at all can I would like to get to the north shore for a peek at some fall colors. I might run away and try it this weekend. I’m up to date with most of my work. I can’t keep up with the calls in any event, and staying home would not fix that. These are the most desperate times I have seen in my lifetime; but I’ll be able to help more people if I take care of myself. I keep telling my kids: when the plane loses pressure and the oxygen masks come down, put the mask on yourself first. Then put the mask on your children or others who are in your care. The person who is first to pass out is no longer able to help others.

Shredding Day

I just got back to the office from my “storage facility,” where it took a truck from Shred-N-Go about 15 minutes to chew up 1,204 pounds of old files. Most of that was from the 1990s, although I did throw in a few things from as recent as 2002. OK, maybe even a few things from 2003 that I was sure were not worth saving. About a fourth of it was my own old financial and billing records.

I am feeling some emotions about seeing that stuff go. At the time that I generated those files, they were top priority in my life. I practically sweat blood over some of them. They represented skill, art, valuable lessons; important help provided to many people, whose lives were improved as a result. I believe I practically walked on water in a few of those cases, and perhaps performed a few near miracles. Or so it seemed at the time. And of course in a few of the cases, notwithstanding my best efforts, everything seemed to turn to crap.

I feel a certain sadness about it I suppose. Also relief.

The paper files are not nearly as important as they used to be. The fact is that I still have electronic copies of most of the paper I shredded on a disk or portable hard drive. All bankruptcy documents are available on line going back at least ten years. A summary of what’s in the state court files is available on line too.

Last time I did this was five years ago. That would mean that on average I generate about 240.8 pounds of paperwork per year. I wonder what the cost of the printer ink for all this is. No wonder my office supply cost is so high. In the next life will I meet the angry ghosts of all the trees I am responsible for killing?

Bankruptcy and DWI, Judge Arrested

I have been practicing bankruptcy law and DWI defense for some time now, and it always seems a bit difficult to explain why those two areas of the law seem to mesh for me. So when I saw a story about a bankruptcy judge being arrested for DWI, I woke up and took notice.

Massachusetts bankruptcy judge Robert Somma won’t be returning to his job. Why? He has “agreed” to leave his job to pursue other endeavors. Seems he has been off work since his arrest for DWI in February. When I first read the headline I was surprised, because lots of public officials get DWIs. At least one of the Hennepin County judges currently on the bench has received a DWI while in office. They have to take their punishment, but they are not removed from their jobs.

There were other complications in Judge Somma’s case, however. Seems that when he was arrested, he was wearing a dress. That in itself, while a bit unusual, doesn’t seem to be justification for losing his job either. Apparently he was a good judge and well liked by those who practiced in his courtroom. There’s nothing illegal or unethical about wearing a dress that I know of, although I suppose I have to concede that it could have been inappropriate.

Here’s a link to the Boston Globe story.

Fraudulent Federal Subpoena Email

This morning I received an email which purported to come from the federal court in San Diego. It appeared to be a subpoena requiring that I appear in federal court May 9th in San Diego before a grand jury.

It also contained a link which I assume would have downloaded a virus onto my computer.

I called the court in San Diego and they confirmed that it’s a hoax. I have also spoken with a lawyer a the law office that is mentioned on the false document. He tells me all they have done there all morning is sit on the phone answering questions about the email. I lost a little time on it, but it’s really messing them up. So in case you get it, now you know.

Lots of court time this week – sorry if I missed your call

I had some unexpected court time this week, especially yesterday. When that happens, my usual discipline of keeping up with returning calls and responding to emails goes to heck. I’ve made an effort to get back to everybody before saying I’m done for the week – which I am – but if I did not get back to you, please call me or email me again.

I usually am pretty good about actually looking at what my spam filter catches before I delete that mailbox, but on a week like this one I may have been more likely to miss a real message that got caught there. If I did not respond to your email, please send me another one.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day

I’ve been asked if my office would be open today. The answer to that is yes. I’ve been invited to a corn beef and cabbage lunch, but I have not been able to make it. My office phone, which I had forwarded to my cell phone, started ringing at about 7 am this morning. One caller after another described various scenarios involving being arrested for DWI over this past weekend. I wrote earlier about how a reporter from New Brighton had tipped me off that the police would be out in force this past weekend and today. I guess she got that right. This morning I had so much trouble getting off the phone that I almost missed my first appointment at the office.

So I’m wearing a bright green tie today, but that might be about as far as I take the St. Patrick’s Day thing; except to warn you all that tonight is not the time to take any chances with drinking and driving. No night is, but lots of extra officers will be on duty this evening. What I believe I have learned over the years about nights like this is that some of those officers would rather be partying themselves, or they may be missing an event that they were invited to. A bit of resentment about that can lead them to want to be harsher than they might ordinarily be on an ordinary night. Definitely think in terms of a cab or designated driver.

Based upon how my own phone calls seem to indicate that the party has already started, and considering the snowy weather forecast for the Twin Cities, I fear that by tomorrow morning I will be looking at a local news report of at least one fatal, alcohol-related accident. Let’s pray that no such event takes place.

Constitution Day

I’m taking a couple of days off, and I’ve headed my favorite direction: north. With my wife, my dogs and my camper.

We have the camper set up at the Grand Marais Municipal Campground. This morning was cold and rainy, but now it has cleared and the sun is out. We would usually make coffee – lots of coffee – and sit by the camper first thing in the morning. But this morning, in honor of the misty weather, we headed into town and went to a coffee shop called the Java Moose. The fellowship and the quality coffee resulted in a very rewarding morning. Today’s Duluth News Tribune had already arrived, and I found an interesting article about Constitution Day. It’s this Monday, September 17, 2007.

It seems that on September 17, 1787, the delegates to the Constitutional Convention finished their work on a draft of a Constitution for these United States. It’s not a holiday in the sense that there’s no mail or the courthouses are closed, but it does seem to be observed by several federal agencies – such as the National Archive that has the job of preserving the original document making up the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

It is often my job to explain to a client who has been arrested for DWI what his or her constitutional rights are. I can run through them pretty fast. In fact, I think I can summarize them sometimes without stopping to take a breath. There’s the right to remain silent – which is why the questioning possible terrorists is such a hot issue. There’s the right to be presumed innocent; and the right to a jury, where all the jurors have to agree or one is considered not guilty.

One of my favorites is the right to confront and cross examine witnesses. When I get to this one I might sometimes stop, because my client has heard it before and it doesn’t sound like that big of a deal. I may take a moment to mention that prior to our constitution, in places like England, is was a rather common practice to hang someone or lob off their head after a trial that was based on written statements. For just a moment, I invite you to think about what that experience would be like.

I found that article in the Duluth paper to be educational and inspiring. Frankly, I had never heard of the observance of Constitution Day before. How could that be I am asking myself, particularly considering the business that I am in. I admit to having no excuse. I did, however, just run a search on the subject at the web site of the paper I usually read, the Star Tribune. So far there’s nothing there. I hope they at least mention it this Monday.