Attorneys of the Year: James Fleming
Posted: 2:20 pm Mon, February 25, 2013
By Jane F. Pribek
Maschka, Riedy, and Ries Law Firm
Possessing child pornography or committing child abuse are powerful allegations. Successfully defending against them requires Herculean efforts to sway jurors, to “bring people back,” says Mankato attorney Jim Fleming.
That’s what Fleming did in two serious cases involving troubling subject matter last year.
First, in State v. Meyer, Todd Meyer was accused of intentionally fracturing three of his infant daughter’s ribs. He’d been changing her diaper on the couch when he became distracted and she fell to the floor.
A day later, at the emergency room, a physician immediately diagnosed the fractures and ordered a battery of tests looking for abuse.
“He was putting together a theory that Mr. Meyer must’ve grabbed the baby by the rib cage and shook her. This is a common theory. But it didn’t pan out with further tests,” Fleming said.
Nonetheless, Meyer was charged.
After a four-day trial, not only did Nicollet County jurors acquit, but also they all hugged his client after the verdict was read.
“I’ve never had that happen before,” said Fleming, a 25-year trial veteran. “Three of the jurors were crying.”
A few months later, Fleming represented Minnesota State University, Mankato football coach Todd Hoffner.
The case centered on a short video Hoffner took of his three children, ages 9, 8 and 5. Immediately after getting out of the bath tub, they were singing and ended the song by dropping their towels. They asked him to record it, which Hoffner did with his college-issued phone. Then he forgot about it.
Some time later, Hoffner’s phone crashed. He sought help from the university’s IT staff. He was later arrested.
A search of Hoffner’s other technologies found nothing illegal, and child-protection investigators found no maltreatment.
Fleming recalled, upon reading the complaint, “What you generally see is much more graphic. It was the State’s best attempt to turn an innocuous video into something pornographic and illegal. To me, it just didn’t meet that test.”
The case boiled down to whether anything in the image sexualized the children.
The judge found that lacking and dismissed.